Friday, May 4, 2012

Headcase

Trey Smith


On Wednesday, I was watching a sports program when a headline running on the crawl beneath the show caused me to gasp. Junior Seau, a former 12-time All-Pro linebacker who played predominantly for the San Diego Chargers, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Though no suicide note was found, he did text his 3 children and ex-wife with the words, "love you" shortly before it is believed he turned the gun on himself.

When most people kill themselves with a gun, the fatal shot is aimed at the head, but that's not where it appears Seau aimed. His gunshot wound was to the chest. This has led a lot folks to speculate that he was following in the footsteps of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson who committed suicide last year by shooting himself in the chest because he wanted "his brain to be used for research at the Boston University School of Medicine, which is conducting research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by playing pro football."

Seau's death is just one aspect of a long litany of troubling circumstances that seem to plague ex-football players in this nation. Aside from the suicides in the headlines over the past decade, many former players are suffering from early-onset dementia and crippling conditions of the legs. These are byproducts of a sport that grows increasingly violent year-to-year.

It's not that American football wasn't a violent game before. Since its creation, it has been a sport built around violent collisions. The problem today is that football players -- at all levels above kiddie football -- are stronger, bigger, quicker and more powerful than in past generations. With increased size and strength, the collisions are becoming more harmful both to short and long-term health.

The title of this post is "Headcase," a slang term for someone who is insane. Readers might think that the reference is to the young men who play a game that often is adverse to their own health. While there is that element, for sure, I was more thinking of those of us who watch football and have spurred the growth of the game.

We sit on our couches munching on potato chips and cheering each jarring hit after jarring hit. The bigger the hits, the louder we cheer. A large segment of our society has become so enamored with the inherent violence of sports like football and ice hockey that we've helped push these sports into the economic stratosphere.

What does it say about us that we are addicted to viewing this kind of violence? What does it say about us that we cheer on others to jeopardize their physical and mental health for our pleasure? Have we not progressed since the days of Rome and gladiators? Do we still thrill to seeing people fed to the lions?

If I was a parent, I don't think I would allow my son[s] to play football. I wouldn't want to set a bad pattern that my son[s] would want to replicate as he/they grew. Often, once football gets into a child's blood, it becomes an activity they feel they MUST participate in. As they progress through school, the violence inherent in football increases.

Since I am not a parent, I don't have to worry about this issue. I'm absolved of all responsibility...except that I watch football and I am one of the reasons the sport has become so lucrative. I am one of the reasons that young men eschew the dangers and lace up the pads. If I truly believe that football should become a relic of our ancient past, then I need to quit watching it. If a lot of others join me in this endeavor, then football wouldn't be so lucrative and fewer young men would decide to put their health at risk.

It's a great plan, but it's so hard to put down the remote come football season...

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