Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fun and brain injuries

Like most men my age, I enjoy sports a lot. Every season of the year is identifiable with a sport in my household.

Right now, I watch plenty of football. The college bowl season is about to hit its climax, and the National Football League is chugging toward its playoffs. Life is fun when it comes to this aspect of life.

However, like with most things, a dark cloud of seriousness hovers around these events. While football is exciting, we should not lose sight that it is a tremendously physical sport and leaves some of its participants with health concerns that are long lasting.

We were reminded of this recently when more than 20 former NFL players sued the league claiming it failed to adequately treat them for concussions they suffered while playing. These players claim the concussions have led to severe and permanent brain damage that is linked to the league's lack of action.

The NFL denies the accusations and plans to vigorously defend itself in court. This will likely be a long and drawn out process and will remain in the courts for the next several years.

Since I am neither a doctor nor an attorney, I have no idea how this will all play out in the courts. However, I am sure it will be as hotly contested as any Super Bowl.

As fans, we often lose sight of how dangerous this sport can be. It is physically punishing and from the security of our living rooms, we do not get the full impact of just how painful the contact is on the field.

Hip and knee replacement surgeries are common for many former players. These health problems can be very expensive especially for those who played before players began making big money.

In my lifetime, I can remember when even star players had to have second jobs in the off season. Now, many of these players have hit hard times because of the financial and personal toll their football injuries had on them.

In the coming weeks, there will be much hype as the NFL playoffs unfold, leading up to the Super Bowl in early February. Though there will likely be some debate on this topic, I do not expect it to dominate sports coverage.

This is because the NFL is probably the most effective sports league when it comes to shaping its image and guiding how the media covers it. If someone disputes this, keep an eye on how powerful networks like ESPN report on this issue.

ESPN has access to more resources when covering sports than any other outlet on the planet, but so far it has taken a pretty hands off approach to this issue. Why is this?

We can only speculate, but the network does have a multi-year contract with the NFL worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It may be cynical to suggest the cozy relationship between ESPN and the NFL has caused the network to play nice on this issue, but we do live in a cynical world, don't we?

As fans, we need to show more sensitivity toward the sacrifices players have made and continue to make. It is tough to show sensitivity toward people making millions of dollars, but it is an effort we must make. I agree nobody has forced them to make the career choices they have made, but that should not give us an excuse to be callous.

After all, they are on the field to entertain us. The concussions being received, and the bones being broken are for the benefit of us.

If we look at this so personally, maybe our attitudes will change.

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