“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” is a well-known quotation in sports. It’s widely (and wrongly) attributed to Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, but it was actually UCLA Bruins head coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders who first said it in 1950. No matter, the quote has stuck like glue and probably is the reason parents now like to give ribbons, trophies and prizes to every kid who competes, even if they come in dead last. Can’t have their tender little feelings hurt, now can we?
But as a society, while we seemingly seek to protect our progeny from harm, we don’t seem to mind if our young people run the risk of doing such damage to their brains playing football that some of them end up crippled, catatonic or dead. The results of examinations done on the brains of some deceased football players prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the constant trauma of bashing one’s head against stationary objects — even while encased in the best helmet money can buy — is still dangerous in the extreme.
However, the fact that all players don’t suffer the same fate is reason enough for the National Football League (and society) to be dismissive of the scientific evidence. But I sincerely believe that even if every player was found to have brain damage, it wouldn’t make very much difference for the fan who wants something to root for (to get his mind off of his family’s ever-worsening financial condition for a few hours) or the beer manufacturer who wants to sell him the suds with which to deaden the pain of his mounting sorrows.
A study once was carried out in which high school football players were asked a simple question: Would they trade their health for fame and fortune? The answer was almost uniform: These young men said that even if it were a certainly they would end up with damaged brains it was OK as long as they got to be a star in the NFL. Now that’s fucked up, folks.
Nonetheless, there is a sane answer: Remove helmets from players. Without helmets they would not use their heads as battering rams, thus doing damage to their brains in the process. Some of that other padding should probably go too, which would make it more of a finesse game rather than one of simply size and brute force.
Now no one who has ever watched a professional rugby match would call those players wimps. In fact, the majority of our NFL players probably couldn’t even make the cut on a professional rugby team since they most likely wouldn’t have the stamina.
When football comes up in conversation I usually say that I quit watching the Browns when they traded Paul Warfield, which just goes to show how long I can hold a grudge. But the real reason I boycott the sport is not so much over the danger injuries present but over our collective response to those injuries. We are truly stupid people for being complicit to such madness.
In 2015 when Chris Borland, a rising star linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, walked away from the sport over concussion concerns (something that thousands of former players are now suing the NFL over), he was marginalized in some quarters. Jim Brown did the same thing but was shrewd enough to say that he was quitting to become a film star, even though he couldn’t act for beans. In that way, he preserved his health and still gets to participate in the sport, whereas Borland is persona non grata around the NFL. But his head is still on straight.
Please don’t tell me the final score of Sunday’s game since I don’t even know which two teams are playing. I just know that I wish they would stop, at least until they took those silly-assed helmets off.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.