I have suffered two concussions. I've broken my arm, most of my fingers, and my ankle. I've had five knee surgeries, three back surgeries, and one foot surgery. I've broken my nose twice and popped a blood vessel over my left eye, which gushed blood impressively. On top of that, I've had countless numbers of sprains, bruises, and abrasions.
I've also never played a down of organized football.
Football is a dangerous game and it does inevitably lead to injury. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who played organized football for any significant length of time who didn't suffer some sort of injury. Well, guess what? All sports are dangerous.
If you think you are protecting a generation of kids from injury by banning football, you are sorely mistaken. It's a noble goal, but you cannot prevent kids from getting hurt unless you ban every physical activity, and what fun would that be?
Banning football has been a popular topic in the wake of Junior Seau's death, and there is ample evidence to support the feelings of alarm. Between 43,000 and 67,000 high school football players suffer a concussion per year. It's not just the high profile NFL cases, it's the kids down the street.
Now, part of the reason there has been an explosion in concussions is that we've simply gotten better at diagnosing them. When I was in high school, if you got hit in the head, you maybe took a play off because you got your bell rung, and then you played through the dizziness. That wasn't being tough, that was simply expected. There is no telling how many undiagnosed head injuries occurred over the years.
The solution is not banning the sport, and suggesting so just makes the whole discussion needlessly antagonistic. Instead of a debate, we need a dialogue. Reformers need to work with football coaches and administrators, instead of portraying them as the enemy. It's not like football coaches want injured players either.
This is not new. In 1905, three players died playing college football, and President Teddy Roosevelt demanded that schools reform the game to protect players. A game that more resembled rugby slowly developed into the game of football we know with the first forward pass, thrown in 1906. This spread the field out and reduced the carnage at the line of scrimmage.
Today, it is that same space which makes the game so dangerous. Violent, open field hits can happen at high speeds and cause massive head trauma. Players leading with the head or targeting the head also leads to concussions. It is no longer the line of scrimmage which is the primary danger zone, but wherever on the field a tackle as being made.
It is the responsibility of those that love the game of football to reform it. Football has responded in the past to make the game safer for the players, and it must do so again. This means stricter rules against head shots, better equipment (which has improved radically over my lifetime), required use of mouthguards, preventing players who have suffered a head injury from returning to the game, and above all, changing the culture regarding head injuries. You can't just rub some dirt on a brain bruise.
Banning football will not make the players' safer. They will just find a different dangerous activity to engage in, because that's what I did. We can't wrap our kids in bubble wrap, nor would we want to. Getting hurt is a byproduct of living life - the only people who don't get injured are those who never actually do anything. While Teddy wanted to make the game safer, he didn't want to prevent all injuries. To quote the Old Rough Rider himself:
"I believe in outdoor games, and I do not mind in the least that they are rough games, or that those who take part in them are occasionally injured. I have no sympathy whatever with the overwrought sentimentality which would keep a young man in cotton-wool, and I have a hearty contempt for him if he counts a broken arm or collarbone as of serious consequence when balanced against the chance of showing that he possesses hardihood, physical address and courage."
We protect players by making the game safer, but we also must admit that people are always going to get hurt, in whatever physical endeavor they pursue. The debate should not be "should we ban football?" but "how can we make the game safer?"
Football is currently the most popular sport in the country, but it doesn't always have to be so. If the sport doesn't act to reform, it can fall by the wayside in the public consciousness. People will stop paying attention and largely stop playing the game. Don't think it could happen? Yeah, neither did boxing.