“There are a lot of geniuses that are trying to damage the game, and ruin the game. Do you feel it? There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess. Not on my watch, and clap your hands if you’re with me on that!”
—-Jon Gruden, ESPN analyst and former NFL coach, speaking at last week’s annual U.S.A. Football convention, the three-day meeting of the national governing body for amateur football.
This will be my annual Super Bowl week post, one of the “watch the game if you have to and enjoy your nachos, just understand that by doing so you are supporting a billion-dollar industry that pays young men to cripple themselves and that is covering up the real risks of brain damage as long as it can” essay that I have written here the last few years.
The New York Times reports that U.S.A. Football is experimenting with a radically altered version of the game for kids that is designed to reduce head trauma:
Each team will have six to nine players on the field, instead of 11; the field will be far smaller; kickoffs and punts will be eliminated; and players will start each play in a crouching position instead of in a three-point stance…
“The issue is participation has dropped, and there’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all…There are, legitimately, concerns among parents about allowing their kids to play tackle football at a young age,” [Mark Murphy, the president of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at U.S.A.] continued, “so they can look at this and say they’ll be more comfortable that it is a safer alternative.”
Later we are told that the new, supposedly safer version will only be tested in a few locales, and that it may be years before the new rules are widely instituted. And how many kids will sustain brain damage in the meantime, I wonder? From the Times piece…
Medical experts and safe sports advocates were more skeptical [about the value of the proposed changes]. The brains of children grow at incredible rates, and repeated jarring blows to the head can stunt that growth, doctors say. While concussions are a concern, the larger danger to an athlete’s long-term cognitive health is the repeated sub-concussive blows like the ones that linemen absorb on nearly every play from scrimmage.
Several studies have shown that college and professional players who began playing tackle football as young boys have a greater risk of developing memory and thinking problems later in life than athletes who took up the game after they turned 12. Starting to play tackle football as teenagers is more prudent, doctors say.
“The earlier they started playing, the worse their brains fared later on,” said Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research at the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center at the Boston University School of Medicine. “To me, it makes sense we would want to do everything we can to reduce or eliminate purposeful hits to the brain,” Dr. Stern added. “But if the culprit is the repetitive hits to the brain, that’s the starting point for making changes.”
The real impediment to organized football being responsible and accepting reality are Neanderthals like Gruden, who literally care more about “the game” (and the money the game makes) than they do about the human beings who play it. Gruden’s rationalization is one of the most obviously dumb ones on the list, #9. The Reverse Slippery Slope:
Turning the slippery slope argument around, defenders of unethical conduct like to project legitimate criticism of genuinely harmful conduct into apocalyptic over-reach and ridiculously broad application of the principles at issue. “Irresponsible not to put our kids in safe car seats? What’s next, mandating special armor and helmets when they are just walking? Will we be required to have soft foam around their little chairs in the home in case they fall off?” This attempts to make the original, legitimate point seem unreasonable by raising related but absurd variations that are self-evidently unreasonable.
This is also a logical fallacy, opposing a reasonable measure on the grounds that it will lead to an unreasonable one. No, Jon, you fool, stopping a sport that turns men into drooling invalids in their fifties doesn’t endanger recess.
With people like Gruden in leadership positions and the NFL making a policy out of denial, football is on a trajectory that will have future historians shaking their heads and wondering how a civilized nation tolerated such a barbaric sport for so long.
Oh…when Gruden called for it, his audience broke into hearty applause.