May 06, 2012

Bob Ryan: 'Football is Inherently Unsafe': Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan: "I am a lifelong fan of football. I am well-versed in its history. I revel in the collegiate pageantry. I like my NFL Sundays as much as the next guy. ... I rate the 2001 Snow Game for the AFC championship as one of the top five sporting events I have ever covered. But you knew there was going to be a but -- the basic mentality of the game has troubled me for a long, long time."

posted by rcade to football at 03:36 PM - 15 comments

I'm no fan of Ryan's, but I agree with him completely. And I played youth football and have been a fan of the pros since childhood (college less so). The game has mutated into Rollerball. Americans love it, so it's not going anywhere. But we may have reached a place where new thinking is required.

posted by afl-aba at 05:22 PM on May 06, 2012

Well, I agree entirely. I wouldn't let my kids play, either, not that I have any, but still. I'm of the current opinion that participation at the youth level will be a problem in the near future and will trickle up to the big leagues in a decade or so.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:38 PM on May 06, 2012

The evidence that football is inherently unsafe is there for all to see.

True. But witness Draft Day. There was no shortage of college kids ready to take the big bucks and fan adulation the NFL offers. Despite the possible tradeoff of a horrible post-NFL future.

posted by roberts at 07:56 PM on May 06, 2012

People aren't always good at long-term thinking. Look at all the young people who smoke. There will always be people willing to risk their future health for the prospects of NFL wealth and glory.

But will there always be high school and college students willing to do it? And insurers willing to cover them?

If football does not make drastic changes to how it is played, I think it will fade as a mainstream sport. I find it more difficult to enjoy the sport with every new story on CTE. Watching all the young draft picks and their families rejoicing in the moment on the NFL Network last month, I couldn't help but wonder how many would come to rue the day.

posted by rcade at 08:42 PM on May 06, 2012

The long distance field goal kicking specialist will be the most sought after position in the league. (They're the last ones to ever see rough housing, right?)

posted by NoMich at 10:35 PM on May 06, 2012

But will there always be high school and college students willing to do it? And insurers willing to cover them?

And fans willing to watch it?

That's up to us.

I find it more difficult to enjoy the sport with every new story on CTE.

Same here. I have run a fantasy league for five years now. If I don't hear something that, to be honest, I don't expect to hear, I won't be running it any more (and my league will know why).

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:37 PM on May 06, 2012

Like Amani Toomer said last week, though, when respnding to Kurt Warner saying how he hoped his own kids didn't pursue pro football. He said he never really got hurt or really even hit that hard all throughout his time playing football until the pros. Not even in college. It's pro football that's really unsafe and seems to be causing the possible life-altering injury and health issues. There will always be injuries at every level, some traumatic, but it's pro football where the violence is destroying men.

Some of these bright-eyed draft picks don't really know what they're in for. As for high school football, and some of the lower levels, if my kid encountered more than one concussion, I think I'd demand hey hang it up and maybe run cross country.

posted by dyams at 06:18 AM on May 07, 2012

Not even in college.

CTE is reaching college too.

And fans willing to watch it? That's up to us.

Yep. I gave up on boxing, and it wasn't an intentional effort. I just stopped enjoying it because of the brutality and my interests shifted elsewhere. If every sportswriter who shared Bob Ryan's misgivings gave voice to them, it could make a difference in how the NFL perceives the situation it is in.

posted by rcade at 08:09 AM on May 07, 2012

Broadcasters should be forced to include field level audio of the hitting that happens on every NFL play. Viewers wouldn't be able to take it for very long.

When smug Mr. Dennis Miller first joined the MNF team, he got his first chance to go down on the sidelines while a game was in progress. He got back up to the booth and was in shock. He told the other guys that he had no idea the hitting was so ferocious. He was genuinely stunned.

Some of my U10 soccer boys have been double rostered in the fall, playing both soccer and football. These guys have been starting to rack up concussions in football and missing hunks of the fall sports season. We watch them like a hawk when we get them back on the soccer field.

There is a problem with some of the parents. The more undersized a kid is, the more the parents try to compensate by toughening them up and rushing them back into full contact in football as soon as there's a hint of a green light from the doctor. It's the time honored "pick your self up and get back in there" approach. They don't seem to approve when we take a gradual, cautious approach with kids who are returning from an injury.

I am surprised by how many parents convince themselves that a college scholarship is in their future the minute a kid in 3rd or 4th grade begins to show any sort of potential in any sport. Then the chase for the golden egg begins.

posted by beaverboard at 08:13 AM on May 07, 2012

Richard M. Stallman weighs in:

NFL players often sustain repeated brain injuries that subsequently ruin their lives. The NFL denies this, so some players commit suicide and donate their brains to science to help prove it.

I don't even like to watch football because the violence fills me with revulsion. I wonder how watching such violence -- real, not fictional -- affects children and teenagers. To ban fiction is censorship, but it would be legitimate to regulate football violence in reality.

posted by rcade at 05:34 PM on May 07, 2012

Does he suggest we decertify the Player's Union, get rid of the refs and the rulebook and just let everyone have at it in Calvinball? Free tickets for everyone!

posted by yerfatma at 06:00 PM on May 07, 2012

That the game is inherently unsafe is an easy statement to make, and it is one that is seemingly backed up by evidence. I won't argue with that. College players still try to make it to the NFL or CFL, high schoolers try for college scholarships, and the youth leagues are populated with kids who believe (or whose parents believe) that it gives them a leg up when they get to high school. Under the current sets of rules at the various levels, it would appear that these people can not be protected any better than they are now. Rules changes seemingly can help only marginally. Equipment probably won't get much better. Perhaps the best method is to place a warning label on each and every piece of protective equipment. It might say: CAUTION! This piece of equipment will offer only marginal protection against serious or possible fatal injury. Fractures of bones, ligament damage, and damage to internal organs are still possible. Concussions have been suffered by participants in this sport, even while wearing this equipment. The effects of multiple or serious concussions include dementia, loss of memory, depression, and early death. USE THIS EQUIPMENT AT YOUR OWN RISK!

posted by Howard_T at 06:21 PM on May 07, 2012

Isn't the bottom line here that repeated brain injuries can only be eliminated by getting rid of blows to the head? Make all the rules that you like, but the situation can only be addressed by fostering a sense of respect for your opponent from the earliest stages of player development. There would be no need for penalties, suspensions, and tragic brain donations if the players would make the conscientious effort not to hit their opponents in the head. Of course freak accidents would still happen, but there's a difference between freak accidents and systematic brain jarring.

As far as broken bones, torn ligaments, and the rest, I guess those risks must just be part of playing any contact sport.

posted by tahoemoj at 06:38 PM on May 07, 2012

Isn't the bottom line here that repeated brain injuries can only be eliminated by getting rid of blows to the head?

There are other things they could consider, like switching to soft helmets that can't be used as weapons. When Ryan talked about the weight of players, it made me wonder what football would be like if there were maximum weights for different positions.

Though football should be taught differently from the youngest ages, that won't change things as fast as litigation and fan disillusionment will.

posted by rcade at 08:48 PM on May 07, 2012

it made me wonder what football would be like if there were maximum weights for different positions.

Me too. It might be hard to police, but that would be a great first step. You'd have to grandfather in current players (like the NHL helmet rule) because some of them could never get under the weight and you'd probably get sued by current college players who would be barred, but maybe they could do it by degrees over the course of 8-10 years. Because no matter what the right answer is to blows to the head, there is 0 reason to be encouraging people to stack over 300 pounds on their frame. That's going to lead to health problems regardless of the rest.

posted by yerfatma at 10:14 AM on May 08, 2012

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