Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No small risk

    Next Sunday, 111 million fans, occasional fans and the curious will participate in one way or another in Super Bowl Sunday. Most of us will face the risk of too much junk food and drink. Contrast this with the football players, modern gladiators, who will face physical injury that may be life-altering. It is as it was with the ancient Romans, “bread and circuses.”
    We Americans idealize our current and former heroes and pray to the football gods that they will not be severely injured, at least not while we are watching. But we want them to play and we question their very manhood if they take themselves out of the game. Football is a violent game and serious injury is its dark side. We are now learning just how dark.
    Consider Darryl Stingley, a star receiver with the New England Patriots who was hit, legally then, by Oakland’s Jack Tatum and was left a quadriplegic.
    Consider Junior Seau, retired from football for only two years, who killed himself in May. His autopsy showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition linked to repeated trauma, as in football hits.
    More than 90 percent of the brains donated by deceased former players show confirmed signs of CTE.
    Terry Bradshaw is considered by most as one of football’s greatest quarterbacks. His alma mater, Louisiana Tech, is not Harvard, and it was once said that he could do anything with a football except autograph it. He loved playing. Football made Bradshaw one of life’s winners.
    Bradshaw lives with chronic wrist, elbow and hand pain but he, too, now realizes how common are the less visible but more debilitating cognitive problems that affect many former players. If he had a son, he says, he would not let him play football, even though he admitted that he himself would do it all again.
    Columnist George Will reported in his Washington Post column recently that there are dangers in football that simply can’t be fixed. He may be right. Contact is central to the game.
    Football is by far the most popular sport in America. It makes millions of dollars for owners, players, even cities. Sunday’s Super Bowl is as close as it gets to a shared national experience.
    For the time being, faithful fans will watch their favorite sport’s showcase game and trust that their heroes aren’t being hurt. More than an off-season without football seems inconceivable. Yet, the real cost of the game we love is likely to be a few more lost lives.
    Anyone really want to buy that ticket?

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