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Gavin Shulman

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Can We Stop Caring About Concussions Yet?

Posted: 01/16/2013 11:10 am

So in shocking news it came out last week that crazy-eyed linebacker Junior Seau, after playing 20 seasons in the NFL, had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE, likely resulting from his competing in a sport in which the object of each play is to bash your head against someone, and probably leading to his post-career depression and eventual suicide. The question I keep coming back to when I consider this news is, who cares?

I don't mean to sound callous, but if the cleat fits I'll wear it. Why should it be my concern that a grown man who consented to play a sport for millions of dollars messed up his head in the process? It's like telling a fire-eater that his choice of profession may be bad for his lungs. Anyone who's seen football, anyone who's been to a football game, and most definitely anyone who's played football understands that it's not so good for your brain. It doesn't take a surgeon to figure that out. To suggest, or sue, for otherwise is completely disingenuous.

Aren't we all sick of every sportswriter claiming that concussions and their effects mark an existential crisis for the NFL? Ennui is an existential crisis; grown men opting to play a game despite a risk to their health is existence. It's why we have ski slopes, sky-diving, bungee jumping, adult softball leagues, amusement parks, scuba diving, running tracks. All activities have an inherent risk; football's may just be the most obvious. (Except possibly for the "sport" of race-car driving in which actual death isn't just a risk, it's a draw) Yes, if you play football you are taking a chance that you will wreck your brain. Now do you have 53 players? Do you have 53 players? OK, let's kick this sucker off.

I'm so tired of this self-righteous, but what about the players? Who will think of the players? Won't somebody please think about the players? The players don't give a damn. That's why they play. If they did, they wouldn't. You can talk socio-economics to me until you're liberal in the face, it really is as simple as that. The players, more than anyone, know what they're getting into, and they choose to play anyway. So who am I, or you, or the New York Times to get in their way. I mean, I wouldn't suggest dating them after they retire, but that doesn't mean I won't root for them when they're on my team.

The idea that we're all shocked by this outpouring of information that football isn't awesome for your head is laughable. It's like when we were all floored by the realization that baseball players who doubled their size in the offseason were cheating. Or that a cyclist who competed and won in a completely compromised sport, was actually dirty himself. Could the league have been a little more forthcoming about the effects of head trauma? Sure. Could any player have truly thought playing football was a real mind-expander? Doubtful. There's a reason football players get called meatheads. And I'm sick of having to pretend to feel bad about them taking a pounding.

Now obviously, it doesn't take an autopsy to realize there can be some common sense regulation. 1) If you play one play in the NFL, you have health care for life. Simple as that. Suck it up billionaires. 2) Get rid of cheap shots to the head. Yes, they're awesome, but they've got to draw a fine, like the league is doing. 3) Try to improve equipment. If we can make vests bullet proof, and bullets vest-proof, let's get to work on some more modern helmets. 4) Don't let kids play tackle football until they're 15. This just seems like the right thing to do. 5) Mandatory mental health check-ups for the first five-years after a career comes to an end. Make it a part of the football culture. 6) Shut up and get out of my way, I can't see the game with you standing there whining.

So yes, it's very sad that Junior Seau took his own life and died so young. Junior was the man. We all had a poster of him on our wall from SI for Kids. I even had a Chargers Starter jacket. (More because the bolts on the shoulders were sick, but maybe subconsciously because Seau made them relevant.) Junior was an awesome player who played the game with an absurd intensity. He played the game the way we want players to play the game. He played the game the way players should play the game. He played the game because he loved playing the game. That was his choice. And my guess is, with all we know now, he'd make it again. It's the playoffs after all.

 

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