A giant swirling storm cloud is brewing on the distant horizon: football head injuries. It will soon engulf us in the winds of controversy that should result in its abolition but will instead, I fear, result in its being "Romanized."
A growing number of medical reports show that the sport results in "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy," (CTE). This is brain damage that often results in dementia-like symptoms of reduced mental activity and slurred speech.
The research originally was focused on professional players by brain studies after their deaths. There was a huge presence of this disease in most studies including such high profile players as Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers.
More alarming, the studies have begun to show brain damage among younger players. The brain of a University of Pennsylvania player who committed suicide at age 21 was heavily impacted by CTE. And studies of high school players and even younger Pop Warner participants show many high impact events in both games and practice with high CTE potential.
Football is a huge center of American life. It dominates the lives of many high school and college students as players and fans, and often consumes their alums with powerful partisanship. The National Football League is a multibillion dollar business-sports complex with massive TV exposure.
There is the overriding factor of money. Football on a professional level casts a vast financial net. New stadiums are being built this very day in places like Santa Clara for the San Francisco 49ers. TV networks vie for these games.!
And, the money aspects of this are not limited to the professional game. Colleges get most of their athletic funds from this sport. And alumni loyalty and contribution often depend on a successful team. High schools in the fall are full of action based on the week's game. Fresno State's Athletic Department received $500,000 after being included in one game on ESPN2.
This gathering cloud of CTE reminds me of the historical shock in 1348 of mysterious deaths from the Black Death, hardly heeded at first. Or the first folks to get the flu in 1919 in a pandemic that would cause worldwide deaths. And most of us recall the first reports of AIDS, the H1N1 bird flu virus and of lung cancer caused by cigarettes. Each started on the horizon as a small cloud only to grow to tempestuous overcast. I forecast this for traumatic football brain injuries.
If we are destroying so many young men, what should be done? Of course, the answer is to abolish this sport. It is truly a menace and the public health calls for this to be done. Will it happen? I find this inconceivable. In the first place, many folks find their egos and allegiances tied up in this sport. And the money involved makes this nearly impossible.
My son played for Bullard High in 1973-75. I was an avid supporter and derived much pleasure and frankly a bit of an ego boost from his success. I suspect this is generally true and that other parents like me avidly identify with these young men.
So what will happen if it is not outlawed? I think the answer is clear. Most parents like myself will no longer allow their children to play. I have surveyed my family and all my children and grandchildren concur. We are a typical middle-class family, and all our friends report the same powerful refusal to allow their young men to play this sport.
So what will happen? The sport will be "Romanized." In the Roman Empire there were huge coliseums not only in Rome but in places like Arles, Trier and Tunisia. The public was constantly entertained by games, often fatal, staged by the least powerful of society: the slaves, prisoners and minorities. While crowds screamed, emperors would signal a thumbs up or down telling of life or death.
There will be a similar result in the United States. The most needful will play the game: those who have the bleakest outlook in life, need scholarships, are poor and are the least educated.
Like those surrounding Nero in the cheering stands, we will soon be witnessing the sacrifice of downtrodden young men to the screaming egos of us spectators and the multiple monied interests profiting from the sacrifice of them to permanent brain damage.
Phil Fullerton of Fresno is a retired lawyer. Email him at Puyricard8@sbcglobal.net.