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Down on the Farm: Football is doomed

Eric Bergeson

It may take several decades, but American football is going the way of cigarette smoking, forced into near extinction by mounting scientific evidence that the activity kills and maims.

We always knew football was hard on knees, but now studies show the sport is hard on the brain, too.

A concussion, it turns out, doesn't just hurt the place where the head got bumped. The impact jolts every cell of the brain, causing a disruption of the cell's equilibrium and permanently altering the brain chemistry.

Subsequent jolts, even minor ones, can multiply the effect.

The result? Those who have sustained multiple concussions are several times more likely to suffer depression, memory loss, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease and other horrible neurological syndromes.

Lou Gehrig, the baseball Hall of Famer, attended Columbia University on a football scholarship at a time when football helmets were merely padded leather caps. Could the disease named after him, in his case, have been the result of his brief football career?

Gone are the days when high school football players would come to Social Studies class Monday morning and brag of not remembering the second half.

Coaches and team medical personnel now have a responsibility to make sure that players who get their bell rung do not sustain further damage.

Head injuries are serious business.

Eventually, of course, people will wake up and realize that the risk isn't worth it. New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott will not let his seven-year-old son play football. Retired Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who has suffered episodes of deep depression, has said that the game of football will be eclipsed by less violent sports like soccer in less than ten years. Bradshaw, who has seen the effects on teammates and himself, probably sells football's staying power short.

Not only are billions of dollars involved, but so are national rituals such as Sunday noon and Monday night.

When faced with scientific evidence that their favorite activity is harmful, the masses would rather kill the scientist than change their ritual.

Ninety-nine percent of climate scientists say global warming is not only real, but might be addressed with changes in human behavior. Fat chance of that! We don't want to change our behavior. No wonder deniers of global warming make millions spouting their false claims.

What has happened whenever science has discovered an unpopular truth? No matter how much evidence the scientists stack up, the masses tag the scientists as agents of Satan.

Instead of attacking the evidence, they attack the people who have assembled it. "They hate our way of life," they say. "They must be communists!"

Just watch over the next twenty years as an entire set of folk beliefs will arise to combat the scientific evidence that football reduces the brains of its participants to quivering blobs of goo.

One pop theory I recently heard on the street, and this is a doozie: Black players are more susceptible to head injury. If there were fewer black players, concussions wouldn't be as much of a problem.

There is no evidence to support the assertion, but if you're going to be ignorant, you may as well go for the gold.

Others will tout the toughness spawned by football, the discipline, the character development. Only football, they say, teaches young men to sacrifice all for the team. If this is true, there are a lot of men filled with character limping around wondering where they are.

Eventually, the argument for football will look much like the argument against forcing motorcycle riders to wear helmets:

Do people have a right to expose themselves to harm, especially when society eventually pays the cost? How much harm is too much?

The powers that be may eventually decide that, since playing football is voluntary, those who partake, like cigarette smokers, know the risks and have the right to take them.

Even though the rest of us will eventually pay the price, we may decide that the cost of the damage is worth keeping our fall Sunday afternoons and Monday nights intact.