Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Case Against Banning Football

Over at the PJ Lifestyles blog, they are calling for an end to calls to ban football. We really need to make this point? Well, yes, if you live in a world where everyone with a microphone disapproves of the lifestyle and entertainment choices of the average American. 

Banning college football is un-American. 
Being European, I can’t help but wonder over recent debates in the United States about the NFL and college football. Increasingly more analysts believe that these sports should be banned, or at least ‘reformed’. The latter of course meaning that they’ll lose what makes them unique and appealing to sports fans everywhere. 
Now, make no mistake about it: I’m just as convinced as the average Joe that football is a very dangerous sport indeed. But why did this fact take analysts by surprise? Why do they make such a big issue out of concussions and other football-related problems? 
Is it a matter of them wanting to wash their hands in all innocence? 
I still remember the first time I watched the NFL: I was shocked – shocked. These weren’t athletes, they weregladiators. Anyone not blind could see that they were out to hurt each other and that the crowd loved them for it. 
Once I got into the NFL, I started watching college football too. It was just as great, if not better, simply because it’s less commercial. These youngsters were trying to prove themselves; they wanted to be the best they could possibly be, while hoping for a professional career in the NFL. They were willing to run through brick walls to reach their goals.

Amen. The calls to "ban" football are coming from all sides of the sports journalism world, but the very public support for a ban by Malcolm Gladwell and ESPN's Bill Simmons are depressing proof positive that even the hippest people will evolve into grim-visaged scolds so long as they are journalists with a platform and a liberal ideology.

The bans are supposedly based on the recently discovered problem that concussions may be more dangerous than previously thought. But, I don't think it's as simple as that. I am not aware of any great epidemic of concussion-related dementia afflicting players from the Forties and Fifties. To my eyes, it looks like the complaints start with the guys who were playing in the Sixties and Seventies. (with Mike Ditka being their unofficial spokesman). I don't think the sport itself was any different back then, but you know what was different? That was when players started getting serious about using steroids to bulk up and gain a professional edge, especially on the defensive side of the ball where a lot of unhappy stories in this vein emerge. Seems to me that steroid use is just as likely a cause of late-in-life problems with dementia as getting a few concussions. Have we all forgotten Lyle Alzado?

(unlike Gladwell/Simmons/et al. I'm perfectly happy to be proven wrong about the above. My motto is: if we're gonna ban something let's make sure it's for the right reason).

There's all sorts of things we could ban, but don't. Why not boxing or horse racing? Or, for that matter, the music business? After all, musicians have to work terrible hours, have no health insurance, barely get paid 90% of the time, and work in an industry where rampant drug use is implicitly, if not explicitly, encouraged by the powers that be. But, we're not going to ban these things. 

The fact is that football is a violent sport to play and a compelling sport to watch. You can argue about the ill effects of playing professionally (I can remember Dennis Miller discussing a visit to a Hall of Fame induction and seeing all of the middle-aged pros limping around on gimpy knees), but it's not like they were forced on to the gridiron at gunpoint. Maybe it's not the same as getting a journalism degree, which gives you the simultaneous expertise to comment on brain science, but it seems to me that a life playing sports offers a lot of intangible benefits. Some of the most charismatic and impressive people I've ever met played sports in college. They weren't book smart, but that didn't matter because they had so much drive and discipline they could be a success no matter what they tried. You're going to "ban" that?

Banning football would be like banning the military. It would be a net negative, and calls for such a ban come from people already hostile to the object of their ire. 

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