~Lorenzo Patrick (@smartspeak89)
I think I can square this circle that is my love of football and the devastation it leaves its participants in when they’re done playing. That doesn’t mean it’s a comfortable fit.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful game. It’s literally human chess. Each player brings varied skills to the board for his coach to mold into a strategy. A world of variation can be created with the things that can be done between running the ball and the forward pass. When successful, an even bigger world of excitement results. It simultaneously shows the sublimity of the limits of the human body, then blows right past them.
Entire cities hold their collective breath when Russell Wilson eludes danger to make an important throw to one of his receivers deep down the field. We scream with joy (or anger) when Julio Jones rips passes out of the air with ease and glides into the endzone. Which side you’re on depends on who was on your fantasy football team this year.
That’s why Super Bowls account for 23 of the most watched telecasts in U.S. television history. That’s why the college football playoff series (incorrectly) believes it can change American New Year’s Eve culture by playing their most important games that night. The moments are beautiful, timeless, and bring people together like few things in life do.
But as we continue to learn what these moments cost, are we sure that it’s worth it?
Any football fan worth his or her salt has read about the concussion issues, CTE, suicides and other maladies that have plagued former players for years. The stories have grown more tragic in recent years, but these cases usually involve former players in their late 40s and early 50s. The most notorious example of this, former Steelers’ offensive lineman Mike Webster, had numerous signs of mental deterioration before his death at age 50.
What happens beyond age 35?
“I ask my wife things over and over again, and she’s like, ‘I just told you that,’” said former Steelers wide out Antwaan Randle El in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The longer piece, which profiles a number of former Steelers, has the issue come up a number of times. Alan Faneca, who was on the Super Bowl XL winning team with Randle El, reports similar bouts of memory loss. Frank Lewis, who played alongside Lynn Swann in Super Bowls IX and X, said he feels “practically brain dead.”
Lewis is 68. Faneca is 39. Randle El is 36.
The latter’s comments caused quite a stir in the sports’ world last week, which he attempted to calm in a series of interviews. To paraphrase, while he justifies the sacrifices made to play every week, he’d choose baseball if he had to do it again.
I get it, but nobody wants to hear that from a pro player in your favorite sport. It’s not quite Yoenis Cespedes choosing golf over baseball. Still, who am I to judge someone else for what they want to do with their body?
I’ll keep this in mind when the Super Bowl rolls around in two weeks. The Broncos will take on the Panthers in what should be both Cam Newton’s coronation into the class of elite NFL quarterbacks, and (hopefully) Peyton Manning’s last game. Despite his neck injuries and allegations of HGH usage, I sincerely hope Manning isn’t echoing Randle El’s thoughts this time next year. The trend doesn’t look promising. Should he have issues, it might be the start of many football fans leaving the sport alone. It certainly would be for me.