Opinion: The Future of Football, A Fan's Call to Action

Football is my favorite sport. Whenever it’s Sunday you better believe that I will be in front of the television watching my Patriots play.

I get into intense arguments over football with some friends, yet completely ignore  friends who say that football is a violent sport. I do this because football requires a great deal of skill and athleticism. So to me, “violent” is not an accurate adjective to describe the sport.

But the truth is, football is a “dangerous” sport.

Courtesy of Robert "Shawdog" Helfman/ Flickr

Courtesy of Robert "Shawdog" Helfman/ Flickr

Junior Seau had a very successful career in the National Football League. He first got his start in the pros as part of the defense in San Diego as part of the Chargers. He was beloved by all Chargers fans.

After two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, he retired for the first time only to be brought out of retirement by none other than the sage of coaching himself, Bill Belichick, and received an offer to play for the Patriots.

Everyone knows about that season. The Pats went 16-0 in the regular season and nearly became the first team in recent NFL history to have a 19-0 season, but (tragically) lost to the New York Giants.

Courtesy of Ângulo ótimo/Wikimedia

Courtesy of Ângulo ótimo/Wikimedia

Seau was undoubtedly a large contributor to the Patriots’ success on the defensive side that season, winning a place in the hearts of all Patriots fans. After the loss at the Superbowl, his dream of getting a ring dashed, Seau retired again, only to be brought back again by Belichick. After the 2008 season, Seau retired. This time it would be for good.

We all heard the reports of Seau’s first suicide attempt and the domestic abuse charges. However, our response was “I hope he gets help” or a collective groan at the all too frequent cycle of violence that follows some former professional players after they retire.

We are better off just ignoring them and remembering them for their contributions on the field rather than focusing on their personal lives so that their legacy can be left untainted.

Two years later Seau committed suicide with a gunshot to his chest and lyrics of his favorite song “Who I Ain’t” written on piece of paper found in his kitchen.

The song notably contains this sentence:

Cuz I broke the hearts of angels, cursed my fellow man

Turned from the Bible with a bottle in my hand

My only hope for forgiveness, when the good Lord calls my name

Is that He knows who I am and who I ain’t.

Junior Seau became a man he could not recognize and could no longer live with. So he shot himself.

Seau’s family donated his brain to science to be studied so they could have some understanding as to what drove him to commit suicide.

Recently, doctors have said that Seau was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.  This degenerative disease is not easily diagnosed; it takes years to do so. It is caused by repeated head trauma or a history of concussions.

Courtesy of Jeremy/Flickr

Courtesy of Jeremy/Flickr

Concussions are not a rare injury for football players. Players usually don’t come back in the game and are told by the team doctors to sit out the next game just to be on the safe side. As a fan, if one of the important players goes down, it is actually somewhat a relief to hear it’s “only” a concussion because the player will only be out for a short amount of time.

A torn ACL on the other hand—well, let me refer you the Patriots 2008 season. As soon as Brady went down and never returned to the game, we knew the season was over for Tom Brady and probably for the Patriots. Torn ACLs are season killers.

However, contrary to the fans’ reactions, concussions are a pretty big deal—an even bigger deal than a torn ACL. A concussion is the sudden and often violent movement of the brain causing it bounce around in your skull.

Your brain should not be bouncing off the side of your skull. Your ACL should not be tearing either, but your brain, which sends messages to your ACL, should not be moving around. Some symptoms associated with concussions are memory loss, headache, behavior or personality changes, confusion etc. These are serious symptoms.

Courtesy of Patrick Briggs/Flickr

Courtesy of Patrick Briggs/Flickr

To their credit, the NFL, NCAA and high school teams have been working hard to maintain the safety of the players. The NFL in recent years has been committed to reducing head injuries.

However, football organizations are forced to deal with these injuries in light of Junior Seau’s  post-mortem diagnoses of CTE. Not because he is Junior Seau, but because he is one out of the twenty-three former NFL players who has committed suicide and has been diagnosed with CTE post-mortem.

The correlation of CTE to suicide is not limited only to NFL players. Owen Thomas was a lineman for the University of Pennsylvania who committed suicide and doctors found early signs of CTE in his brain.

I leave you with this question, a question for which I have no answers and you probably won’t either: as fans, do we not have the responsibility of making sure that the boys and men who we idolize, people who play for our entertainment every Saturday or Sunday, receive the best possible attention? Should we not ensure they do not end their lives so tragically because of the injuries they sustain playing the sport they love?

What exactly is our role as spectators?

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