As the game of football faces questions about its long-term viability given the fairly recent realization that the inherent risks of football include chronic brain issues that may develop into cognitive impairments, the battle lines have been drawn between those who attack the game and those who defend it.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh defends it zealously in an article recently posted at the team’s official website.
“The question is asked over and over: Why would anyone want to play football? And why would anyone let their kids play?” Harbaugh writes. “Here’s my answer: I believe there’s practically no other place where a young man is held to a higher standard.”
Harbaugh realizes that the concussion issue has brought football to a “turning point” like the one in the early 1900s that prompted significant changes in response to a rash of deaths and serious injuries.
“We have to continue to get players in better helmets,” Harbaugh writes. “We have to teach tackling the right way, and that starts at the NFL level. Change the rules. Take certain things out of the game. It’s all the right thing to do.”
Harbaugh focuses his views on high school football, the highest level of the sport in which 97 percent of all players participate.
“How many youth and high school coaches serve as a father figure to their players?” Harbaugh writes. “How many mothers look to the coaches of their son’s football team as the last best hope to show their son what it means to become a man — a real man? More than we’ll ever know.”
Some will say that Harbaugh’s decision to articulate his views confirms that those with a vested in football are worried about its future. Maybe those with a vested interest in football should be worried about its future; of all the sports and other activities that entail risk of short-term or long-term injury, football is one of the few that now comes under regular scrutiny.
Is football dangerous? Yes. It always has been, and it always will be.
Obviously, plenty of things are dangerous. It’s become popular in some circles to distinguish the risk of accidental injury from, for example, riding a bike to the reality that football necessarily entails head contact when it operates as intended. But head contact doesn’t always lead to concussion and concussion doesn’t always lead to brain damage. In football, brain damage isn’t inevitable. In other activities, accidents likewise aren’t inevitable.
A wide range of activities have risks and rewards. Everyone needs to decide whether the rewards justify the risks. Regardless of what anyone chooses, it doesn’t mean the activity should be abandoned or outlawed, unless the risks become too great and/or the rewards become too small.
Many people, like John Harbaugh, believe the rewards outweigh the risks, and that the stewards of the game have an obligation to find ways to reduce the risks as much as possible.