I’ve always been a sports fan, and watching football has been one of my favorite pastimes. Over the last few years, however, it’s been a guilty please at best and, maybe, hypocrisy at its worst. A few years ago, I attended a presentation on brain injuries that woke me up to the cost football players pay to entertain fans like me. PBS’s Frontline series went even deeper into the issue, showing how pervasive brain injuries are for professional football players. The news has not gotten better.
On Thursday, a 17 year old football player, at Chicago’s Bogan High School, Andre Smith, died after a game. He was the seventh high school player to die in the U.S. this season. At first, it was reported that he was injured on the last play of the game, but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, he walked off the field and collapsed as he was leaving the field. No one knows the exact cause of death, and there will be an autopsy next week. Here’s what we do know: He died playing football.
Is football so dangerous that it should be made illegal? Once upon a time, I scoffed at this question. There is risk in everything we do. Players willingly participate in the sport, which they know is dangerous. I’ve used all of those reasons to convince myself that football is the same as basketball and baseball. It’s a game. But something interesting happens when we compare football and hockey. It is possible to play a much less violent version of hockey than we see in the NHL. Fighting is banned in the international game. Checking is limited or banned in many leagues. Unless you’re playing some kind of touch or flag version of the game, football is all about violence, hitting another person with your body and knocking them to the ground. Fans like me often cheer loud when both the offensive and defensive player collide at full speed. Violent hits make us cheers, and we do not ask the question: What is happening to their brains and bodies when such collisions occur?
This blog is about career and work issues, and whether they are amateur or professional athletes, football players work very hard at what they do. They practice, lift weights, and eat special diets to maintain a certain weight. They learn complicated plays and signals that are called out before each play. Paid or unpaid, their work needs to be taken the same way we consider other workplace or work-like recreational activities. Is this game too violent however it is played? Tomorrow I am meeting two friends to watch the Carolina Panthers play the Philadelphia Eagles. We meet several times over the course of the season, but it’s getting harder for me to watch football given what we now know about the price paid by those who play the game, those who are working for our pleasure. Andre Smith’s death has made me question my complicity as a fan. Is it time to turn off football?
P.S. DNAInfo reports that Andre’s Smith’s autopsy has been completed. It found that he died of football related injuries, “blunt force trauma” to his head.