Monday, August 07, 2017
NFL Battling Image as Season Set to Kick Off
The NFL preseason kicked off last week with the Hall of Fame game. The same week, seven deserving superstars were enshrined in the hall and draped in the gold jacket that represents the sport’s top honor.
But, even as the best and brightest were celebrated, even as scores of hopefuls filled practice fields, grinding hard to make their NFL dream come true, a dark cloud hung over America’s Game. A pall was felt, and an asterisk was attached to every news report from training camp. More heroes of yesterday had died, and a recently published study proved what many had already suspected for years: football is killing the men who love it most.
Brain damage that is strongly correlated with contact sports like football and hockey is stealing years and memories from retired football players. Some are sliding into dementia. Others are committing suicide or getting hooked on drugs. Too many are dying young. The NFL has been slow to admit this, much less act on it … but fans are taking notice. Even the most ardent pigskin supporters want something done to protect the gladiators who play the game.
The study in question, from Boston University, studied the brains of 202 former football players, many from the NFL, but several from high school and college as well. Nearly all of them showed some significant brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head.
Speaking to the Associated Press, San Francisco running back Kyle Juszczyk said, “It was a scary statistic… Any player who tells you they haven’t put some sort of thought into it, they’re not being truthful with you…”
And it’s not just the players who suffer. Families suffer as well. Sure, they have the money and prestige an NFL career can provide, but they also have days clouded by pain and a myriad of mental issues that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. One day “dad” is healthy and active. Then, without warning, he begins a slide into disorder and pain.
It’s both indicative and causal that football players are some of the hardest sons of guns on the planet. Theirs is a life defined by “sucking it up” and playing through injuries that would put other people on disability. Then there are those who grew up with nothing, for whom football is a way out and a way up. They need the game as much as the game needs them … and every single player knows exactly how indispensable they are not. For a lesson here, just ask former Cowboys gunslinger, Tony Romo, forced out after injury and the stellar performance of his backup last season. Then there’s Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins signal caller is missing at least the first part of the season as he contemplates knee surgery … again. He knows his replacement may be permanent.
It’s the same at every position. Any given Sunday, a hero can become a has been. From player to persona non-grata in the time it takes to call a play. So, the motivation to play through pain, even when it could kill you, is implicit. The question fans are asking these days, is how much responsibility the league has to protect the players who make them successful.