President Obama didn't just make headlines this Super Bowl week, but made it all the way to the ESPN BottomLine when he told The New Republic, "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football." Now, I'm not one to drag the president's children into a debate, I'll leave that to the NRA, but since he chose to haul in his hypothetical son, there is one question I would like to pose to the president: If, after thinking long and hard, you chose not to allow your son to play football would you allow him to join a different organization that has long-lasting health implications for its members -- including serious injury, brain trauma, increased incidences of suicide, and even death? I'm talking of course about the United States military.
Both football and the armed forces attract wide-eyed 18-year-olds with a promise of free education and the possibility of a career, if, of course, they can pass the physical requirements to qualify. And if you are one of the chosen few, lucky enough to be recruited, then both involve knowingly entering into a contract in which you are putting your mind and body at a short-term and long-term risk in exchange for certain financial benefits and a shot at "glory." Neither is attempting to trick consenting adults; the danger is quite apparent. Only football may offer better odds of making a lucrative living, while the military offers a greater likelihood of dying on the field.
Now, of course, there is the service aspect of joining the armed forces. The heroic patriotism of soldiers representing the nation they love. And while this certainly justifies one's right to enlist the armed forces, I don't believe it should discount someone else's right to enroll in a football program. Especially someone who is playing for their own love of the game. Pride in the country, pride in the Cowboys. Why should any adult be prevented from partaking in their passion, just because there may be some peril to themselves involved?
Furthermore, while a fortunate few may opt to join the military for altruistic reasons like patriotism, it's impossible to deny that the majority of soldiers tend to join for socio-economic purposes. It's their only opportunity to escape, and to elevate themselves. The same can be argued when it comes to football. I'd just be curious though, given the choice to get out of their surroundings and travel, would these underprivileged teenagers prefer to go from cheering stadium to cheering stadium, or from foreign base to foreign base?
But obviously football is just a game. A pastime. There is no necessity for sport, the way there is for war. It would be far easier to grind the media-entertainment complex to a halt then the military-industrial. Football is played for fun. It's meant for recreation and enjoyment, and the members of a team opt to place themselves in harm's way. War is hell. Fought for reasons not always clear, and members have no say about being placed in harm's way. Every day. Any time. Whether they're ready for it or not. How can one even compare the two?
This week, Raven's hall-of-fame-to-be safety Ed Reed was asked about the suicide of Charger's hall-of-fame-to-be linebacker Junior Seau and the effect of concussions. He said, "Junior gave everything he had to football. I'm sure he's looking down and has no regrets. I feel effects from it. Some days I wake up and I'm like, where did my memory go? But I signed up for it." I can't help but wonder if all our military personnel suffering from the effects of PTSD, or the record 349 soldiers who took their lives last year, knew as clearly as Reed and Seau, exactly what they were signing up for. I can't help but wonder if they have any regrets.
With all we know about football's effects on the brain, any parent would be a little concerned about allowing their children to play the sport. But the problem is those children will grow up. We can do our best to protect them, but at some point we need to allow them to become adults and make their own decisions. Dangerous or not we need to allow them to pursue their own dreams. Most football players play because they want to. Most soldiers fight because they have to. I wonder, Mr. President, which would you prefer your child to participate in?
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