Before I go on any further, I have to admit that I don’t fully believe what I’m about to write. We’re in debate mode now, and since I’m not running for president this time around, here’s my contribution to the national dialogue.
I like football a lot. As a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! Sports, I write about Penn State football. I was a beat reporter covering the New York Giants in the late 1990s when I did a radio show in New York City. I watch every Penn State game, as well as other college football games (Congratulations, Notre Dame!). I’m a lifelong fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Most recently, as a result of their great coaching and team discipline, I can’t get enough of the New England Patriots.
With that said, you can make the case that high school football should be banned.
This has little to do with the culture that surrounds the sport on high school campuses across the country. In some places, high school football is king. Games take place on Friday nights in front of thousands of people. Coaches get paid salaries that would shock you. Players get perks that make would make you blush. Throughout the country, high school football is placed on a pedestal, with every other sport – even baseball, our national pastime - not given the same respect and attention. But like I said, that’s not what this is about.
This is about Devon Walker, the player from Tulane University, whose season ended on opening day when he broke his neck. It’s about Geardon Hanohano and Siasau Matagiese, two players from Hawaii who last Friday lay motionless on the field on back-to-back series. It’s about Eric LeGrand, who was 20 years old when he was paralyzed while making a tackle for Rutgers. It’s about the concussions that occur all the time – from Pop Warner to the NFL. It’s about the violence and trash talking and gambling.
It’s about what Kevin Cook wrote last month in the New York Times. That the journal Neurology concluded that veterans of the NFL are three to four times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease than the rest of us. That, in Cook’s words, this is what happens when someone is concussed: “We know more about concussions today, but not how to prevent them. No helmet can offer much help, since the injury occurs when a fast-moving body suddenly stops or changes direction. The brain keeps moving until it collides with the inside of the skull, causing damage that can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E.”
Ironic that our first concern is always for the safety of our children, yet we have no problem sending them out on the football field every day. Kermit, you’re not playing football!
The NFL, which is being sued by more than 3,000 former players, recently donated $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to aid the research on brain injuries. Maybe it’s time to talk about what high schools should do.
Like I said, I’m not advocating banning high school football. I get that it’s not going anywhere and I get that it’s a pipeline for colleges, and thus, the pros. It’s a sport and sports are positive outlets, providing great lessons in character and accountability.
And I’m not giving up watching my Nittany Lions any time soon.