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Football…Remember the Love of the Game?

Football…Remember the Love of the Game?

This is one of those articles where you will agree and nod your head, or scream out at me about the injustice of the world. Either way, we all have the right to our opinion…

Remember the gridiron? Remember the gritty, painful game of football? My Dad and I would always sit and watch the games on Sunday (I was the son he never had). I loved the big plays, the fights, the real turf where when a player was smacked into the ground he got up with grass and mud hanging from his helmet.

And my Dad would talk about high school where helmets – let’s face it – were nothing but leather caps. They couldn’t have saved you from a concussion with a chipmunk, let alone the thousand pound players that play in the NFL nowadays. Yet, my Dad’s high school team seemed to get along just fine…oddly enough. Yes, they took their hits, they had issues, but they never ever thought about suing anyone for the fact that they received a concussion while playing in one of the harshest and painful sports invented.

Here we are in 2012. Cases are coming out of the woodwork. In fact, anyone who follows newspapers/magazines like The Sporting News, will notice that every new day a new player has thrown their name in with the concussion litigation that is plaguing the NFL.

For a little background info, in December of 2011 the NFL put into ‘play’ a new ‘in-game concussion protocol’ that they began using in Week 16 of the 2011/2012 football season. (*first reported by CBS Sports, Charley Casserly.). With this new policy, the NFL stated that “certified athletic trainers will be present at all games in order to ensure players that suffer concussions, aren’t at risk to return to games following their potential brain injury.”

“Potential brain injury.” Those words caught me off-guard when they were first stated. My father actually had a brain tumor when I was only thirteen and had to be operated on. Of course, his didn’t come from football, it came from an accident on a dairy farm. But football…I was always under the assumption that everyone who went into the sport knew the risks. You are being pawed at, knocked down, dragged down, slammed, hit, punched –all kinds of things when you walk onto that field. That is football. Over the years, and no one can dispute this, helmets, pads and security and protective wear have been put into use and bettered along the way, offering far more security and health protection than anyone received in, say, the 1920s.

And I am quite sure that players, their wives, families – a great many people – are angry in 2012 that their health or their loved ones health is at risk. Even wrongful death suits have been filed against the NFL. But here’s what a ‘fan’ doesn’t get. When a player signs a multi-million dollar contract (and, boy, they keep getting bigger and bigger every single year) they sit down with an agent, coach, team, owner, etc. and sign an actual document that truly states they know what they’re getting themselves into. Yet when Bountygate came along (the case about various players allegedly being paid bonuses in order to knock the other team’s players off the field – legally or illegally) more and more lawsuits were filed against the NFL, and the “concussion litigation” has now skyrocketed out of control.

Again – Devil’s advocate. Where Bountygate is concerned – not one of the calls on the field was flagged. I’m sure the refs were there to watch, as always, and not ONE illegal hit was claimed. With the concussion litigation, those papers are signed…everyone knows what they’re getting into when they become a football player. Their dream is to become a player – and they would do just about anything to land that contract. However, when the money disappears…THEN they sue over something you KNOW they had to know ahead of time. It is a fact. You are a football player, hence, you WILL get hit and most likely get a concussion during your years in the game.

The newest headlines, (reported by the Boston Herald,  FOXSports.com, and others), is about a ‘class’ that is being given to rookies coming into the league about head injuries and concussions. Yes, I know, everyone has to cover all bases nowadays or things will get even worse down the line. In fact, it seems that all any sport is lately is how to cover, sue, litigate and make more money and more headlines. Dad used to talk about the glory of the game, the pride, the fun, the entertainment – he never spoke about the contracts; yet another thing that has gotten bigger and messier as the decades have flown by.

Thirty-two NFL teams were spoken to by the head physician for the Cleveland Browns and various doctors who made sure the players knew that when it comes to a head injury: “A little ding is not just a little ding.”

This four-day event was designed by the NFL to allow rookies to transform themselves from college athletes to NFL-pros. And it’s not only concussions that are being spoken about. Everything from the basics of dehydration and dealing with the heat, substances, drugs, etc. are presented.

Most players in the NFL – and the rookies that were spoken to by these various publications – admitted that they really don’t think about concussions on the field. It’s only when they sit back and think about long-term problems that it even becomes a concern.

There are also instances of players hiding their symptoms because they do NOT want to be taken out of the game. It was in a series of talks and interviews back in December of 2011 that The Associated Press sat down and spoke with 44 NFL players about this topic. Slightly more than half did admit that they would rather hide a possible concussion rather than pull themselves out of a game. So with this rookie orientation program, doctors and the league are addressing as best they can to NOT hide anything when it comes to ‘feelings’ or issues that a player goes through after sustaining a brutal hit.

Players – and some that are already a part of the lawsuit – firmly believe that the NFL should make a rule that stops a player from being let go from the roster in the middle of the season due to concussions. As well as saying that the NFL did not do enough to prevent long-term damage that came from concussions sustained on the field. This is not just being ‘talked about’ or screamed about by the big names in the game who are seeing themselves being picked apart by Bountygate, there are also a group of fifteen retired NFL players – names like Eric Dickerson – that have filed suit against the NFL for just this reason stated above. Even Estates are suing the NFL alleging that players “were suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time of their deaths.” And somehow, they are blaming that on the NFL.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is the most horrific disease to me – watching the person you love simply forget…but I still don’t see how the NFL can be blamed, seeing as that there are millions who suffer this illness and they aren’t  Hall of Fame sports stars. Other players are citing their ‘cognitive declines’ as a reason the NFL should fork over money. And, at last count, over 2,300 players are part of the litigation.

One of the most ‘noted’ players to file a concussion-related lawsuit was the late Andre Waters. Waters was a part of the first group of deceased players to be diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). He committed suicide in 2006 at only the age of 44, apparently with a brain similar to that of an eighty-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

I know that many are following these cases each and every day wondering how, exactly, the cases can be proven against the NFL – seeing as that Alzheimer’s, cognitive decline, and other horrendous things such as this do occur in masses of people who have no history of concussions, or ever playing in the NFL.

Whatever occurs, I do miss the love of the game. But…no matter what we say about technology and the growth of the world, science, etc. – with growth comes drawbacks. There is good coming from this because medical science will perhaps find breakthroughs to help the next generation, but the old time memories of sitting in a stadium freezing your nose off as the Ice Bowl plays out below and fans cheer for their team – with players having fun at their sport and loving the game (not sending texts to their lawyers so that they can have a running record of what they can one day sue for) – is a memory that will be missed.

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