An honest question for football fans
I do not particularly like working on Saturday mornings. I have a job I enjoy, one that pays me well and offers me a variety of other rewards, so I have little reason to whine about the occasional weekend seeing patients. But given my druthers, I’d rather be not in the office than in it.
However, there is one genuine pleasure I get from working Saturday mornings. I get to listen to “Only A Game” on WBUR, a show I would otherwise either sleep through or (much more likely) be too busy looking after the kiddos to catch. As I make no effort to hide, I am not a sports fan by even the loosest definition of the term. But Bill Littlefield is such a charming presence and the show makes its sports coverage so compelling that even someone as otherwise uninterested in it as I am can enjoy it.
My favorite feature of the show is the weekly sports news wrap-up with Charlie Pierce. I love Charlie Pierce. I love it when he’s on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” I love his writing at Esquire. And I love hearing him talk about sports with Bill, because they so obviously enjoy themselves, and because they both so obviously know the subject incredibly well. Charlie Pierce has forgotten more about sports than I know about almost any topic you could name.
It was no surprise that the subject of the NFL concussion settlement came up very quickly in this week’s wrap-up. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the NFL has agreed to pay $756 million to settle a lawsuit brought against it by 4,500 former players, all of whom claim some kind of neurological damage as a result of the numerous concussions they received during the course of their careers. As I understand it, the league admits no fault and it is an open question how much (if any) material it will be forced to release regarding its purported complicity in exposing its players to harm. (Those with more detailed understanding, please correct me if I am wrong.)
So I turned up the volume when Charlie started talking about the settlement. (I apologize for the lack of a transcript.) My novice’s opinion is that it lets the NFL off the hook too easily, and does nothing to address the ongoing harm suffered by current players or the quite predictable harm likely to be suffered by future ones, but what the hell do I know? That Mr. Pierce seems to think it’s for the birds, too, assures me a bit about the rightness of my thinking, though.
I have expressed my deep reservations about football before. I am resolved that my own son not play tackle football. When I am asked by parents directly, I am forthright with regard to my concerns about the sport’s risk of serious and/or chronic injury, the effects of which on developing brains are not well understood at all at this point. Being such a beloved institution, however, I generally do not tell patients who play football that they should stop, and content myself to discussing concussion awareness with them in some detail. (I do the same with hockey and other contact sports.)
Knowing how (in my opinion) unambiguous the potential to wreak serious and potentially catastrophic damage on its players, I do wonder what the long-term ramifications for tackle football will be. But I have a sincere question for football fans in the here and now — does this make it hard for you to enjoy the game?
Let’s stipulate that the health risks associated with play are real. Does that color or diminish your pleasure in watching? Or are you unwilling to so stipulate? Do you feel that the players should be aware of the risks and assume them wholly at this point? Do you believe there is any element of coercion? Do you compartmentalize your qualms about the sports ill effects on its players’ brains while watching the games themselves?
Before I hit “Publish” I want to make as clear as possible that I do not wish to appear judgmental by posing these questions, though perhaps such an impression is unavoidable. As a total non-fan, I approach the experience of watching football as a total outsider, and I really just want to have a better picture of how other people think about something of which I know very little. We’re heading into another season, and the sports clearance physicals have been in full swing. So this is on my mind a lot now, and I’d like to hear from the many thoughtful commenters here. Please tell me what you think.