At the ripe old age of forty-something I’ve discovered motorcycles. A few months back I bought the kid a 125cc four stroke Yamaha dirt bike to have fun with over the summer. He ended up riding it for a few hours before he resumed his routine of skyping and playing multiplayer Minecraft. Now I’m the one riding the thing all the time.
I’m also a lifelong NFL fan, and I miss the old days of smashmouth football when big men used to collide into bigger men carrying an odd-shaped ball and yellow penalty flags were rare. Today I’ve become so accustomed to penalty flags that when I watch a baseball game and someone crosses home plate I wait to see if there’s a flag on the play. Seriously. I was also bored stiff half the time I watch baseball, hoping the basemen charge the mound and sack the pitcher. Yes the months are indeed long between Super Bowl and the pre-season.
I’ll admit I don’t wear any helmet while riding the dirt bike on my property. I recognize it’s extremely dangerous and because of that I have yet to put the bike down or fall. I’ve had a scare or two as recently as last night when I took a turn too sharp and braked too quickly, nearly catapulting myself over the handlebars. My son, on the other hand, has wrecked a few times but does so wearing gloves and an expensive motocross helmet. I realize it’s silly to generalize using such a small sample size as two, but I’ve talked to my son and watched him on the bike and it’s clear to me that he pushes the bike too far and takes a lot more risks wearing the protective gear than I do without it. Is it possible the same thing occurs in other sports like football?
In the Seattle-Chicago game on Dec 2, Seattle’s Sidney Rice took two shots in the head (video), one by Bears’ defender Major Wright and another when his head banged the ground as he scored. Now imagine the same play with both players wearing little or no protective gear. Would Wright have tackled Rice in the same way? I doubt it. Earlier in the game Chicago’s Earl Bennett got hit by two Seahawks and cartwheeled into the end zone. He walks away without apparent injury, but given what we are learning about concussions in the NFL the damage does not come from a single hit but results from repetitive hits each of which may seem completely harmless at the time.
American football is a multi-billion dollar industry. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people rely on it for their income. But the more I watch it the more I wonder how long it will be around. The murder suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jevon Belcher is no surprise for NFL sports fans who have become numb at the high price paid by players of the game. According to the New York Post, Belcher struggled with pain, prescription drug abuse, and alcoholism caused by his playing the game, and he eventually snapped. Bob Costas used his position on the air and blamed the 2nd Amendment instead of the nature of the sport that pays his multi-million dollar salary, nor the fact domestic violence resulting in death doesn’t always involve guns. Belcher was 6’2” 228lbs. He probably was twice the size of his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and could have killed her with his bare hands had he wanted to. Bob Costas has a lot of nerve airing his liberal opinion about guns all the while collecting paychecks from the blood sport.
Is the problem prevalence guns or the nature of the sport? American football is unique in sports due to the amount of physical contact between players. Baseball players rarely run into each other, rushing home plate being the exception and the concussion danger of this play is now increasing calls to ban it. Hockey has a lot of physical contact as well and Canadian neurosurgeons are calling for a ban on body checking to protect against concussions. I simply do not see how we are going to be able to make football safer for players without making it a non-contact sport.
In the meantime people excuse the danger by saying players know the risks and are paid handsomely to take them. That’s little comfort to Belcher’s mother who watched her son kill himself or to the parents of Kasandra Perkins. The NFL will add penalties and increase pads, and the players will do what my son does when he’s on the dirt bike, push themselves even further to the point where injury is inevitable. I would like to see teams at least try to play the sport without all the protective gear to see whether linebackers and tackles dialed it back a bit before sending somebody into next Tuesday, but I’m not hopeful that would end the danger either.
So we will see men kill themselves off the field quickly like Belcher or on the field slowly all for our amusement. I enjoy the sport but my conscience is stirring and I won’t be surprised if my lifelong love the game turns into a remainder of life regret for the carnage I’ve witnessed on countless Sunday afternoons.