New Orleans There is no danger whatsoever that anyone will start calling American football the “beautiful game,” which is sometimes the expression used internationally for what the world sees as football, which we call soccer. Football is earning the moniker of the “deadly” game for its institutionalized violence, mayhem, maiming, racism, and more.
I was bumped up to first-class flying home recently. My seatmate on this leg was an orthopedic surgeon who over the last fifteen years had built the sports medicine center at a big local hospital chain that served all of the southern Louisiana sports world except for one university. Would he let his son play football? Heck, no! He was going west next year on a soccer scholarship. Did all of these helmet changes by the NFL make the game any safer for the players? Heck, no, he answered! What did he think about paying players? The good doctor thought that universities and the pros should guarantee lifetime healthcare coverage to any athlete playing football at any level. Why? Because, all of them are going to need it. He tells others his views on the sidelines. I didn’t ask his name, and he didn’t ask mine, but we both knew we had played high school football, loved the game, and in my case, I had torn ligaments and cartilage in my left knee and a Vietnam war exemption to prove it. Youth participation in football has now gone down an average of 10%, and sometimes more, even in Southern states where the sport has long been king.
If this wasn’t enough, the National Football League, despite being an economic powerhouse worth billions, continues to shoot itself in the foot and everywhere else. A player for the Cleveland Browns has been indefinitely suspended for ripping a Steeler quarterback’s helmet off and hitting him in the head with it. Assault with a deadly weapon and an arrest will not be forthcoming, because there is a legal assumption that when players take the field that they have agreed to an implicit sanctioning of violence. Cam Newton, a former MVP in the league who led his team to the Super Bowl not so long ago and quarterbacked his college team to the national championship, has been out hurt for most of two years and could be gone. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts quit after eight years because he didn’t think he should continue dealing with injuries. The list is endless, and no one seems to learn anything.
When the NFL takes its head out of the sand, it specializes in farce. The Commissioner after two years of piddling and more recently being prodded by Jay-Z, who shamed himself by throwing Colin Kaepernick under the bus so that his company could make a marketing deal with the NFL, gave him four days’ notice for a special workout in Atlanta where all teams were invited. The NFL’s hand seems to have been forced when two teams asked them whether or not it was OK to give him a workout, implicitly confirming the common knowledge that he has been blackballed for his on-field protests against racism and police violence. The farce includes the fact that many teams wouldn’t be able to get their general managers or head coaches to Atlanta on such quick notice for the Saturday before their own game days. Count on the hater-baiter Dallas owner, Jerry Jones, to pop off about not sending anyone, and then, obviously under pressure by the league, have to get somebody there with a Cowboys’ t-shirt to up the number of participating squads. No one should be holding their breath waiting for a contract offer for Kaepernick, nor is there any indication that he would stop his protest.
Typical of everything about football’s leadership at the professional level or the semi-pro NCAA level, no problem is ever confronted and solved whether about health, violence, or certainly race. The standard football playbook for dealing with all of this is just to push the problems further on down the field. The final signal call will be when they also kill the sport.