Is Football Becoming Too Violent? Do Ratings Trump safety?

by John McKiggan

Modern Roman Colosseum?

One of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen is the remains of the Roman Colosseum. It was amazing to learn the extent to which Rome’s rulers went to entertain their citizens and distract them with “Bread and Circuses“.

Is the NFL a Modern Blood Sport?

Every Sunday during football season players march out onto the field to the roar of the fans just like gladiators who ran out of the tunnels of the Colosseum to entertain the Roman masses. Sure, football players are not trying to kill each other but they can and do inflict serious, sometimes permanent, injuries. But every week we tune in to watch these modern day gladiators pummel each other.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the sport of football. I played as a kid growing up and when I couldn’t play full-contact anymore I continued to play flag and touch football until I was “forced” into retirement by my increasing age and decreasing speed (and ability).

Concussions and Brain Injury

As a Nova Scotia brain injury lawyer I have seen first hand the devastating effects of traumatic brain injury. I recently posted about Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries in Sport explaining how multiple concussions can have lasting and severe consequences.

Has Football Become Too Violent?

Watching a game this week I had to ask myself if the game, as it is being played now, has become just too dangerous for the players. Are athletes lives being put at unnecessary risk for our entertainment?

A recent article in the BBC Magazine pointed out that every season the hits get bigger and harder. Charles Camosy, a football fan and professor of ethics at Fordham University explains how the risks to players have increased:

“We’re creating, essentially, missiles of people’s bodies banging into each other in the most dramatic ways. We haven’t seen the people with 300lb bodies who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. That kind of force has never existed in the human body before.”

In some cases, injury is an unintentional consequence of the game. But the so-called “bountygate” scandal which rocked the NFL last season is just one example of the violence associated with the game of football. The New Orleans Saints coaching staff rewarded their players with bounties whenever they injured players on the other team.

In the 2009 NFC Championship game, a $10,000 reward was allegedly offered to any player who injured Brett Favre to the point that he had to be removed from the game. While those involved with “bountygate” were punished by the NFL, and their actions condemned, some say the existence of the bounties-for-injuries program is just an example of the culture of violence within the sport.

Everyone Knows There’s a Problem

There is a growing body of medical evidence that clearly documents the connection between concussions and long term disability or death.

The NFL knows there is a problem. This year the league donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health for the study of brain injuries. One has to ask if this was done out of concern for the players or was it an attempt to counter the negative publicity the NFL received from a massive class-action lawsuit the league is facing from former players who say they suffered brain injuries because of the leagues failure to address the risks.

No Changes to Reduce Risk of Injury

What the league is NOT doing is significantly changing the format of the sport to reduce chances of injuries. The reality is fans tune in every Sunday/Monday to watch players pummel each other. NASCAR would probably suffer from reduced ratings if there were never any crashes. One has to ask if fans would turn away from the NFL if it were significantly less violent.

What About Our Children?

Watching adults who have made a conscious decision to make a living by participating in a dangerous activity is one thing. But what about the thousands of children who are strongly encouraged by their parents to get in the game?

My brother lives in Texas. He jokes that folks priorities there can be summarized as: God, Country, Family, Football (and the first three don’t count on Monday night). Minor league football in Texas is HUGE.

But Bart Scott, a linebacker for the New York Jets is reported as saying:

“I don’t want my son to play football. I play football so he doesn’t have to… I don’t want to have to deal with him getting a concussion and what it would be like later in life.”

Unlike most of us, Scott has the benefit of many years of professional experience in coming to his decision to stop his kids from getting involved in football.

Educate Yourself

Before you push your kids into a potentially dangerous sport it might be a good idea to research the potential dangers associated with the activity. At the very least educate yourself so that you know the Symptoms of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.

If you understand the risks involved you and your children will be safer and better able to prevent future injury.

Go team!

This article was previously published on the Atlantic Canada Legal Examiner.

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