This weekend, America celebrated its annual season-long event of smashing our heads together for sport. Millions of people watched gleefully as gigantic and very fast humans ran full speed, head first into each other wearing hard plastic helmets.
I’ll admit to being one of the delighted spectators, but as I watched, I wondered what God thinks when he looks down and sees the way we treat our brains. The guy created the most beautiful piece of organic machinery the world has ever seen. He blessed us with the ability to be self-aware and to think about the future. We’re the only animals that can think about thinking about thinking about thinking for a solid five minutes. The human brain engineered water treatment plants, democratic government, skyscrapers, organized religion, iPhones and whatever happens at Burning Man (which is somehow a mixture of the former examples, I think).
Every time Labor Day comes around, how do we show our appreciation for such a beautiful gift? We do whip-its at back-to-school house parties, and we play football.
Simple logic would tell us that neither of these things are good ideas. Whip-its are bad for obvious reasons, but the negative effects of football as we know it seems to be less obvious. Frankly, both destroy your brains.
Large bodies of matter that travel at high velocities should generally be avoided. Examples include trains, automobiles, planes, bullets discharged from guns and other machinery meant for the sole purpose of going fast without barriers to block it. Yet, we encourage our kids to eat excessive amounts of protein and lift weights at gymnasiums until they’re giants, and then we run them into each other as fast as they can go.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not body-shaming athletes. I respect their bodies more than I respect the Statue of David. An NFL running back’s physique is a work of art. And, I went to the gym once, so I know what it’s like to exercise. But people aren’t works of art, and they aren’t machines.
Football commentators describe running backs as “built low to the ground” and linebackers as “tackling machines.” Moms say football is a real man’s game. Dads agree that football players have to be tough. They rarely say things like “that guy’s brain probably bounced around like a ping pong ball after that hit” or “that tackle might’ve toed the line of assault with a deadly weapon, all things considered.”
One football commentator did finally break the mold. Ed Cunningham, a regular college football commentator, announced last week that he resigned his distinguished position at ESPN over concerns for the safety of players.
He told The New York Times that he could no longer be a cheerleader in a game that was killing its participants.
He’s right, football players have died as a direct result of the game. Scientists have found that regular hits to the head like those experienced in football can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. Symptoms of CTE include confusion, memory loss, depression and dementia. Over 100 former NFL players’ brains were studied post-mortem and scientists diagnosed 99 percent of them with CTE.
The science is clear and undisputable, so I won’t harp on it too much. Rules have changed to reflect scientific findings. Tacklers are penalized for hitting with their heads, and helmets are becoming safer. Some states are banning the game for young kids. The science and rule changes are easy to point to but harder to pin down is the hard-hitting culture surrounding the game and how that can be changed.
How do we change the crowds’ “oooooo” following a hard hit to a grimace? How do we value protecting our minds over being tough? Why do players bang their heads together when they celebrate? Haven’t they had enough of that? You definitely can’t change how fun it is to use the hit stick in Madden, but you can understand the difference between the fragility of pixels on a screen and a real human head.
Cunningham’s act of protest was a positive step, but even after the many articles, public service announcements and movies about the dangers of football, not much about the public’s idea of the sport has changed.
The benefits of playing professional sports are hard to argue against. The best players right now make over $20 million per year. And, sports provide an opportunity for kids to succeed who might be limited elsewhere. Defenders of the game will continue to cite its positive effects like hard-work, camaraderie and personal achievement. But, most young players won’t make it to the NFL, and there are other sports that have the same positive outcomes without so much knocking around of the brain.
Most people agree that the sport isn’t safe. All that’s left is to either stop playing or find a way to make it safer. Liberal cucks like me talking about it all the time doesn’t seem to be helping, but it’s worth a shot.