Friday, July 28, 2017

Trying to make the NFL safer won't happen, because it can't

By Mark Madden
July 28, 2017
Image result for steelers tackle
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The brains of 111 football players were scientifically evaluated after their deaths: 110 had CTE (brain damage).
Let’s find out who had that single intact brain. Everybody should play football just like he did.
It was probably a kicker.
Once again, the self-appointed guardians of the human race clamor for football to be fixed. To be made safer.
OK. But how?
There’s no magic pill or uber-protective piece of equipment, no panacea. Football is a game that damages the brain and body. If “fixing” it goes too far, it’s not football anymore. The element of danger is a selling point.
Reasonable adjustments are available. A sampling:
-- At the youth level, outlaw contact of any kind until ninth grade.
-- At the pro level, institute mandatory retirement: Either at a certain age (30?) or after a certain number of seasons, perhaps 7-8.
-- At all levels, cut back on contact at practice. Cut back on practice, period.
-- At all levels, cut back the schedules: Fewer games.
No contact ‘til ninth grade and less practice might lead to a lesser quality of football, but what’s the difference? Most spectators wouldn’t notice.
Fewer games, though, means less money. Shorter pro careers mean less money. So there's no hope for those reforms.
Anyway, football doesn’t want to change.
There’s no shortage of those whining, invoking pity and being self-righteous in the name of the greater good. But it’s all PR.
To play, or not to play? Or, how long to play?
Unless you’re trying to get a grant to do research that will never be effectively applied, those are the only questions that matter. Each individual must decide.
On Thursday, Baltimore center John Urschel retired at 26 after just three NFL seasons. He will pursue a Ph.D. at MIT, which isn’t an option for many.
But, during the current off-season, 14 NFL players retired who were under the age of 30. Last off-season, 20 NFL players under the age of 30 retired.
Here’s a scenario: Less rich kids play football. Poor kids keep playing, seeing it as a path to school/the pros. The rich watch the poor play football.
That has a Roman Colosseum-type vibe to it. Are you not entertained?
Football will never disappear, or even decline much. It’s too big to fail. Plenty of men will play, regardless of the risk.
Those incapacitated because they played football before the danger was known or because they were lied to by management, coaches and doctors deserve sympathy and assistance.
But now, we know the danger. Play, or don’t. If you sustain any sort of damage germane to football, you’re on your own after.
Meantime, the hunt continues for solutions that won’t be found. Ideas that might mitigate damage in some small way will mostly be ignored. Players will continue to headhunt via lack of respect for each other. Helmets will clash on every snap, because how can they not? Everybody will watch.
People don’t watch flag or touch football. End of debate.
But this discussion will continue in perpetuity. We need to pretend we’re trying to make football safe, but it’s a fool’s errand.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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