I played high school football in small-town Montana. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I loved the sport. To this day I and my family, like most Americans, spend a good chunk of our time and money following the monsters of the midway. Football has become more than a pastime – it is a juggernaut industry, and until recently its meteoric growth in popularity seemed limitless. But I digress . . .
It was a kickoff play, and I was the “contain” guy on the end. My job was to make sure the kick returner did not get outside of me and have a clear path down the sideline. He caught the kick near the sideline, on my side of the field. I was barreling down the sideline, full speed, and the returner motored straight toward me. Yep, it was a full-speed, head-on train wreck.
We were both seeing stars and, with assistance, wobbled off to our respective benches. But the cobwebs cleared in a few minutes, and we were soon right back in the game.
And that is what will be the end of football.
A four-year study was recently completed on the effects of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Scientists studied the brains of 85 deceased athletes and soldiers, mostly football players. They discovered that serious brain damage was not always the result of one or more major concussions; it is just as likely caused by repeated, smaller jolts to the noggin.
While professional boxers were commonly “punch drunk” after their careers, most of us were not aware of the devastating effects of CTE until we saw Muhammad Ali reduced to a mumbling zombie at a relatively young age. There were sad stories in professional football, like Mike Webster, who suffered, among other injuries, amnesia, dementia, and depression from his later football years until his death at the age of 50.
As players get bigger and faster (largely thanks to steroids) the hits become progressively more devastating. Many successful players have had their careers shortened by concussions, and the inevitable lawsuit barrage has begun. Junior Seau, star linebacker with the Chargers, committed suicide in May, and CTE was implicated.
The “concussion crisis” is threatening the game itself, at every level. Two Pop Warner kids’ coaches were suspended when five boys reportedly suffered concussions in the early minutes of one game.
While there is little doubt that CTE exists and has wreaked havoc on the lives of many sufferers, there is also the likelihood that it will serve as a handy excuse for a variety of bad decisions. When Jovan Belcher of the Chiefs shot his girlfriend and then himself earlier this month, some were quick to blame CTE.
And when Hillary Clinton was called to testify before Congress about her baffling failure to prevent, mitigate, or correctly report the murder of our Libyan ambassador and those who attempted to protect him at Benghazi, she declined to appear, invoking the “concussion” defense. She reportedly fainted from dehydration and hit her head, although she did not seek medical attention.
I’m going to miss football, but there’s a silver lining. Next time I forget my wedding anniversary, or throw my socks in the laundry hamper inside out, I’ll just explain, “Honey, remember that football game when I was a sophomore . . . ?”
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
Don’t you know it hit me like a hammer
Hit me like a ton of lead
You know it hit me like a hammer
You know it hit me, baby
Hit Me Like A Hammer – Huey Lewis