Will football follow the circus into oblivion?

As a fan, I’ll mourn the demise of football. What happens at football games during the national anthem is bad, and I’ll get to it in a moment. But what may end the game is what happens after the anthem.

Post-mortem dissections of the brains of 112 former NFL players recently revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE) in 111 of them. The study was published last summer in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association and summarized by the New York Times.

The Times reports that the symptoms of CTE include “memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia. The problems can arise years after the blows have stopped.”

Football players sustain CTE through frequent impacts to their heads. Their helmeted heads routinely collide violently with other helmets, shoulder pads and the ground. Even with a helmet, the impact is equivalent to driving a car into a brick wall at 30 miles per hour.

You may respond that playing football is voluntary. You may say that if people want to risk their brains and bodies to be rich and idolized, that’s their right.

I disagree. We don’t allow people to play Russian roulette, and we don’t allow them to sell their lives or limbs.

We draw the line on activities that are consensual but destructive to our psyche, our soul and our civilization.

Remember the circus? In the ancient circus, it was considered sporting to watch people stab, dismember and kill one another with swords and spears. In Rome, bread and circus mollified the masses. So long as the masses were kept fed and entertained, the thinking went, they wouldn’t make trouble.

We eventually evolved past that.

But the evolution took time. In the modern circus as recently as the last century, it was considered sporting to torment and mock caged animals.

But we eventually evolved past that, too.

Maybe it’s time to evolve past football. The impact of football on the players is appalling, but the impact to the rest of us is troubling as well.

It plays to our worst traits – our violence and our tribalism. I suppose it’s better for people to be tribal about Broncos and Raiders than to be tribal about blacks and whites, but tribalism of any kind is habit forming.

Don’t even get me started on the colossal office time-waster called “fantasy football.” Or end-zone dancing and other poor sportsmanship in front of children, some of whom are in their 60s. Or the football factories that used to be institutions of higher education.

The violence of football so placates people that we subsidize it with billions of dollars. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, the team, the league and its stadium district anted up $312 million for renovations to their football stadium and the quarterback just signed a $110 million contract. Meanwhile, the struggling symphony orchestra went out of business.

In Atlanta, taxpayers help fund a new $1.5 billion stadium and the quarterback has a $104 million contract while the school district is running a $12 million shortfall and there’s a postcard campaign to fund the struggling arts.

What does this say about society’s priorities? Is this a good use of our resources?

Now, about that kneeling stuff. One week, the players were so outraged by the injustice of white-on-black violence that they felt compelled to display their conscience by disrespecting the flag and those who died for it (a large number of whom in recent generations were black). Their outrage apparently did not extend to the disproportionate victims of black-on-white violence or the epidemic of black-on-black violence but, OK, I suppose their conscience goes where it goes.

But then the next week, after realizing that their conscience threatened their livelihood, they effectively muttered, “Never mind.”

In short, their conscience overrides their respect for their flag and country but not their respect for their paychecks.

The owners didn’t exactly wrap themselves in glory either. They chose to pander to the players by pretending to sympathize with their racial cause, but only until the mood of the masses turned against them and threatened their profits. Then they too muttered, “Never mind.”

Hypocrisy, greed, violence, tribalism and muttering are part of human nature. But let’s stop glorifying it in football.

I’ll miss it. Football is the greatest spectacle since, well, the Roman circus, but a bright sunny afternoon beckons. Maybe I’ll call a friend and get a life.

(Published Oct 15, 2017 in the Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/glenn-k-beaton-will-football-follow-the-circus-into-oblivion/)

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5 thoughts on “Will football follow the circus into oblivion?

  1. Thank you for your thoughts regarding football. I assume your comments relate to professional football but I assume college and high school football are included in your proposal to outlaw the sport. As a teenager, I used to play football at our local park, without protection, without shoes and even though it was touch football, we got knocked on our rumps by viscous blocking. I guess unorganized football would be banned too. When I played high school baseball, I was hit in the head a number of times by wild pitches ( at that time we did not wear protective helmets at bat), was spiked by runners, had many injuries just by playing a sport. The degree of injury depends upon the sport one is playing but receiving an injury is the price one expects just by wanting to participate. The same philosophy holds in life. Participation in life – especially in present times whether it be crossing a street, riding on a train, plane,car or bus, walking down a street, attending a concert or just being an active part of society – requires one to take risks. With terrorism being active in a lot of societies today, one takes great life or death risks in being in large crowds or just sleeping in your home. The degree of risk varies greatly depending upon the activity but we accept the risks involved and do not stop living life and exist in a bomb shelter 24 hours a day. Your proposal to eliminate football and for that matter eventually all sports because it means risk of severe injury will do nothing to protect society from facing a part of life that government and all of it’s laws and regulations try to eliminate – the risk of living.

    • Congratulations, you really put a hit on that straw man. He’s out for the season!

      The straw man I’m referring to, of course, is my purported “proposal to outlaw the sport.” I made no such proposal. What I did propose is that people reflect on the costs and, if any, the benefits of it. And I concluded with a suggestion that it may fade from the scene as people do so.

      As for your reference to backyard football, I’m glad you play and don’t just watch. But backyard football entails a tiny fraction of the impact forces of professional football.

      Finally, you contend that life is full of risks, and people should be allowed to choose to incur them. That same reasoning would allow people not to play Russian Roulette for the amusement of paying onlookers. We’re better than that.

      • You do not make a direct proposal to outlaw football but that’s the implication I take away from your thoughts. Many of America’s institutions have been eliminated by those in authority because of the risk of injury – mental or physical – to it’s citizens. This sport seems to be in the cross hairs of the same people and when they restrict one aspect of a target it usually encompasses all parts of it, thus my comment about touch football. I totally agree that freedom of choice should apply here as it does to all aspects of life. And as long as it does, I have no argument with your thoughts.

  2. “symptoms of CTE include “memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia.”
    Doesn’t that also describe Liberalism…yet they’re still around….

  3. It does describe Progressive Democrats. Liberal Democrats of the real liberal philosophy – Alan Dershowitz , JFK , FDR – loved this country and wanted the best for it. Their philosophy doesn’t exist any longer. I am conservative but respected those who were sincere about their feelings toward the U.S. The Progressive’s goal is to overthrow constitutional America and replace it with their European socialistic agenda.

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