NOTE: This item was written on 9/19/2011.
On 9/22/11 the writer’s son fractured his left forearm playing football, when attempting to break his fall to the ground after a tackle. The idea of “safer” football is a pipe dream. Safer football – especially at the highest levels – in the context of eliminating head injuries and concussions, is no more possible than flying a jumbo jet to the moon.
While equipment can be refined and improved, these changes are minor when compared to the inherent risks that are involved when big, fast,strong and mean guys run into each other at full speed with bad intent. The best way to avoid the very real physical risks associated with playing football – at every level – is to not play football.
Safer football is like a safer cigarette. If you run around and collide with big people and hit heads – and other body parts – you will get hurt, sometimes really badly. If you put a lit cigarette in your mouth that’s made from tobacco and draw the smoke into your lungs, regardless of the filter, strain of tobacco, strength of nicotine, you risk doing damage to your health.
Neither is safe. Tobacco will never be outlawed, and neither will football.
Education has resulted in fewer people smoking, and the attention paid to the risks and dangers will probably have the same effect on football. Will fewer kids play? Probably. Is this a bad thing? Probably not, and for a variety of reasons. By touting this safer football, the football industrial complex is engaged in a public relations campaign.
Anyone who has ever played or coached – or plays or coaches – knows that the only safe football is no football. Despite the public proclamations, privately the football crowd knows this to be so; equipment and technique can be better and there can be rules put in place to protect players, but the game is not, never has been, and never will be, safe.
Anyone who tells you differently is being disingenuous. I have over 40 years of football coaching and playing experience. My three sons all play football. Yet every summer when I watch the first full pads contact scrimmage I am amazed by the ferocity of the contact and that the kids get up after every play, go back to their huddles and do it again. And I am astounded that there aren’t more injuries.
Forget about head injuries. Have you ever heard a bone snap? Seen a dislocated elbow or kneecap? Heard the “pop” when an ACL blows out or had to put a dislocated finger back into place? And then there are the sprained knees and ankles, fingers and turf toe, painful all. This isn’t to say that one kind of injury is “better” than another, but to point out that the sport is brutal and that players get hurt in all kinds of ways. Most of which are not preventable.
Expecting safer football is akin to wanting safer highways; both can be relatively safer, but never safe. If you disagree check out the definitions of safe. I am not being trite when I say the safest football is no football. If the possible injury risk bothers you, don’t play, don’t let your kids play.
Football is a voluntary activity, not mandatory, not a right. The dangers have always been there and everyone who I know who plays, played, coaches or coached is acutely aware of this. A reluctant football player is a risk to himself and to his teammates.
If you or your kid is unsure about playing, or if anybody who you know asks advice about what to tell someone who isn’t sure about playing football, tell them not to. Football, just like many activities people engage in, will never be safe.