I am concerned about the future of football. Some of this could be because I am old, and old people worry about the future. However, I really think we are at a crossroads on issues that could influence the future of the game as well as the future of our culture.
Listening and reading to all the pundits, you would perhaps believe that sport, and football in particular, destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City. Just as one would believe that the New Orleans Saints blew up a school bus full of children in the Bounty Scandal.
If you watch the coverage of football right now, you would be led to believe that the game is too dangerous to play. With thousands of lawsuits on the horizon, you also could have the impression that the evil NFL kept their employees (players) in the dark about the dangers of head trauma.
Pro football players are the best educated athletes in professional sports. It is the only sport where every player must go to college for at least three (3) years. All the other professional sports have players that can go directly from High School, or have a one-and-done (actually one-semester) rule.
Answer this question: How much education does it take to realize that hurting your head is not good for you?
Why do I think this? It is very possible that recent developments will influence the mothers of future players. When mothers believe that something is too dangerous for their children, participation will suffer.
Former NFL Quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Kurt Warner have already voiced their concerns about their sons playing football.
Recently Frank Deford on SI.com sounded this warning:
The very brutal nature of football is what makes it so uniquely popular to Americans, but how can you distill the violence from the game and sustain its enchantment? And if it remains so dangerous a sport -- never mind liability -- when will we reach a point, ethically and compassionately, when some major school, some conference, some high school association is the first to say: We're sorry, but as much as we love to watch football, we can't any longer countenance putting our boys in jeopardy, playing this brain game for our vicarious amusement?
Personally, I do not believe it is the violence that attracts people to the game. Rather the combination of high levels of skill with the physical demands of the game makes it America’s game.
We do not send our athletes to be slain and carried off as the Ancient Romans did in the Coliseum.
As the renowned College Offensive genius Homer Smith wrote:
A game, unique to their nation, helped them survive. Enjoying theretofore unimagined wealth and prosperity and holding a record book that showed final victory throughout history going to the people who had to fight hard along the way, the USA adopted a game for its young people that was the toughest ever devised. With full-speed sprinting, violent collisions, and exhausting physical efforts, the game demanded peak mental and physical readiness. Millions played it throughout boyhood and any explanation of how the people kept their vigor through record-setting prosperity would be incomplete without a mention of it.
The game is America’s own, and it is the toughest ever devised.
The late Bill Buckley once said that he would rather be governed by the first four hundred names in the Boston telephone book than the faculty of Harvard University. Given the damage that Ivy League eggheads have done to this country over the past seventy years, the sober-minded cannot help but think that maybe Buckley has a point.
However, there are shining exceptions. In a recent speech, Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney referred to Dr. David Landes of Harvard University who authored the popular book The Wealth and Poverty Of Nations. The book is an examination of what has made some nations wealthy and others poor.
Landes's thesis may be summarized in two words: culture matters. How people think and behave has a material effect on their economic prosperity.
Most of all, Landes stresses the importance of cultural values, such as a predisposition for hard work, open-mindedness and a commitment to democracy, in determining a nation's course toward wealth and power.
Let me include physical toughness and competitive greatness. There is no greater nation in the history of the world that responds to a challenge like the United States. Not only military challenges but commercial and financial as well. Once focused on an objective, Americans are truly impressive.
It is imperative that our leaders not only specifically define the objective, but prepare us to accomplish as well. This preparation must be on a constant and continuous basis; a part of our everyday culture.
Sport plays an important role in this preparation. If sport was not important to this process, athletic programs would not be included in both the Ivy League and Military Academies.
As General Douglas MacArthur once said, “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other fields and other days will bear the fruits of victory.”
Over the next several weeks I will be preparing a program to improve safety in the game of football. As I look forward to the next phase of my life, I can think of no higher calling. The future of football, and our culture, may depend on it.
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