Out of Left Field: Football’s final end zone

Michael Dinnocenzo

The Super Bowl is history and the football season is over; why bother giving more space to them?
My family’s Super Bowl boycott was not unique. Lots of folks have been on the same path. The abolition movement against this activity of extreme collisions is gaining momentum.
Two weeks before this year’s culminating event, the NFL had already made more than $150 million of payments to players (retired after 2006) who had severe cognitive and neurological problems.

The owners of the teams, according to The New York Times (1/13/18) “grudgingly acknowledged a link between football and the disease – a degenerative brain condition.”
Do you think the violence will decrease in coming years? How many more millions will the NFL pay in damages? What will happen when families of pro players who died before 2006 initiate class action lawsuits?
We have been reading and learning about this violence with increasing frequency. But are there other persuasive signs that tipping points are coming for abolition, or, at least, for major reform?

As football becomes the new tobacco – will the weight of evidence finally be so compelling that even those who enjoyed the activity will see a need to halt past practices?
Down after down, lasting damage is inflicted as the goal is to physically knock an opponent to the ground. Anyone who watches can see that the process includes all kinds of other life-deteriorating injuries, in addition to brain damage.
My Long Island critics, especially young men who play on their high school and college teams emphasize that a person can be injured in a vast array of daily activities.

True, but others do not deliberately set out to hit us as they do on football fields.
Here are some signs of the “End Zone” for football:
* Take a look at the cover of Sports Illustrated (December 18, 2017), its huge headline is “CARNAGE.” The cover promises a view “Inside the NFL’s Season of Pain.”

The detailed story says “The Hits Keep Coming,” while it highlights only “one brutal week of devastating and extraordinary injuries.”
* Closer to home, this Page 1 headline for Newsday (11/5/17): FOOTBALL TAKES A HIT: “Fewer LI kids playing tackle.” “Parents worried about head injuries.”
* A growing number of Long Island high schools are having trouble recruiting enough boys to constitute a squad; some need to look to combining players from two nearby schools (e.g. Wheatley/Carle Place; Great Neck North/South).
* This year’s Super Bowl had the smallest viewing audience in nearly a decade (Wall Street Journal, 2/6/18); perhaps folks are getting repulsed by watching the repeated collisions.
* Halftime entertainer “Timberlake Says His Son Won’t Play Football”
* ”Football Destroyed My Husband’s Mind” (New York Times headline, 2/4/18)
* Several colleges have abolished their football teams, including Hofstra on Long island.
** More star pro athletes say they will not let their sons play football, including LeBron James (he was a star receiver in high school and could have played in college).
* With our society moving toward growing focus on corruption of all kinds, can big-time college football bear the scrutiny of athletes who cheat, of coaches who make 20 times the pay of the U.S. President, and of an NCAA increasingly under investigation for being a coach’s “protection racket,” and not serving the interest of real “student-athletes.”
As a quarterback from the late 1940s into the early 1950s, I appreciate aesthetics and drama of football. Any game that is played against a clock builds suspense and attention when the score is close.
With crafted play sequences, involving specific assignments for each of the eleven offensive players there are elements of geometrics in the unfolding activity that are not as easy to achieve in soccer or hockey where so much of the games is literally “on the fly.”
Because each football down begins from a set position the prospects of play designs could please even Edna St. Vincent Millay, who once wrote: “Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare.”
But all of these positives fade to insignificance when one considers that the collision features of the sport are central to the activity. Better than boxing and ultimate fighting (both of which should be abolished before football), at least the goal in football is not to knock another person unconscious.
Competition, fitness, discipline and being part of a team are all fine features of sports. More people will be seeking games and athletic contests that do not imperil their health – and their lives.
My pals from England keep reminding me that people around the world are gravitating to the globe’s second most popular sport: Cricket.

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