An examination of the state of American football and a comprehensive solution to ensure its continued life
Football is dying because our brains just can't take it. More specifically, the brains of football players. One key thing you probably note in the title of this article is the absence of the word "professional", and that is because I am referring to the brains of all football players and not just professionals. Current media coverage might lead you to believe that the principle injury concern in football today - the effect of repeated concussions or more specifically, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) - is one specifically concentrated in the professional ranks. This is not the case. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this issue is that it is a long term issue and not one born in the NFL or CFL. The grave nature of this problem is receiving a cascade of study and the evidence supporting football's contribution to this illness is steadily building, but I will leave the researchers to the task of further building the scientific and medical case. Instead, I will concentrate this article on the impact of these study results on the game Americans obviously love and how that game may be changed in a way that might help it survive - along with the brains of its many participants.
A Dead Sport Walking
Why am I giving American football this fatal moniker? Because as it is structured today... it is. Concussions are a common occurrence in football, as any player at any level can tell you. In addition, neurologists have already stated once a person suffers a concussion, there is a high probability that he will sustain another. They have added that it takes less of a blow, after several concussions, to cause the same level of injury and it requires more time to recover. This we already know as fact. Consequently, the simple math says football is fundamentally a game that causes concussions.
Further, research is solidifying the link between concussion head trauma and long-term degenerative brain disease. Thus enters C.T.E. into the picture. Adding up a little more math leads to an answer that says football, a sport that includes concussions as a basic part of the game, is a breeding ground for long term brain illness. At this point it is pretty clear that we all love a sport that is very bad for its participants' brain over a long period. When you consider that a young man just playing from the age of 8 until his senior year in high school has 10 years of sudden brain shifts caused from contact, it becomes obvious that a professional player at the age of 28 or 30 is clearly in danger of having long term problems from brain injuries.
Now ordinarily it would seem like common sense to stop doing things that hurt, but this is football. On an emotional level it is a national pastime and perhaps the most popular game in the land. On a financial level it is an engine that generates billions in revenue and supports millions of people, businesses and institutions. Given this view of the game how can I still say it is going to die? The simple answer is... mothers.
As the scientific evidence mounts, mothers will be faced with indisputable evidence that they are subjecting their babies to danger - and that is not something mothers are hardwired to do. So, even though most of the attention is being paid to the impact of this issue on the professional level, the game will actually be killed, literally, in its youth. Mothers will simply not allow their sons to play. The feeder system will be shut down. It has already started but as study results become more public even the most ardent football moms will succumb to the pressure from others who will question their motivation behind exposing their sons to clear danger.
And finally, there is a financial threat looming. Several lawsuits already exist regarding this issue. Based on the outcome of these suits, and to some extent regardless of their outcome, insurers will find it increasing difficult to provide the same level of coverage for professional teams, college teams, equipment providers and even coaches. The level of coverage required and the premium cost demanded by insurers alone can and will threaten many programs - if not the entire game.
So the dilemma becomes how to save a dangerous sport, but one that is enjoyed by everyone.
Bringing It Back From the Dead
The major problem in formulating a viable solution is that the issue is being discussed largely in a compartmentalized way. As I have stated, it is not an NFL problem... it's a football problem. The long term effects may be more apparent at the professional level, but it is increasing evident that its genesis is at a much lower level - perhaps even in youth recreational leagues. However, this approach has largely prevented a broader discussion - and a comprehensive solution - around the issue.
Given the long term nature of the problem, and that the end of the game will probably come at its lowest level - because of lack of participation from youths - the obvious answer needs to include changes at every stage from youth recreational football to the professional ranks. The solution I am offering is such a comprehensive solution.
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