In the wake of news that a recent member of the Cincinnati Bengals showed signs of brain damage after a football career that ended with only five NFL seasons at a position that doesn’t typically entail repeated strong blows to the head, another former member of the Bengals says that he’d still choose football over other sports, if he were starting all over again.
NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, in an appearance on ESPN.com’s B.S. Report with Bill Simmons, talked about his strong interest in soccer (he said he’d like to call the next World Cup on television) but renewed his vows with football.
“Living in this country, I would have rather played football,” Collinsworth said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the level of interest and the status that you have as an NFL player or a former NFL player is unique to anything else.”
Collinsworth, who recently launched with Sunday Night Football statistician and researcher Andy Freeland a very intriguing football discussion forum known as FootballProsLive.com, is right on the money. Football continues to be the focal point of the American sports consciousness, stirring our passions unlike any other pastime.
And while the danger of concussions finally is beginning to land on the sport’s radar screen thanks to the work of men like Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. Bennet Omalu, much more work needs to be done to determine the extent of the link between football at any level and Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy.
Until then, players need to be aware of the potential risk.
“I’m not calling for the eradication of football,” Omalu recently said. “No, I’m asking for
full disclosure to the players. Like the surgeon general considers
smoking to be dangerous to your health, repeated impacts of the brain
are dangerous to your health and will affect you later in life. Period.
The players need to know this.”
But we also need to realize that the risk arises in any sport involving “repeated impacts of the brain.” Hockey has it. Boxing, wrestling, and MMA entail such trauma, too.
Then there’s soccer, where the “header” presents plenty of risk of brain injury — especially for girls playing at the high school level, as Alan Schwarz of the New York Times explained in 2007.
So before writers like Bob Ryan pontificate (as he did on today’s edition of The Sports Reporters) about the evils of football, repeatedly asking “Who are we?,” as if enjoying football mirrors the blood lust of those who attended gruesome death duels at the Roman Coliseum, we need to realize that we are a people who enjoy sports, and who will take risks in a wide variety of activities, whether it’s playing football, hockey, baseball, basketball, or soccer, riding motorcycles or horses, or golfing with a thunderstorm approaching during that elusive round of 66.
Americans, by our very nature, take risks. And if we didn’t take risks, we wouldn’t be celebrating 234 years of independence today.