Hi there and welcome to episode 3 of my series of sports articles entitled...actually, I'm glad I started with this sentence as I haven't thought of a name yet. I'll have to get to that. Perhaps by the end of this article I shall come up with something, that is, unless I sustain a concussion somehow and can't think. WHAT A SEGWAY! ::canned laughter:: Today I am going to talk on a more serious note. Appalling I know, but nevertheless, it's a subject that has been up and down in sports news for the past decade or more. Football season is months away, but it seems like you can't watch an NFL-related program without hearing something about concussions. Why is this? Well, in case you've been hiding under The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) for the past several years and haven't heard, super sports scientists have discovered a direct link between concussions and a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE for short. When I first heard people talking about CTE, I thought it was some kind of football superpower that might stand for something like Catch Touchdowns Endlessly or maybe Crazy Equestrian Thighs, but my idiot side was wrong, and it's now become an epidemic.
For those of you who HAVE been under Dwayne Johnson for the past 6-10 movies he's made, a concussion is a brain injury that is typically caused when the head is struck by something very hard or when the head strikes something very hard. When this happens, the brain sloshes and bounces around in the skull, which, to be frank, isn't supposed to happen ever. Though you can receive a concussion from doing almost anything, yes including pillow fights, playing certain sports, especially football, ups your chances of sloshing that brain around. The reason behind THAT is simple: football players are given a hard, plastic shield that they put around their heads and are told "this is to protect you...so....ummmm...don't use it to run into things please." HA! Have you ever put a football helmet on? The first thing you want to do is start hitting your own head with your hands and then drop your dome into attack mode and bulldoze something! I played football for 5 years, which is part of the reason why my knee always hurts and my right arm can't bend certain ways at the shoulder, but NOT why I have an awful memory. I say that because I tried to play the right way as a defensive player: head up during a tackle, wrap with the arms, and destroy. So many players are always looking to get a huge hit by LEADING with the head and launching their entire body at the ball carrier, which in many cases is known as "spearing." As cool as that looks for fans and defenders NOT trying to make the hit, that could lead to brain damage and/or paralysis. Bummer. Ok, with all this being said, let me get to the next chapter of this article, which is odd because articles don't have chapters.
The National Football League, or NFL, is the biggest and most profitable professional sports organization in the nation, and possibly the world. I could look that up, but am definitely not going to look that up. They are lead by Emperor/Dictator Roger Goodell, who is technically called the "Commissioner" and in many cases is a huge "douche." During much of his time as head honcho, but especially much of the time before him, the NFL was aware of the regular number of concussions in their sport, and allegedly also knew of the long-term effects it could have on its players. Now HERE'S the problem: former players who have been retired for some time are now coming forward and saying the NFL never took the right steps in protecting their players, aka their products, from the long-term effects that came with getting hit in the head repeatedly by hard plastic and metal traveling at super human speeds. So hundreds of them are suing the league for hiding the facts, including the BIG fact that these hits could, JUST MAYBE, affect the brain during and after a player's career. For the longest time, the NFL tried saying it could never find any link to concussions and long-term effects, which is a blatant lie, but somewhat expected coming from one of the biggest businesses in the world.
So you can see both sides of this pickle pretty clearly. Former players want money from the league because they, in many cases, can no longer live a normal life because of the permanent damage that has been done to their brains. Sadly, some have even chosen to end their own lives as a result of the effects of CTE, most notably Junior Seau, a Hall of Fame Linebacker and cool dude. Now, on the other hand you have the NFL, who as I noted earlier, ignored the long-term symptoms of concussions and various hits to the head for YEARS, as they were a major part of the game. They didn't want to do anything to stop the cashflow coming in from fans who are always looking for huge hits and jaw-dropping wipeouts. So what did the NFL do? They lied. They lied to players, they lied to fans, they lied to CONGRESS?! All of their wooden noses started growing as independent doctors started coming up with different conclusions than NFL-appointed physicians, and that's when things started getting interesting. The top NFL player safety official, Jeff Miller, finally admitted the link between concussions and CTE, but there are still a lot of conflicting reports coming from higher-ups within the NFL as to whether they agree with this conclusion and whether they should be more responsible for the fates of their players.
So what the NFL has done is gradually introduced new technology into the game that is supposed to help with concussions, none of which has really worked. So, as we all wait for them to finally just place bounce-house material around player's heads, they have implemented several new rules meant to protect players, mostly offensive players (that's players on offense, not players saying rude or grotesque things). For example, defensive players can now NOT hit what they call a "defenseless receiver," meaning when a player catches the ball, that player needs to be able to gain full possession of the ball, turn his head to the direction he is running, and take two steps. Then and ONLY then is he deemed "not defenseless." (Defenseful? Don't know what you'd call that.) Unfortunately, rules like that have given offensive players a huge advantage in the game. Part of the beauty of watching football was to see a safety ABSOLUTELY DESTROY a receiver who is in the middle of trying to catch the ball. OH MAN it gives me chills! But the NFL has taken so much of that out of the game to "protect" players, instead of simply admitting that playing the sport of football COULD VERY WELL LEAD TO BRAIN DAMAGE! Talk about denial!
Now I hope this doesn't come off as insensitive, but here's my take on it all, and yes, this is coming from someone who never played professional football and doesn't suffer from the effects of CTE. Unless you're at a Forrest Gump cognitive level, football players HAVE to have thought at some point that getting hit in the head really hard not only hurts a lot, but will affect them for longer than a few minutes afterwards. I remember my first concussion during my sophomore year in high school. I tried to be macho during a kickoff return block by trying to spear a guy trying to make a tackle instead of blocking with my hands only. He had the better angle on me, and I saw a bright flash and stars and was pretty dizzy for the next few hours. Luckily, I was smart and told a coach about it on the sideline, and didn't play the rest of that game ‘cause I knew something was up. To some that might have been a wimp move, but to me, well it was a little scary to be honest and I didn't care.
My point is, I knew that if I took another hit like that, things could have got a lot worse for the old noggin. Now I suppose it's different for NFL players as it is their occupation,, but that's just the thing. They are PAID MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to run around and hit and be hit! There is constantly a chance that while doing your job, you could sustain a terrible head injury. It's an occupational hazard, but at the same time, that's part of the reason why these guys are getting paid millions. Don't buy that gold chain or new Rolex, but perhaps invest in private physical therapy or your very own CAT scan machine. Play the game the right way and try not to involve your head. Sure, easier said than done, but tackling has become a joke in much of today's NFL. It needs to be seen as a gamble, a Russian Rroulette of sorts. The National Football League will give you an upwards of a few million dollars to play a child's schoolyard game, while openly admitting there is a chance you could become brain damaged. THAT'S what the NFL needs to do instead of denying the long-term effects any longer. Just give out waiver that says those exact lines. Here's a ton of money to play a game the rest of us do recreationally; if you get hurt, that sucks, but you knew the risks and at least you have money to take care of yourself (if you spend it wisely). I say bring back the big hits, but keep up some of the rules that they've adopted, like big fines for targeting the head and always trying to aim for the upper torso area only. Defensive players need to be able to instill fear into receivers running over the middle again. To hell with my fantasy team, I want to see the big hits again and see defenses dominate! Only then will the true, hard-nosed receivers come out of the woodwork to truly shine in today's league. You never WANT to see anyone get hurt, but when you have 300 lb. dudes running at each other at 15-20 mph on a straight collision course...well, you know. Don't get in between them. So there you go. Football is scarier than we know it to be. There's a dark side to everything (except Yoda), and concussions are certainly that for the NFL. Keep your head up people, you never know when you might get speared! GO BRONCOS!!!