Saturday, September 7, 2013

I can't enjoy watching a sport that includes brain damage

 I lost interest in baseball and football when they became showcases for cheating by using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to ruin the games. Football has an even deeper reason for me to not watch - brain damage. I just can't enjoy watching a sport that has brain damage as an integral part of the sport.

In the '60s I was an avid football and boxing fan.  I thought the athletes were the pinnacles of athletic excellence.  I loved the sports.  Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice - these were thrilling heroes to me, and it filled me with many hours of joy to watch them.  

But then, the drugs ruined the games for me because of the inhuman levels of size and strength and speed of the players.  In a way, baseball was more spoiled for me than football because at least the football players were all supersizing at the same time and the competitors were still on a par with each other, whereas in baseball the game is a balance between the geometry of the ballparks and the strengths and abilities of the players, and when they became supersized they outgrew the dimensions of the parks, and the statistics became meaningless.

And now, we know the terrible price that football players are paying for the enjoyment of the sports fan - permanent brain damage.  I always knew that the players crippled their knees, shoulders, backs, feet, elbows, etc. but thought that if they were willing to pay the price, I would just ignore the whole issue and admire them all the more for their physical courage.  

But brain damage is different.  A football player cannot do anything to make his brain immune to concussion and permanent damage.  Better designed helmets will not protect his brain from concussion.  Apparently, it is not just the vicious headhunting practices where a tackler or blocker tries to knock out an opponent, but rather it is on most plays that blockers and blocked, and tacklers and tackled, jar their brains enough that even then they suffer a form of concussion that is less than a total loss of consciousness and is enough to kill off brain cells and create conditions for brain disease.

Famously, one of the greatest linebackers, Junior Seau, and Dave Duerson as well, committed suicide by shooting themselves in their hearts so that their brains could be studied postmortem.  Their brains showed that they had been suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by multiple concussions and sub-concussions, as a result of a lifetime in football.  The result?  A lifetime of dementia, confusion, depression, aggression, violence, and even suicide.  Much too big a price to pay for the enjoyment of sports' fans.

The sport has become a multibillion dollar industry.  It is the main advertising venue for beer and cars, a symbol of hyper masculinity that viewers try to identify with and imitate.  I think one of the reasons we have an obesity epidemic in America is because men have an image of masculinity where being thee hundred pounds is admired.  Weighing three hundred pounds is pretty easy to accomplish with beer and pizza and sugars.  How many couch potatoes with one hundred pound bellies think of themselves as fitting into the mold of supersteroided and growth-hormoned football freaks?  The nation is killing its athletes and its fans at the same time with a love of a game that is intrinsically damaging to its participants.

Enough of my rant.

Enough of football too, as far as I'm concerned.  How many fathers will let their sons play a game that will cripple their bodies and permanently damage their brains?  

The NFL is trying to put this all behind them by settling a lawsuit and promising to make the game safer.  They are fooling themselves.  The damaged veteran players are not going to go softly into the night, and neither are their families and lawyers. They shouldn't.

I watch golf and love it.  No steroids that help performance, no brain damage, no injuries that cripple golfers for life, a code of honor and honesty rather than of cheating and winning at any cost.  It is actually a sport rather than a sports racket that uses up athletes and throws them on the dung heap when they are washed up.

I think football is on its death bed, and I think it knows it.