Fly, Eagles, Fly!! But Not Forever

Okay, now that I have your attention, let me say that I’m not proposing that the Eagles never win another Super Bowl. Another win or two would be fine with me; after all, the Eagles are my hometown team. What I mean is that this brutal sport should be phased out, and the sooner, the better.

I’ve always considered football kind of barbaric, the modern-day equivalent of gladiators sparing in the Coliseum. Sure, people don’t die by the end of a game, but they can get rather battered, and injuries abound. And the cheering crowds at games, who seem to get louder the more violent the hit or tackle, are not that far removed from the ancient Romans packing the Coliseum cheering while one gladiator kills another or gets killed by a wild animal. Now that we know about C.T.E., chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain condition that results from concussions and repeated hits to the head, the comparison to the favorite spectacle of ancient Rome seems even more apt. For, while it may take some years for full-blown C.T.E. to show up in a football player’s brain, show up it most likely will (a recent study has found the condition in the brains of 110 deceased NFL players, a mind-blowing 99% of former players’ brains donated), and cause severe disability and even result in death by suicide.

But, you might ask, what about newer and better helmets? Won’t they protect against C.T.E.? The newest helmet, called Vicis Zero 1, could reduce the number of concussions a player suffers, but C.T.E. damage from repeated hits to the head can occur regardless of how many concussions a player gets. When a player is thrown to the ground, his brain bounces against the side of his skull. As Dr. Uzma Samadani, neurosurgeon at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and traumatic brain injury researcher, explains, “Most injuries are probably from getting tackled and hitting the ground. There is a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain.” So a player’s brain is being injured regardless of the kind of helmet he is wearing.

My take is that football is on an inevitable decline, since the pipeline of players is bound to dry up. Knowing what we now know about C.T.E., how many parents will allow their children to play such a sport? This is especially true for those in a higher income bracket, since their sons have the privilege of choice. Those parents who are low-income might be more likely to take the risk, seeing success in football as their child’s ticket out of poverty. Since 70% of players in the NFL are black, and are likely to continue to be the dominant group playing in the NFL, we end up with a situation in which whites in the stands (the NFL fan base is a whopping 83% white) cheer on these players, knowing full well what is in store for them, while their own children are safe from the ravages of the sport. To my mind, this flagrant disregard for the well-being of the mostly black men who play the sport is unconscionable—and racist.

I almost never watch football, but I did make an exception for the Eagles-Patriots showdown. It proved to be an exciting and even exhilarating game. But every time a player took a hit, and I could see their head snap back or bounce on the ground, I thought: How long before he starts to exhibit symptoms of C.T.E.? How long before he suffers from memory loss, deep depression, anxiety, aggression, confusion, and mood swings? How long before he attempts suicide?

The costs of football far outweigh its benefits, and for that reason, the sport should end up in the dustbowl of history. You might say that, as someone who has never liked the sport, it’s easy enough for me to say, but any feeling and compassionate person, fan or not, must come to the same conclusion, sooner or later. And sooner, rather than later, would be far better.