Now that we are deep into the season, I’d say the answer to that question I asked a while back is: absolutely! It’s the best sport in the history of the world. But then Washington Post columnist George Will has to come along and spoil it:
Football’s doughty defenders note that other recreational activities, such as bicycling, injure more participants. But only in football is long-term injury the result not of accidents but of the game played properly, meaning within the rules. Rules could be changed by, for example, eliminating kickoffs, with their high-velocity collisions, and barring the three-point stance, whereby linemen begin each play with their heads down and helmet-to-helmet collisions are likely. But such changes could be made only over the dead bodies of fans who relish mayhem from safe distances.
He cites the autopsies of 334 former NFL players, which showed they were three times more likely to suffer from neurodegenerative diseases. Will, with his stuffy aura and corny bow ties, has never liked football, which he says combines the two worst aspects of America: violence and committee meetings.
But as much as it hurts to admit, he might be on to something. While he doesn’t acknowledge that many injuries are caused when rules aren’t followed — late or illegal hits, for example — he’s right that players are hurt by the nature of the game, as they always have been but especially as it’s played today.
The more I read things like this, the more I think that 10 or 15 years from now, football will be a completely different sport. What then? If it were to change to protect players, would I like it as much? If they cracked down on certain tackling or blocking or eliminated kickoffs, it wouldn’t matter. Yet as Will’s piece suggests, to really attack the problem they’d have to change the game’s nature. What if they eliminated helmets? It would be just a little more exciting than flag football.
When I really think about it, I have to admit that part of the game’s appeal are the hits. It wouldn’t be the same without them. But it’s the normal hits, play after play, and not always the spectacular or cheap hits, that seem to do the bulk of the damage.
George Will, thanks a lot for ruining my weekend.