Football is an unstoppable juggernaut.
Like a three hundred pound linebacker moving through the defensive line, it is a force in society whose effects are far reaching and without the defense choosing the right play, one liable to destroy the opposing team’s quarterback in the middle of an important play. Yet, we must consider the idea, at least for a moment, it’s a juggernaut which must be stopped.
It’s been argued baseball is America’s sport. I contend football has managed to supplant baseball economically over the decades. Along with its physical appeal and being viewed as the sport of heroic individuals, football is thought to promote camaraderie and teamwork in the students who participate in it.
Football connects fathers and sons in a lifelong bond of conversation around sports, teams and opportunities for relationship. Football connects men in an opportunity to communicate their emotional state in what might be an otherwise reserved existence except for the release granted to them by sports entertainment. Men can exalt in their modern gladiators living vicariously lives of heroic abandon. In addition, cities will build stadiums and create economic franchising opportunities worth millions more in local revenues. The purchase and consumption of fast foods and alcohol, as well as the incredibly lucrative Superbowl advertising which caters to 114 million viewers.
Football is a business. A lucrative business capable of bringing people together like few things do. But I also suggest it has a dark side no one is willing to talk about. I contend the participants in the NFL are sacrifices on the altar of economic progress in America. There are 1696 professional football players with 53 players on every team. This same 1700 players brought in $13 billion dollars in 2016 and is estimated to bring in $25 billion by the year 2027. A thirty second advertisement reached a record high of $5 million dollars in 2016 with Superbowl advertising alone worth $331 million dollars!
Like an ancient pyramid upon which Human sacrifice may have been once performed, football is worth billions ever year. No single sport in the United States makes more money than the National Football League does. I contend there is no economic incentive equivalent to the value football plays in the lives of Americans. This means the possibility of stopping this juggernaut will not be able to be done with the simple explanation of the potential effects of CTE on the players of this game.
The symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. Even though recent studies show a 99% possibility of experiencing CTE for long-time participants of the game, most players will consider the economic possibilities worth the degradation of their quality of life as worth the risk.
We have taught our families, our sons in particular, that in our society their lives are worth less than the possibility of fame as a sports superstar. Entire sections of the United States live to watch their college sons play football on a Friday or Saturday night and this is as much a part of the fabric of this nation as freeways and automobiles. I say this is an unacceptable risk for anyone, for any amount of money, but if it was limited to these 1,800 NFL players who choose to make this decision, I might be able to be convinced of the immoral calculus of their Faustian deal.
But it’s more complicated than it appears.
To feed this killing machine, there are 115 colleges each with 110 player rosters. This means every year, 12,650 young men in college risk long-term injury for a chance to assuredly be injured in the NFL. Alas the pyramid does not stop there. Football is the top sport in the United States with over one million high school students engaged in football. A million Americans a year risk life-threatening injury for a chance at fleeting fame, every year.
Now ask yourself: is this the most effective way to create opportunity, a lottery where millions potentially harm themselves every year, for a chance at a draft where they can become disposal chattel seeking momentary fame, but lifelong disability and reduced quality of life?
Are we suggesting people should permanently reduce their intellectual capacity, their opportunities to have rich and fulfilling lives for a chance to harm themselves assuredly in the NFL? Is this a calculation we can make as a society, to have millions of individuals who may later cost our society far more in order to make a number of industries fantastically wealthy? We socialize the cost of those individuals harming themselves which raises the cost of medical care, while privatizing the opportunity for wealth to the industries who keep football the most important sports entertainment in the United States.
Those same industries which will tell you nothing’s wrong, there are no consequences to the sport when there is clearly evidence to the contrary. They contend there are helmets which will protect participants. Special collars which protect the brain from injury, new ways of dealing with concussions, better training to reduce injuries in players. There will always be rationalizations which will justify what football does to millions of American men every day. The same rationalizations which made smoking acceptable, which make alcohol a reasonable risk, and convince people we can make football as safe as cross the street. Except like cigarettes, there is no safe number which can make the risks viable.
I say to you, no. We cannot stop CTE injuries. We lack motivation. We lack political will. We lack a respect for science. More importantly, we lack a reverence for the sanctity of a life well lived, a life where it might be possible to have respect, camaraderie, bonds of filial love which are not based in the pain and suffering of other men, made disposable by society for the sake of wealth.
No. We won’t stop people from destroying themselves for a chance to become rich, unless we can make the idea of individual health and well-being a prize to be considered greater than any wealth to be earned on the altar of the NFL’s pyramid of Human sacrifice.
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