From small towns under Friday night lights to college stadiums big and small to megasize sports palaces on Sunday, football is huge in America. Football became America’s obsession. It went from being a weekend diversion away from real life to becoming life itself for many. Fans know their favorite teams, players, formations, and top rivals. But there a fundamental nature about football that many people just don’t want to think about.
Like a defensive back who wipes out a helpless wide receiver, football has recently taken big hits. These smack at the heart of how this game is and has always been played. This is the inherent violent nature of football that significantly injures many of those who play at any level. Knee, hip, and back injuries were always common. But recent scientific studies have shown how damaging and disabling football concussions and head trauma are to the physical and mental health of players.
A high profile figure to question the violence in football is a man named Ed Cunningham. He’s been a prominent college football broadcaster. He was captain of his national champion college team and he played professionally. He knows what he’s talking about. He hasn’t been a football hater. But he has concluded that football is simply not safe for the human brain. There are others like him making similar statements.
Those who promote football hope no one notices what their product actually does to those who play. They deny or discredit the science that has shown a link between playing this game and long term physical damage done to players who have been studied. Brain disease has also been found in football players as young as their early twenties.
Doctors describe the consistency of the human brain akin to soft butter. The human skull is hard. It’s not just by that big hit on the field that concussions happen. The act of every quick start up from scrimmage and quickly stopping causes our soft butter-like brain to smash into the hard human skull. Over time, this can cause lasting damage.
Watching a football game is fun. It is fun, until one day when you might like Mr. Cunningham accept that all that fun comes at way too high a price. It isn’t fun to watch young men in their physical peak setting themselves up for a future of physical and mental anguish for themselves and their families. And all of that is safely out of the sight of Americans who will have moved on to watch the next crop of young athletes setting themselves up for the same thing on big screen televisions.
There are rule and equipment changes that have been tried to make the game safer but it is unlikely they will have a significant effect. Violence and mayhem are at the heart of this game. And there is all that money at stake for so many big stakeholders. So this game will carry on as it is.
So, as you watch the games please take a moment to pray for the players and their families. Pray that the players hidden under their helmets and their unseen families have the strength and courage and resources to deal with what is ahead for all of them once the playing days are over. For these football families, that is when the real game starts. These are sons and brothers, husbands and fathers. These are fellow human beings that should have a chance at living out the rest of their years productively and not just wasting away safely outside of our view once the game is over.
Football may not change. But the way that many people are looking at it certainly has.