|TD Jesus overlooks another Saturday Catholic macho Love feast in South Bend.|
First off I will admit I watch and like watching American football. I like hockey and baseball better, but that's a cultural family thing. I will also admit if I had had a son I would have actively discouraged participation in football, but allowed hockey. The reason for the seeming contradiction is for the most part players in hockey look to avoid hits, not seek them out. Even those hockey players known for their hitting spend the vast majority of their time skating and not hitting. This isn't true for most positions in football.
The NCR has an article by Ken Briggs about the relatively recent studies being conducted by the NFL and the NCAA on head trauma and it's long term impact. The question Briggs raises is about whether it's moral or ethical for Catholic colleges and high schools to invest in football when we are now learning it poses demonstrable risk to long term brain function in players. We also know this is true from studies being conducted by the NHL, whose prime poster boy, Sidney Crosby, has been shelved for a year from concussion symptoms of one sort or another and whose NHL ranks were thinned this past summer by the early deaths of three of it's 'enforcers'. Head injury in contact sports is being taken very seriously, finally, on the professional level. I'm sure this relatively recent interest in head trauma has a great deal to do with the financial explosion in professional contracts. (Not to mention lawsuits from retired players or their families). No owner relishes the idea of paying a Sidney Crosby or a Peyton Manning millions of dollars not to play. Fans of their respective teams, and the rest of the team itself, can lose interest pretty fast when a player of this caliber is lost. Just ask Indianapolis fans who had to suffer through the just completed season with out Peyton Manning. I don't think hosting today's Super Bowl is going to make up for what just passed for a football season in Indianapolis. Given all that, I expect to see this issue taken seriously on the professional level for millions of pre$$ing reasons.
Unfortunately Catholic colleges and high schools have no such financial motivation with respect to their players. There are no multimillion dollar long term contracts, no unions with pension funds, no advertising revenues to split, and only minimal insurance coverage. Players don't share the pot. The pot goes directly to the colleges and high schools--and too much of that pot on the college level goes into the pockets of the coaching staff. Perhaps these are the ethical problems which need addressing by ethicists and moral theologians.
If college and high school sports officials want to seriously address the long term effects of high school and college contact sports they could start with the insurance issue. They could even take some of their advertising revenue--say from jerseys and other apparel--and put together some kind of long term insurance coverage for both current and former players. Instead of putting all that money from Reebok and Nike for displaying their swooshes on uniforms and shoes, directly into the pockets of head coaches, they could put it into long term medical and mental health care for sports related injuries, especially catastrophic injuries. They could and really should, but since these suggestions don't help the bottom line or the won/loss record, they won't. Notre Dame could take the lead and win one for the 'gimpy', but I'm thinking that would take the intervention of Touch Down Jesus and a real miracle.
However, football is not the only high school or college sport in which long term physical harm occurs. I've just spent the week reading up on eating disorders in sports. This issue occurs in sports like figure skating, gymnastics, diving, long distance running, wrestling, weight lifting, rowing, etc etc etc. Eating disorders have one of the highest lethality ratios of any mental illness including brain trauma. All the aforementioned sports take the kind of personal drive and dedication of a Sydney Crosby but we don't hear much about eating disorders as they relate to competitive sports. Experts suspect this is because eating disorders are perceived to be a 'girly' issue in little teen age female gymnasts and not a manly issue like concussions in big burly male football players. Guess what, that is rapidly changing in men's competitive sports, especially in sports where weight is important. After all, eating disorders are the dirty little secret in jockey's quarters at race tracks across the world.
If we ever do get into a real discussion about ethics and morality in sports, I sure hope the discussion goes beyond the concussions and brain trauma in the revenue generating contact sports. The Olympics will be fast upon us and maybe then we can raise some issues about other health risks to our elite athletes and their young hero worshippers. And maybe raise some questions about our fascination and need to be fascinated with our athletic heroes and teams, and maybe even ask how much of a price these heroes need to pay to qualify as our heroes.
As far as today's Superbowl, I'm thinking the emotionless all bottom line Bill Belichick's New England Borg ergghhh Patriots, will prevail. No offense to Giant fans, I'm just not all that excited about these two teams. I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Well, a lot of Lion fans probably have watched the last 46 Super Bowls for the commercials--but our day might be just around the corner. I'm thinking I just need to pray to Touch Down Jesus to exorcise the curse of Bobby Lane.