Tom Finneran: Obama Throws a Touchdown Strike
Friday, February 01, 2013
Perhaps you missed it, but the President certainly made news this week in the world of professional football. In essence, he announced that if he had a son, he didn’t think that he’d allow his son to play football. Now that’s news in football-crazed America. Good for Barack. It’s a good call, and it’s one that is bound to get lots of attention.
Don’t get me wrong. I myself love the game. I played the game in high school and beyond. I loved the competition, the training, the practices, the strategy, the whole shebang. I love to watch the game, whether it’s a good high school contest or the Super Bowl. In fact, I’m nutty enough to spend most of my football-watching time concentrating on the center and the nose tackle. That’s actually a game within a game and it involves smart, strong, tough guys. Always fun.
What I admire about the President’s comment is its brutal honesty in talking about a highly popular but brutally dangerous game. In fact, I wish that the President was as straightforward about our spending and our debt as he was about football.
Nonetheless, he deserves praise. The President is something of an athlete (basketball) and he clearly enjoys sports. Thus he commits a certain apostasy among sports fans when he utters his opposition to this All-American game. His concerns about football and whether he’d allow his hypothetical son to play the game spring from the cascade of frightening news about the frequency of concussions and their lingering effects on many players.
I’m not a doctor but I think I can give a fair description of what a concussion is. It’s a serious injury to the brain. It is caused by the brain slamming forward and crashing at high speed into the skull and then sloshing back into its original position. Its effects can include altered vision, limited comprehension, loss of balance, and messed up speech. Such effects can linger for weeks, even months. And once someone suffers one concussion there is a heightened susceptibility to future concussions.
Simply put, we are talking about brain damage. And while injuries can occur in any sport at any time, the kill-or-be-killed nature of football makes it the prime culprit in our sports landscape. Thus the President offers wise words and sound counsel to parents everywhere. Mothers and fathers beware.
Depending on the position played, football involves frequent jolts to the head, often delivered at high speed. Blocking and tackling involve skillful use of the head as part of the proper technique. Linemen, ends, receivers, and running backs are all involved in such techniques, and that’s before any of them resort to actual active use of the head as a weapon of utility. Watch the replay of the devastating hit upon the Patriots’ Stevan Ridley in the playoff game with the Ravens two weeks ago. Beyond wondering whether Mr. Ridley will EVER recover from that collision, can we agree that he deliberately, perhaps defensively, yet certainly aggressively, dropped his head and became a human battering ram as the Ravens’ defender sprinted toward him in the same manner?
As fans, we might revel in such a collision of size, strength, and speed, but as parents, we would be horrified to see our sons twitching or, worse yet, lying motionless, on the ground. And, as the evidence accumulates about significant brain trauma in both active and retired players, more and more parents will be joining the President in voicing and acting upon their concerns.
Football fan or not, no one can doubt the value of sport as a discipline. The lessons learned, the bonds forged, the camaraderie and teamwork experienced and enjoyed, all serve to prepare young men and women for success in other fields of endeavor. One can’t help but recall the British sense that “the War was won on the playing fields of Eton” as the highest accolade one might give to the value of sport. Yet that said, football as played by the NFL, perhaps enabled by modern equipment, and certainly cheered by our fascination with human skill and human carnage, is barely-adorned savagery.
Score one for the President.
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