The latest tragic story to come out of competitive football is the apparent suicide of an Ohio State defensive lineman. Kosta Karageorge, just 22, was found dead near a trash can, handgun close by: this after sending his mother a cryptic letter of apology, mentioning "these concussions have my head all f***ed up."
First, let me say that I love sports: I grew up with two older and athletic brothers, and have raised a son who has memorized every stat known to man. I often choose restaurants and bars that have games on large screens, where I trade trivia with surprised and impressed males. But I can no longer watch helmet hitting helmet, bodies crashing, and necks being twisted without wincing. And wondering: is it time to become a country without football?
I have heard people predict that the NFL could be gone a decade from now. But they are quickly reminded that it is the most popular spectator sport, (as were the gladiators) and the networks won't part with all that money. Some contend that if football ever does go down, it will be as a result of a mountain of costly lawsuits. Already more than 4,000 former players have sued the NFL, and one lawsuit just this week was filed against the Illinois High School Association by a former player who claims not enough was done to protect young players on their way up.
I envision a football-free country resulting from a combination of those legal machinations and the undeniable dangers that will lead parents simply not allowing their kids to play. That may seem naïve, and a generation or two away. But let's face it: when moms and dads are warned about something that could harm their children, they act. The closest comparison is probably tobacco, and haven't we gradually evolved into one large smoke-free environment?
I realize that for many inner-city youths, in particular, the chances of rising above their circumstances may increase by succeeding on a playing field. The solution is finding other kinds of opportunities -- even others sports -- that don't entail hurting both their opponents and possibly themselves. Besides, the percentage of players that make serious teams -- let alone enjoy a professional career -- is minuscule, so having other interests and tuning other talents should be imperative. Current NFL and college-aged players are in deep already, and I hope they get the money and futures they deserve. But if the boys who once hoped to follow are not encouraged, or even allowed to... well, you do the math.
The latest victim, Kosta Karageorge, seemingly joins a growing roster of players, current and former, who ultimately can't stand the incessant headaches, the loss of memory, the disorientation. My good friend's father was one of the most famous players in football history, excelling at Stanford, as a San Francisco 49er, even making the cover of Time magazine. He supposedly died of Alzheimers, though in retrospect, the family wonders if those final years of confusion could have been the result of a career filled with concussions. Obviously, the medical and scientific juries are still out on this serious issue -- known as CTE -- but the questions are worth asking.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are national treasures, but I like to believe they would have done -- and still may do -- well in other fields. I would not want to my son to pay the potential price for emulating them, and I bet there are more and more parents who feel the same.