Will America Outgrow Football?

Many of us await the approaching Super Bowl like little kids look forward to the annual visit from Santa. We dress up, we paint our bodies, we huddle together in subzero temps, all just to cheer on our favorite team.

How many of us, though, have ever stopped to question why we continue to glorify the game of football the way we do? Indeed, some have begun to question the sport that leaves such a hefty trail of broken bodies in its wake.

It’s arguable that football, from the high school Friday night lights all the way to the NFL, embodies and indeed glorifies some of the most banal human urges. Will we outgrow it?

Why Do We Love the Sport?

What is it about the game of football that turns men and women alike into rabid fan beasts? After all, other sports likewise provide gentler ways to express our competitive instincts. Couldn’t sports such as soccer or basketball satisfy our need to test the limits of human physical prowess?

Many football fans admit that the raw violence of the game holds the secret behind the sport’s appeal. They state the game reflects the primal rage early humans had to feel in order to survive in a kill-or-be-killed world.

The problem with this theory? Humans didn’t survive due to embracing violence as a way of life. Quite the opposite. Human beings lack the fangs and claws of true predators, and we’re comparatively tiny to boot. No, early humans survived the wild not by individual acts of violence but by working cooperatively and banding together to protect each other from nature’s dangers.

But, you might think, doesn’t football teach cooperation and teamwork? Not any more so than baseball or cricket. Indeed, while football could evolve into a sport that emphasizes the value of working together toward a common goal, in its current form it is little more than a battle of the bodies. And those bodies take a beating indeed.

The Human Brain Bucket and CTE

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine examined 111 brains donated by former football players. 110 of the 111 brains examined showed indications of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE refers to a state of permanent brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head. Among other problems, CTE can cause permanent personality changes. Those diagnosed with CTE often suffer extremely violent urges, the expression of which has likely resulted in tragedy more times than we realize.

Attorney Jose Baez introduced the CTE defense in the trial of Aaron Hernandez, a former NFL player accused of murder. Hernandez later killed himself in his cell. CTE has also been linked to suicidal ideation, so this is, unfortunately, not necessarily a surprise.

Other symptoms of CTE include short- and long-term memory loss, confusion, problems controlling impulses, depression, anxiety, and severely impaired judgment. Doctors describe those suffering from CTE as akin to those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in terms of the degree of impairment.

Additional Health Concerns

In addition to traumatic brain injury, the violence of the sport of football leads players to develop other permanent injuries as well. Football players suffer strains, sprains, permanent spinal injuries that can paralyze them, destroyed knees, and torn rotator cuffs.

Repetitive stress taxes muscles as well as ligaments and tendons, and many football players suffer permanent disability due to these sorts of injuries. Too many young men see otherwise promising futures derailed due to the violent nature of the sport.

Our Glorification of Violence

Celebrating violence during game time often spills over into other areas of life. Indeed, workers at domestic violence shelters report a spike in incidents of violence on Superbowl Sunday.

Indeed, critics of the NFL point out that the league continues to take few measures to purge those accused of domestic violence from their midst. Defenders of players accused of such violence echo a refrain often heard during the Kavanaugh hearings — past acts of violence shouldn’t preclude future employment opportunities.

In addition to being reprehensible, this defense fails to account for the fact that many people, especially young people, look to athletes as role models. Failing to penalize football players for committing domestic violence reinforces the misconception that domestic violence somehow doesn’t qualify as “real” violence. Indeed, Colin Kaepernick suffered far worse consequences for protesting police brutality against black men than scores of NFL players face for beating their girlfriends or wives.

Changing the Game

Banning the sport of football feels akin to banning apple pie for many people. As an outright ban of the sport remains unlikely, what can we do to address football’s problems?

One seemingly contradictory solution proposes removing football helmets from the sport altogether. While at first, this solution seems like it would lead to further injury, in actuality, taking helmets out of the game could force players to eliminate skull-crushing tackles and instead employ a strategy to move the ball down the field.

Another solution recommends restructuring football around already existing flag football rules. Would fans accept a kinder, gentler game? At first, many would lament the loss of the satisfying crunch of helmets crashing together.

However, our entertainment choices ultimately reflect what we value. Removing the worship of mindless violence from the game of football may lead to a more peaceful society overall.

As humanity evolves, so do our entertainment choices. Healthy athletic activities should and do teach valuable lessons in sportsmanship, teamwork, and perseverance. We should likewise use sports to teach younger generations that senseless violence causes nothing but harm by eliminating brutality from our nation’s most popular sport.