At least the war on football is going well.
Just when you thought people in this great nation no longer could be united for or against anything, it is clear that folks from all points on the political spectrum have had it up-to-here with one of our once unassailable pastimes.
To be fair, united is the wrong word, since they’re attacking it from different angles for different reasons. But either way, the sport is under attack from what passes as “media” these days more than it has encountered at any point in lifetime.
Here’s the short version, from what I read: Former players are in danger of long-term physical and emotional disturbances as an after-effect from even the shortest of careers. One even turned to the thug life and hanged himself in prison.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Even younger players reportedly are subject to attention deficits and behavioral difficulties from their encounters on the youth gridiron. And if that weren’t alarming enough, middle-aged men are at risk for elevated high blood pressure and all its silent-killer evils as a consequence of their once-favorite players choosing not to stand in worshipful reflection while a song is played.
I know we all require instant gratification and have a God-given right to formulate an opinion about everything, but can we all take a deep, cleansing breath and stop losing our mind over this stuff?
If you choose to forbid your child from playing in the local feeder system or boycott the big league over any of this, you’re part of the problem.
Certainly, I’m not a doctor and never served in the military or first response. Thought I’d better get that out of the way, since the primary means of debating points with people these days is to cast aspersions about them or their credentials. Much respect to anyone who has served the public and their nation in those professions, but in each case I believe it can give the person tunnel vision and lead them to the conclusions they set out to find.
First, let’s address concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
It is absolutely appropriate to give football our due diligence and look for ways to make it safer. But if you can’t see this all-out assault is being initiated by the same folks who have successfully made parents stock owners in bubble-wrap companies over the past generation or two, I can’t help you.
Without diving too deeply into medical journals and pointing out the flaws in anyone’s study, I’ll rebut with what I’ve learned through close to four decades of real-life observation. The benefits bestowed by football — strength, endurance, teamwork, resilience, accountability — far outweigh its risks.
We are a scaredy-cat society that falls for headline-grabbing risk factors while ignoring the ones we unconsciously accept every day.
It’s why some of us would rather drive than fly, even though years upon years of raw data tell us flying is safer. It’s the reason we rain on someone’s parade when they move to Kentucky (hypothetically speaking, of course) by saying “watch out for tornadoes,” even when our hopes of hitting Powerball are better than our chances of ever being hit by one. And it’s the personality quirk that makes parents perhaps feel inclined to deny their child the thrills of football while allowing them to consume every food additive and prescription pill known and unknown to man.
As for the late Aaron Hernandez, whose attorney inexplicably and inexcusably tried to re-frame him as a “victim” of football-inflicted CTE this past week, I don’t need more than a bachelor’s in psychology to see links between a permissive upbringing/excessive hero worship and his horrible adolescent and adult choices.
Enough about him.
Lastly, the NFL is under fire over this utter ridiculousness about who stands for the national anthem and who doesn’t. I don’t care which side you view with greater suspicion — the media or the president. Everyone involved has blown it out of proportion.
I love my country, and I’m a student of history. Because of those passions, I recognize there is a tipping point where nationalism raises red flags, and I don’t mean the kind with stars and stripes.
In the end, our flag and our anthem guarantee individuals the freedom to advocate for their own interests or those of their extended social group, even if it offends you.
Sports, music and motion pictures used to be my great escapes. I preferred not knowing whether or not my favorite performers’ political views might give me heartburn. I don’t really need to know.
To that end, I think the Pittsburgh Steelers were onto something Sunday by staying in their locker room until all the pregame pageantry was over.
Somewhere around 9/11 we made that run-up sacrosanct and turned it into a church service, but in reality it’s all showbiz. It’s for the fans. The players don’t need to be out there. Down here in the south at every high school and college game I have attended, they get all the praying and singing out of the way while players are in the locker rooms getting final instructions.
Well, I wish it were that easy. In my fantasy world, common sense would prevail and football would return to its rightful place as an old, reliable source of pure joy. But I’m bracing for a lengthy war.
Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.