The first thing I noticed moving from Arizona to Colorado last fall was the orange. That tough, inflexible orange, unapologetically unlovely and making no claim to be anything other than what it is. And it was everywhere. What I mean, of course, is that Coloradoans sure do take their professional football seriously. Comparisons between football and religion cease to be just hyperbole when you take a step over the old state line. With the Denver Broncos headed to the Super Bowl this weekend (I will pause to let the cheers settle down), football fever among CSU students is beginning to make the plague lazy and unambitious.
Now that is not a bad thing. It’s great to have passion for the local team because that inspires a sense of pride and unity in an increasingly fractured society. I sometimes wished that my hometown cared half as much about the Cardinals as Fort Collins does for the Broncos, if only to bring that sense of bonding as the community collectively is uplifted through victory or suffers in defeat. But since we will all be gathering around televisions next month for the big game I think it is timely to discuss a few uncomfortable issues that have been recently coming to light about football.
As anyone who watched (and in replays, watched and watched and watched) the sickening knee contortions that tore 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s ACL and MCL on Sunday knows, football has the tendency to resemble an organized car crash instead of a sport. By my count the four teams that played in the conference championships have a total of 35 injured players. When compared to the NFL’s 53 player roster this gives an injury rate of 16.5 percent. An army experiencing that level of casualty would be quite literally decimated.
Let’s be realistic, part of me says, these are grown men that choose to be on the field. They know the risks. And what about those millions of dollars per year that they make? Surely that is worth a torn ACL and a few concussions.
If it were only bruised and broken bones that would be one thing, but head injuries are different. The past 20 years have seen the growing awareness of just how harmful repeated concussions are. A recent study carried out by the Imperial College of Medicine that found that football players exhibited “some of the most pronounced abnormalities in brain activity that I have ever seen.” Another by the Loyola University Medical Center found that seven out of ten former players showed signs of dementia of Alzheimer’s. We can no longer just tell players to “shake it off” and expect them to be okay.
The most startling developments regarding concussions are some well publicized hardships faced by players such as Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 and whose brain was found to have symptoms of a degenerative disease that was certainly caused by repeated hits. This disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is relatively common among players and has been linked to risk of depression, dementia, suicide, and death.
This all makes me have second thoughts when I see a game on TV. Is our need to be entertained so great that we are willing to ignore the obvious dangers of the game? Athletes are sometimes described as modern day gladiators, but in football that comparison seems all too apt. In light of all we now know, can it be considered ethical to watch football and fuel the system that damages so many lives?
Despite all that I’ve just said, I am a football fan. I grew up watching the sport, I enjoy following it, and I will certainly sit down next weekend to watch the Super Bowl. If that makes me a bit of a hypocrite than very well, I guess I am a bit of a hypocrite. But we can no longer feign ignorance. I do not ask anybody to boycott watching the Super Bowl but just to keep in mind that behind the lights and the glamour the NFL has a dark side.
Collegian Reporter Aaron Kolb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.