I am always surprised at how soon the football season starts, and this year it is no exception. Preseason football is already here. Soon enough our favorite football teams will be on the gridiron, pounding, penetrating, hitting, twisting away.
I grew up watching the Denver Broncos, and I remember the two Super Bowls. I also remember watching Bill Romanowski launch himself into quarterback Rich Gannon, absolutely leveling him because he never saw Romanowski coming. I remember the excitement, the idea that one team could-almost quite literally destroy the other.
These days, my excitement for an inherently violent sport is quickly waning. It is hard to follow players when so many of them get season-ending injuries. Preseason is already taking a toll on players: Steeler kicker Suisham tore his ACL while tackling an opposing player, and Jets QB Smith is basically out the entire season from a broken jaw. The list goes on.
Then consider the evidence amassed from former players. Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg with an illegal weapon (he had no NY permit). Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and then himself. New England Patriot star Aaron Hernandez killed with impunity, or so he thought. Mike Webster earned media attention, with an obituary for Webster stating:
Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame center who helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls and whose life spiraled into drug use and homelessness after he retired, died Tuesday at age 50…
Webster was diagnosed in 1999 as having brain damage caused by repeated head injuries during his career. His doctors said several concussions damaged his frontal lobe, causing cognitive dysfunction.
Then there’s former San Diego linebacker Junior Seau, who killed himself by a shot to the heart. Seau presumably shot himself there so as to preserve his brain, which after examination showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These players seem to be not the exception but rather the rule: according to an analysis by Slate, ex-NFL Players die on average by age 60.
Given the inherent violence in the sport, both on and off the field, it is time for me to tune my attention elsewhere. Tennis is great because I have yet to see a catastrophic, career-ending injury, and injury time outs are rare. In fact, the same could be said about basketball, baseball, soccer, or any other major sport. Even hockey comes across as clean by comparison.
The upshot is this: will I watch the 205-2016 NFL season? To be honest, yes. A little bit. But when you have to watch players’ careers demolished in one play, when there seems to be an injury time out once per quarter, and when you add up the pain, injury, and suffering almost all pro players experience later in life, it is high time to change the channel.