In light of a week’s worth of stories about health and safety issues leading up to Super Bowl XLVII, longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan posed a question to his readers over the weekend:
Would we be better off without the NFL?
But my question is simple: Is football, as entertaining as it can be, worth it? Or would we as a society be better off without it? I believe that millions of American football fans live in denial. There are disturbing facts about football at their disposal they choose to ignore. Football maims people. Football can cause severe neurological damage.
They inhabit an ultramacho world. Injuries are part of the deal; they all sign on knowing that. Most of them have been willing to live with the ruined shoulders, knees, ankles, hips, elbows, arms, and fingers, but in the old days, they never worried much about their brains, because, well, weren’t they wearing helmets? They had never been told about CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Football has never been safe. It never will be safe. Let’s table that discussion right now. The object of football is to hit, the harder the better. And the people doing the hitting are stronger and faster than ever before. The physics of this game are daunting.
The NFL is trying to eliminate hits to the head. The NFL is trying to protect quarterbacks and “defenseless receivers.” The NFL is trying to strike a balance between aggressive, hard-hitting (but not too hard-hitting) football and savagery. That’s very noble. I doubt that’s what the hard-core football fan wants. No one will say it, but what the NFL is moving toward is a game that is incrementally closer to two-hand touch than the game we’ve always known. The NFL now just wants to emphasize the, shall we say, artistry of the game at the expense of its natural violence. No one really cares about the safety of the grunts up front or the DBs. They want to make the game safer for the playmakers.
Ryan admits that the question is hypocritical. He loves pro football, but it isn’t his sport of choice. He just thinks we need to step back and ask if the sport is worth the headaches.
Despite everything I’ve just said, as long as football is placed in front of me, I will continue to watch it. As I said, I appreciate its skill and drama. But if they stopped playing it in the next five minutes, it wouldn’t bother me at all. Six months of baseball and six months of basketball sound pretty good to me.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor