What Happened to Football?

Most of the world calls it “American football” and there’s no question that it has been our national sport for the best part of the last century and all of this one—so far. After all, there are fourteen thousand teams, seventy thousand college players, and over a million high school kids playing football in this country today. Having a local National Football League (NFL) team is considered a major addition to any city’s identity and quality of life. The marketing of branded football jerseys, paraphernalia, and concessions is huge business.  Football ticket sales and TV revenue are a big part of a university’s income. College leagues give thousands of athletes an opportunity to play and the NFL is their chance to profit. The top guys are celebrity millionaires. No doubt about it, the football industry is a major driver of the American sport economy.

But it is all coming to an end soon. We can’t play football anymore. It has to stop as soon as possible. Lives depend upon it.

Why? Because the rules of the game of football have changed and it has evolved into a different sport altogether—one that a human being is no longer physically able to play. The game as it has been redefined is simply too dangerous.

Before the days of professional football, it was a game. In 1869, when Rutgers played Princeton, the rules were based on soccer and rugby, with some additions and innovations. The object was to tackle the ball carrier within the spirit and sportsmanship of the game. It was challenging exercise and quickly adopted by mainstream America.

But it wasn’t long before the entrepreneurial types realized there was real money to made from the sport; in 1920, the NFL was formed and quickly became a signature part of our culture. But these pro guys weren’t just playing a game—they were there to make money and that meant winning. As time passed, the stakes got higher and the technology advanced and the simple game got closer to war. And in war, the object is not to tackle the ball carrier, but to destroy him. And if you take the opposing competitor out of the battle, by whatever means, well, that’s a good thing. The more opponents removed from the contest, the better the chances of victory; and in wartime, that’s what they call mission accomplished.

Over the past twenty years we’ve seen exponential growth in the technique and technology of football. The players have become muscular giants—lightning fast, smart, and unbelievably strong. And as training and conditioning has improved, more sophisticated, high-end traumatic injuries have become commonplace. The attrition has been high and the profits have been higher.

Fast forward to 2014, where it’s time to wake up and bring this to a halt before we’re left with a sad but significant sector of walking wounded gladiators. Nobody wants to admit it because everyone loves football, but each week of play in the NFL results in a long list of serious and often grotesque injuries, million-dollar athletes out for the season with bodily damage that will affect them for the rest of their careers and lives. Broken bones and torn muscles usually heal, but concussions and crippling head injuries are a different matter altogether.

Stop and imagine for a moment the power of the impact that results when two huge, muscular men charge at each other—head on—at full speed—with malice and reckless abandon. They’re paid millions to do this every Sunday—every play—and their job depends on maximum effort every time.

But game after game it happens, a player goes down and the whole stadium is stone silent as the stretcher is wheeled off the field to a sportsmanlike and nonpartisan ovation. But as soon as he’s hauled off to the locker room and out of sight, play resumes and all is forgotten. It’s back to the game.

Painkillers and taped limbs only do so much. Everyone plays hurt most of the time. It takes guts to compete in the NFL. The league professes to care for these men and goes through the motions because it’s good PR, but once they’re damaged it’s over for these guys. It’s like our heroes returning from faraway wars. We say one thing, but the casualties are largely left to fend on their own. And their prognosis is not bright.

The body just won’t hold up to this kind of abuse for very long. The poor human head cannot withstand repeated blows of such magnitude, and I don’t care what kind of miracle padding and devices you come up with, it is too risky—too brutal—too dangerous. These heavyweight head injuries are nothing to fool with. Just look at the early guys who are now the older retired players in the NFL. In addition to the whole array of skeletal and muscular deformities and disabilities, many of them have serious problems with depression, dementia, and derangement, and they’re the old NFL players. Wait until the next generation of NFL athletes comes of age. It is going to be worse—a lot worse. Ultimately, head injuries might be the thing that breaks the NFL’s bank.

The training and technology, the gear and the methods, the drugs—everything has made the sport of football a sport of supermen—except there is one thing wrong with that. We aren’t supermen. We are only human beings and our bodies can’t take it. And that’s the showstopper. The sport as it is now defined requires the impossible and it’s too late to walk it back.

These days, more and more, astute parents are steering their kids away from football, a trend that continues to grow. We can expect to see the sport’s popularity rapidly decline as younger people drift away in droves—and for good reason.

So get ready for it, my friends, because football is going away. And the way this country is these days, once the light goes on and the nation has its ah-ha moment, things will happen fast. Society is mighty trendy now, in 2014, and the bandwagon is the place to be. Fortunes will be lost overnight, the media will quickly adopt other sports, and football will become a sport of yesteryear, like horse racing. All the records and the legends and classics will be relegated to the memories of sport historians and writers and nostalgic fans like us, left to ponder: what happened to football?

So get ready for it. And here’s one more tip. Put away that old football and your Cowboy jersey. They’ll be collector’s items sooner than you think.

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