, Newburyport, MA

January 29, 2013

NFL, owners punt on health and safety of football players

Rama Valianti

---- — It was with sadness and frustration, but not surprise, that I read your article about former NFL football player Junior Seau and the National Institutes for Health confirmation that “he had a degenerative brain disease often linked with repeated blows to the head.” No surprise because it does not take a rocket scientist to do the math and physics in relation to this very violent sport where if you check out an NFL roster (which I did this morning) the average size seems to be 6 feet 3 inches, 300 pounds, and the “small” guys being 6 feet 2 inches, 230 pounds and if you watch the speed (fast and getting faster, big and getting bigger) and force at which these men hurl themselves and collisions happen, it is a no-brainer what will happen.

As I heard a sideline observer describe, you watching at home have no idea what these collisions are like unless you are right down on the sidelines seeing it or hearing it up close. This was confirmed in a recent New York Times article by a former 300-pound-plus lineman who described the collisions like minor car crashes!

It continues to beg the question: Do the NFL and the owners truly care about the health and safety of its players and seemingly their investments? An astute business observer (never mind a humanitarian for a moment) would say yes, of course, right? But, unfortunately common sense and business sense in the long or even short to medium term do not seem to be present. Many cases in point, and you can Google it if you care to get more details, Junior Seau (NFL 1990-2009), Dave Duerson (Chicago Bears), Ted Johnson (Patriots 1995-2004), John Mackey (Baltimore Colts, 1970s) and many, many other former football players have had serious brain damage, and many have committed suicide or died very early in life due to various associated complications. The NFL has improved and cleaned it up, you say: but, just last year Colt McCoy (quarterback) being put back in the game with concussion symptoms, just last week Robert Griffin III (quarterback for the Washington Redskins) being put back in the game with a serious knee injury.

And the NFL continues to allow players to choose whether to wear thigh and knee pads; many choose not to so they can be lighter, quicker and faster (what would you do in their situation if your job and winning at all costs was on the line?). Have you noticed they don’t wear hip pads in the pros? They do in college and high school. True story: back in the 1960s (check out the old Green Bay Packer films with quarterback Bart Starr) hip pads were banned to attract more female viewers — their derrieres were more pronounced! Take a look, they are still banned to this day.

Where do we as viewers/consumers come in? Are we partly or mostly, or I would say completely responsible for letting this behavior continue? And what can we do? We can start by not attending games, we can stop watching it on TV (yes, I get sucked in too when it is on at the restaurant/pub), we can contact the advertisers and ask them not to sponsor it until they really do take some serious measures to protect the players. Yes, I know it will always be a dangerous and violent sport and Americans will always have a thirst for that, but there are some easy, concrete steps the owners and players associations can take, starting with proper equipment and better sideline medical supervision.

And parents can be hyper-vigilant in screening and checking coaches’ behaviors and teaching techniques at the Pop Warner (google Southbridge Pop Warner this past fall for coaches who allowed five or more concussions and a lopsided game to continue), middle school and high school level to make sure they have your and others’ children’s safety and well-being as the top priority.


Rama Valianti lives in Newburyport.