Don't Let Hyped Football Safety Crisis Spoil the Super Bowl or Threaten NFL's Future
Christmas, Easter the Fourth of July and Super Bowl Sunday. The world championship of American-style football has become a momentous occasion each year, even for those who don't care for the sport. On nearly every block in America on Sunday, friends and families got together to watch grown men battle to get an odd-shaped ball across a white line or between parallel uprights.
Americans shared food and drink while paying special attention to the fun new ads that pay for it all. The Super Bowl should underscore the stupendous wealth and comforts of the United States, even during some of our most trying economic times.
But never take for granted that which makes the United States a symbol of excellence. Even football has become a target for those who question uniquely American traditions.
Just Google "football safety," or "NFL concussions" to learn about the new hysteria surrounding professional football.
"Ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl, the safety of football is coming under increasing scrutiny as more evidence emerges about links between concussions and brain damage," states an article that popped up last Friday on DemocracyNow.org.
ABC News welcomed the Super Bowl with a headline that said: "Football and Head Injuries: No Device Eliminates Concussion Risk, Experts Say."
ABC assured us nothing could mitigate the threat "beyond the protections already provided by helmets." Got that? We've cured the world's most lethal diseases and compressed mountains of information onto microchips smaller than our fingernails, but no innovation can save football.
A closer read finds that ABC relied on engineer Dave Halstead, at a testing lab for sporting equipment, to deliver the bad news. Here's the foundation for the story: "When asked if there was a device or an add-on currently on the market that can fully protect players' from the risk of head injury, Halstead said 'absolutely not.'"
That's like asking an engineer if any car on the market that can fully protect drivers from injury or death.
USA Today assured us, days before the Super Bowl, that President Obama has his eye on football safety.
Oh, we're not saying football is "fully" safe.
Life's endeavors involve danger. People who sit on sofas downing chips and soda risk early deaths from heart disease and/or diabetes.
But let us compare football with other occupations, all of which pose some risk to workers and professionals. The government knows of about 4,500 occupational fatalities in the United States each year. Most years, not one of the 4,500 has a nexus to football. In fact, professional and semipro football have produced just six fatalities in 45 years. That's because of improvements in rules and equipment, which each can be improved even more. Before advances in football safety, we saw 72 pro and semipro fatalities in 33 years between 1931 and 1965, based on a professional survey conducted for the American Football Coaches Association.
Just as we watch football, at a potential cost to the health of players on the field, we watch "Wicked Tuna," "Deadliest Catch," and other reality shows about people who fish. Unlike the NFLers, the fish boat workers don't make millions of dollars a year. They average $25,590 each year and die at a much higher rate than football players. In fact, we lost 172 professional fishers in 2010 alone; most years we lost no one as a direct result of playing professional football.
The most popular new TV programming has millions of Americans watching miners and loggers who risk life and limb in desperate pursuits to catch up on household bills and child support.
Does professional football cause long-term health problems? Probably. So do low-wage jobs that involve sitting at computers, as discovered recently by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. A Columbia University study tells us that blue-collar work causes chronic arthritis and other degenerative ailments that can shorten quality and duration of life.
If the media impose guilt for enjoying football at the expense of millionaire players, spare some guilt for the movie theater. Among 1,000 stunt actors, 2.5 die each year as a direct result of their work. Roofers, farmers and truckers also lead shorter lives wrought with work-related injuries and illnesses.
Relative to much of the less-glamorous duty we witness each day, football is a cocoon. The NFL should review rules and improve equipment in an effort to enhance safety. But don't let the media's newest obsession ruin the game with distortions presented without context.
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