Read­ers of­fer their takes on foot­ball’s fu­ture

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - SPORTING GREEN - Al Saracevic is Sports Ed­i­tor of The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle. Email: asarace­vic@sfchron­i­cle. com Twit­ter: @al­sarace­vic

In late Oc­to­ber, The Chron­i­cle pub­lished a six-part se­ries ex­am­in­ing The Fu­ture of Foot­ball.

The premise was sim­ple: Now that we know the sport can cause last­ing brain dam­age, driv­ing some to sui­cide, what are we go­ing to do about it?

A ded­i­cated team of Chron­i­cle jour­nal­ists spent months dig­ging into the sub­ject. You can read the whole thing at www.sfchron­i­cle.com/fu­ture-of-foot­ball.

In a let­ter to Chron­i­cle sub­scribers, I en­cour­aged re­sponse. What do you think should be done? What will the game look like in 20 years?

Let me share a few of those voices.

Thanks, your re­flec­tion is so im­por­tant. I did love your pro­jec­tion that foot­ball would look like box­ing. Why the con­tin­ued ig­no­rance with lit­tle ef­fort to ad­dress the prob­lem?

Fred­er­ick E. Heslet, San Fran­cisco

All your main rec­om­men­da­tions make log­i­cal sense and are the right thing to do. I was lucky that I was too small for play­ing grade school foot­ball. My coach re­al­ized this, I be­lieve, and I sat on the bench.

My mother al­ways feared I would get se­ri­ously in­jured.

With re­gard to par­ents and kids now, ul­ti­mately peo­ple need to make their own de­ci­sions about what to do with re­gard to their chil­dren play­ing foot­ball. If flag foot­ball is an op­tion, that would be great.

I be­lieve sooner than later, Amer­i­can foot­ball as we know it won’t be as pop­u­lar. In­stead, peo­ple will mi­grate to lesser in­jury-prone sports that are also re­ward­ing for fans, par­ents, schools and stu­dents.

John Durham, Napa

Ev­ery­body’s jump­ing on the foot­ball-is-dan­ger­ous band­wagon. This story is long-winded bull. All ma­jor sports have phys­i­cal con­tact. Soft s— wimps are ru­in­ing this coun­try and turn­ing our men into soft lit­tle p—. Look at the av­er­age 20some­thing male to­day, weak wimps wor­ry­ing about the next su­per­hero or Star Wars movie. All this cod­dling and whin­ing is pa­thetic.

Name with­held

I’m 68. I played for four years in high school and a year of col­lege. I never fin­ished a sea­son. Mostly knee in­juries but I broke my thumb in col­lege in a way that re­quired surgery. I also boxed in col­lege.

I at­tended a 49ers camp for high school stu­dents where a very ag­gres­sive game of “touch” re­sulted in a hit that caused me to lose vi­sion in one eye for a few plays. Nat­u­rally, I stayed in the game. So far, it hasn’t caught up to me.

Any­way, I think one par­tial so­lu­tion is to make all the pads and hel­mets soft on both the in­side and the out­side. Also, I think many knee in­juries could be elim­i­nated if there were no cleats.

Leif Orte­gren, Pe­taluma

Step 1. Change the chan­nel. The rest of it really won’t mat­ter so much. Greg Tol­man, Berke­ley

Ul­ti­mate fris­bee! All quar­ter­backs, no lineback­ers. Spike Con­nor, Red­wood City

It would be in­ter­est­ing to know whether rugby has the same level of prob­lems with brain trauma as foot­ball. Rugby play­ers wear no hel­mets or pad­ding, and there are strict rules about tack­ling. I sus­pect that the pro­tec­tive gear in foot­ball in­creases the in­ci­dence of brain trauma, be­cause it al­lows play­ers to hit each other harder. It doesn’t take a di­rect head im­pact to cause a con­cus­sion. The sud­den ac­cel­er­a­tion from a hard hit can do it, even if there’s no head con­tact. In rugby, play­ers are less in­clined to use their bod­ies as weapons when tack­ling be­cause it could cause in­jury to the tack­lers. It’s counter-in­tu­itive, but re­duc­ing the amount of pro­tec­tive gear in foot­ball could make it a safer sport.

The cul­ture of the sport has to change, too. Play­ers, coaches, fans, broad­cast­ers and re­porters have to stop see­ing a dis­abling hit as a good thing.

Jeff Licht­man, El Cer­rito

Bravo. End this dis­gust­ing sport. There’s 5,472 more peace­ful ways for young peo­ple to “build char­ac­ter.” Chris Mof­fat, San Ra­mon

Great ar­ti­cles on the game of foot­ball. If you get a chance, read some of the books or ar­ti­cles on John Gagliardi, the St. John’s Univer­sity Divi­sion III coach whose phi­los­o­phy on the game of foot­ball was so dif­fer­ent than any coach I have known. Even in the ’50s and ’60s, no tack­ling in prac­tice, no prac­tice longer than 90 min­utes, water breaks, etc.

His phi­los­o­phy worked. He won more foot­ball games (489) than any coach in NCAA his­tory along with four na­tional cham­pi­onships. I played for John in the 1960s on one of his cham­pi­onship teams. We never had any­one hurt in prac­tice ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional an­kle sprain.

We had a few trans­fers from schools like the Univer­sity of Min­nesota where Mur­ray War­math coached with the phi­los­o­phy of mak­ing the prac­tices tougher than the games, kind of a sur­vival-of-the-fittest code. This was not un­usual at that time. Foot­ball needs to change. Again, thanks for the great ar­ti­cles. Terry Un­der­wood, Corte Madera

Here’s a mod­est pro­posal: Make ev­ery­one el­i­gi­ble (why line­men aren’t el­i­gi­ble for passes has al­ways been a mys­tery to me).

This is some­what more rad­i­cal than the A-10 of­fense (I think that’s what it was called) that the Pied­mont High coaches de­vel­oped, and was voted down by NFHS, but it would keep the na­ture of the game in­tact while chang­ing it dra­mat­i­cally.

If ev­ery­one is el­i­gi­ble, the game will spread out, and there will be more of a premium on speed and agility than raw size. Power foot­ball will make less sense, and just as the three­p­oint line and the War­riors’ style has pretty much re­moved the power game from bas­ket­ball (es­pe­cially at the lower lev­els), there will be a shift to­ward more scor­ing and use of the whole field.

It’s not a com­plete or per­fect so­lu­tion, of course, but it moves the game away from one-onone con­tact and to­ward skill and speed.

Clay Kal­lam, Wal­nut Creek

The late U.S. Sen. Gene McCarthy (D-Minn.) had a great line: “Foot­ball is like pol­i­tics. You have to be smart enough to un­der­stand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s im­por­tant.”

Eric Mills, Oak­land

Thanks to all of our read­ers who re­sponded. In­ter­est­ingly, we didn’t get much from peo­ple de­fend­ing the sport, as it stands. Maybe we’re preach­ing to the choir here in the Bay Area. Maybe peo­ple are start­ing to see the truth.

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