I was two steps above hopeless when it came to athletics as a kid, whether in or out of school. I had no ups, no rifle arm, and was slow as cold cane syrup on a winter’s morning but since I was twelve I’ve always liked watching sports. Baseball, basketball, and even tennis but no Nascar racing or golf because I’ve had more fun watching snails crawl across my driveway than watching those competitions because I don’t call them sports. All that said, I’m a pig rolling in slop every last week of August and the first week of September because sports is all I watch this time every year. Pennant races in baseball, the US Open in tennis, and, this year, the FIBA tournament to crown the champion of international basketball. All good times for me but it all pales because this time is when football season at the college and pro level starts. Every Sunday at noon, I pull on one of my Philadelphia Eagles jerseys and my Eagles medallion that I kiss two times for good luck before I put it around my neck. When the one o’clock games start I can normally be found with a huge bottle of water in my left hand and my laptop on my right thigh. This comes on the heels of an orgy of college football the preceding Saturday that can go from noon all the way to two in the AM if there’s a good game from the West Coast on tv. Good times and I do enjoy it still even if that pleasure is tempered the more I learn about the physical toll the pursuit of the blessed pigskin takes on their bodies of those who play it.
Anyone with half a brain can see that football takes a heavy toll on those who play the tackle style of it at any level. I’ve seen guys I’ve played with in pickup games rip tendons and ligaments in their knees and ankles not to mention break arms and leave to get cuts stitched up. I still have a scar under my lower lip from where one of my teeth broke through the flesh when I was tackled by a cousin of mine. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun in the heat of battle or the coolness of memory but that doesn’t stop me from admitting the game is still a barbaric spectacle. If games are like that on a sandlot then it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the trauma the professionals go through.
Broken bones stitch back together and bleeding cuts eventually scar over but bruises to the brain never get better. It’s not hard these days to find medical studies outlining the effect of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE on players at all levels of football but especially in the National Football League (NFL). If the studies aren’t enough then the increasing list of former pro players who suffer from dementia at ages younger than the norm or the ones who take their lives like Junior Seau or Dave Duerson or, even one of my favorite Eagles from back in the day, Andre Waters. Men who shot themselves in their chests so their brains would be available for study post mortem. Brains that were proven to be damaged inarguably from the years of sudden, violent impact on football fields across this nation that has been likened to car crashes almost every play.
How does this affect me as a football fan knowing that I’m watching a delayed snuff movie starring these athletes? Do I, as a heavy consumer of college and pro football, have a responsibility in any of this? Of course, I do. I’m not too jaded to say just because these guys knew the risks before they even stepped between those lines absolves me even if many do know those risks and if they don’t then they should. Coal miners in West Virginia know all about the risks of black lung and cave-ins too but they still go down into those mines and fight any movement to wean this country off coal to make sure they can continue to go down there. The oil workers for BP on the Deepwater Horizon which blew up in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago knew the risk but they still went out to that ill-fated platform while their peers are still in the Gulf, still drilling for treasure that can be the cause of their deaths as well. Just because the labor pool knows the costs doesn’t excuse those who profit from their slow motion suicides.
So what do I do then? Nothing tangible because hypocrite that I am, I know that I’m a willing but passive participant in this widening calamity. I hope and pray these guys learn proper tackling techniques. I wish for doctors to find the key to help brains regenerate themselves after injury or for scientists to engineer more protective helmets and padding. I support parents guiding their sons (and daughters) away from football to other, less injurious sports. I also implore Coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles to finally win a Super Bowl so I can stop watching this brutally hypnotic sport. Seeing guys get carted off the field with injuries only reminds me that we as fans are just as responsible for what happens as the players, coaches, universities, and team owners because we’re all trying to scrape the blood and brain matter off before the next weekend so we can be entertained without blaming ourselves too much.
—Jason O. Logan