Dark cloud lingers over football as the season begins
It all sounded so familiar, even comforting, this rite of fall that comes in the midst of summer.
The quarterback barking out the call.
The grunts and thuds of giant men running into each other.
An NFL training camp provides a reassuring symphony to those who cherish America’s real national pastime.
But a dark cloud continues to linger over football as we begin a new season.
How long can this gladiatorial sport survive when former players are suffering and dying from damage they took on the field? Should it survive? Roughly coinciding with the start of training camps around the country, from high schools to colleges to the NFL, we got perhaps the most disturbing report yet confirming what we already knew.
Football is really, really bad for your health.
“Any player who tells you they haven’t put some sort of thought into it, they’re not being truthful with you,” said San Francisco 49ers running back Kyle Juszczyk. “It was a scary statistic.”
Certainly, it was impossible to ignore the startling research from Boston University on 202 former football players , that showed nearly all of them suffered from a brain disease linked to repeated head blows.
Even more compelling, The Associated Press released a heartbreaking series detailing the enormous human toll that CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) has on families when their loved ones became mere shells of themselves, grappling in the latter years of their increasingly diminished lives with memory loss, mood swings, depression and erratic behaviour.
Football players are some of the toughest people, accustomed to dealing with the pain and hardship that their sport demands.
Many of them, having grown up in hardscrabble circumstances, turned to football as a conduit to a college education and a prosperous life they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
They’re appreciative of what it has done for them, and they’re not about to turn their backs on it, no matter how damning the research.
“In this life, everything comes with pros and cons,” Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams said. “I mean, my daddy worked on cars for 30 years and he got a bad back, bad knees and arthritis in his joints. So standing up on concrete working that long is going to have its effects on you. But you have to feed your family, so you’ve got to make decisions.”
He then turned to his chosen profession.
“When you’re blessed to play something that you love and get paid handsomely for it, you can’t expect everything to be all peaches and cream,” Williams continued. “So if that’s what comes with it, that’s what comes with it.”
Nothing wrong with that. As long as he’s fully aware of the risks and knows what it could mean later in life, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be allowed to play, no reason we can’t cheer for his exploits.
But there are indications that more and more players are paying attention to the telltale signs of trouble down the road.
Yes, you can make football safer.
But you can never make it safe, not in its current form.