The State of Football

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What will happen to the NFL?

The only certainty in the future is change. Change results from innovation as well as from necessity. Society is constantly evolving and professional sports present obvious examples of change. The recent discussion on concussions in professional football and the long-term effect on our athletes is an excellent example of change for the sake of the wellbeing of the individuals who play the game. One can imagine a future where “both sides are set before the snap, but football looks different than it used to. Offensive linemen are squatting at the line of scrimmage, the three-point stance having been outlawed; the constant clashing of helmets in the trenches is no longer part of the game, to reduce the number of subconcussive hits.”

Professional sports have never been more popular and professional football is the most profitable and popular sport in the United States. In Giamatti’s book “Take Time for Paradise,” he rationalizes the endless enthusiasm that propels sports. “Sports can be viewed as a popular or debased religion.” And with all of the changes in the NFL, will this “shared vision of how we continue, as individual, team, or community, to experience a happiness or absence of care so intense” still be apparent in the112512-NFL-fans-LN-G7_20121125211802308_600_400 upcoming years. Despite all of its success, the NFL is currently dealing with an issue that will forever change the landscape of the game. The NFL is known for its speed, toughness, fast action, and extremely hard hits. But the brute force of the game has had a devastating side effect and now the issue of concussions is front and center, and the topic of much debate. What’s next, peewee football?

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First Thanksgiving Day Game

Thanksgiving break is approaching and that means sleep, food, family and some old fashioned American Football. A Thanksgiving food coma, a comfortable couch, and football have become an American tradition. The history of Thanksgiving Day football dates back to 1934 when the Lions took on the Bears. But, will the new rule changes and the emphasis on player safety jeopardize the sport that is loved and worshipped by millions?

As the blogosphere has exploded with Machiavellian comparisons to Commissioner Goodell, it is obvious that Goodell has struggled in his recent terms. Goodell’s popularity is waning and there have been numerous calls for him to step down. Despite Goodell’s struggles, he has continued to tackle the issue of concussions in the game. In 2012, 261 diagnosed players had concussions, but in 2013 the number dropped tremendously to 228 concussions. While the NFL has seen a drop in the number of concussions, they are still extremely prevalent. Player safety must come first and the NFL will continue to change the rules to the dismay of fans and players alike. In 2013, Matt Forte, Pro Bowl caliber Chicago Bears running back tweeted, “Last time I checked, football was a contact sport. Calling bank now to set up my lowering boom fund.” Despite Forte’s sadness regarding his “lowering boom fund,” player safety must come first and rules need to be amended to protect the long term survival of the game.

In Marc Tracy’s article “NFL Rules Changes: When is Football No Longer Football,” Tracy describes the recent changes that have been implemented into the game.  The main focus of change deals with head to head contact. Tracy expresses that is necessary for the NFL to determine a clear boundary for “how far it will go to protect the players—and how far it won’t.”

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While we all love the game of football, we cannot selfishly route for harder hits at the expense of those professional football players who are suffering traumatic and deadly injuries. Over the past few years many tragic stories involve ex NFL deaths due to dementia and traumatic brain damage. One example of an NFL great who suffered deeply and eventually passed away is one of the greatest linebackers of all time, Junior Seau.junior-seau-gq-magazine-september-2013-sports-08 There have been many other not as well-known players in the league who have also experienced brain damage and had traumatic deaths and injuries.

Nigerian-born doctor, Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2002 conducted the autopsy of Mike Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman and a member of pro football’s Hall of Fame. Webster, 50 years old, suffered from terrible dementia and resorted to living in his pickup truck. Over the next few years he would autopsy other players, and saw a common trend with each: tangled brain tissue and the accumulation of tau protein, a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. The NFL has spent the billions of dollars and has the resources necessary to counteract these statements, but what is clear from Dr. Omalu’s findings is that the NFL causes “irreversible brain damage.”

Dr. Omalu’s research has been documented by lawyer, Jason Luckasevic and has turned into a legal pursuit of the NFL. In a November 6th New York Times article “How One Lawyer’s Crusade Could Change Football Forever,” Michael Sokolove wrote about Dr. Omalu’s findings as well as Luckasevic’s pursuit of justice in the NFL. As a 30 year old, Luckasevic took over his quest to change football. Luckasevic has reached out to many retired NFL players, and his roster has grown to 535 players. In 2011, Luckasevic filed suit against the NFL despite minimal support from his Western Pennsylvania, Steeler loving firm. The current proposed settlement is $765 million and has been seen as a victory for the league.

I am not a fan of change for the sake of change. However, in the instance of the NFL and the safety of its players, I believe that change is necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the game. While I do not believe in the radical changes that Luckasevic is demanding, I think that precautions need to be taken in order to continue to develop talent, keep players safe and protect the long term integrity of the game.

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3 thoughts on “The State of Football

  1. As with the others, I agree with how football is changing and if gone too far, not necessarily for the better. I think much is to be said about how the technology of the equipment is doing a lot for player safety without actually changing or diluting the sport we have all come to know and love so much. I think we have to balance our American pastime with the safety of those playing and whether or not they subscribed to the risk when they decided to play. If we see it as their choice, than we should just let them keep playing and take the risk of an injury as they always have.

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  2. I agree when you say football is an American pastime and important to our national culture. I also totally understand that the danger of the sport is becoming a bigger turn-off to some spectators (although it is not getting more dangerous). Although it may be nice if football got “safer,” I wonder for how long it would stay football. Like Tracy discusses and you mention, part of what defines football is its dangerous nature. Therefore, to “make football safer” would be to change the definition of the sport. And, since the players know what they’re getting themselves into and many protest much change in the rules/regulations of the sport, I think it should stay the way it is.

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  3. I agree with basically everything you said about the future of football, and I like how you provided a lot of evidence about how football can be a dangerous sport, albeit one that is becoming safer. I don’t anyone wants to see football dramatically change, and I love football as much as anybody, but after reading Tracy’s article and another one you posted, I think the NFL is in need for some change. As excited as I am to watch football on Thanksgiving next week, I know that as I’m watching, my mom and grandma will probably comment on how violent the game is, and they are right. People are starting to notice how dangerous the game is, and when people have brain damage when they retire, and only magnifies the issue. Hopefully, the NFL will get it right and implement changes that will make the game safer yet still keep football an American pastime for many years to come.

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