Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Sunday!! But Is Football Moral?

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 traumaAll 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 prevailNo 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.


  1. My enjoyment of sports is similar to your own, also involving family connections. A friend of our family ended her son's football playing days after a second concussion last year.

    After several afternoons this fall watching football at a Catholic high school, I've had this question myself. I can't imagine the Catholic bishops getting within a hundred yards of this issue.


    1. I have to agree with you Bronx. Our Bishops will never get with in 100 yards of this issue. They will stay safely up in the luxury suites with the free food and booze. It's much much safer.

  2. Nothing but Giants fans around here Colleen. The super bowl is a big "tradition." I could never get into sitting down to watching the game. I could be in another part of the house and know who was winning or losing the game by the moans or yells or cheers. I tell myself, it's just a game. The restaurants and bars all have tv's and specials to bring people in to watch the game at their place. It's a big money maker. Also, after the game are the police looking for drunk drivers. That's also a big money maker.

    Once in a while I'll just happen to be by the tv screen to see a player scraped off the field and into an ambulance. Then the game resumes.

    It is always interesting to see half time, if I'm around the house to even watch it.

    Mostly what I've learned about football is that the really good games at the end always have the Hail Mary play and then they win.

    There are definitely a lot of lame and hurting people from playing the contact sport football. And not just these big super heroes. They are kids who grew up who still live with the pain of some injury or another. Some are unemployed now and have no medical coverage and every time it gets cold out the injured knee cranks up a storm of pain. An MRI & an operation to fix just an injured knee cost way too much money for someone unemployed and with no medical coverage. That is definitely immoral in my way of thinking.

    But hey, I'm just a mom and the unemployed w/no medical is my son.


    1. The Super Bowl around our house didn't start out to be a big deal because my dad, having worked for the aforementioned cursed Lions, believed the old AFL didn't belong on a good college field much less on the same field as the Packers or Colts or Giants. That was pretty much true for I and II, but then I saw something in the Jets and Namath and made a substantial bet with my day that the Jets would beat the Colts outright. Dad was friends with Don Shula who was coaching the Colts and just couldn't believe I was offering what he thought was a financial gift. He graciously offered not to accept my bet. I declined his offer. Game on.

      I will never ever forget the end of Super Bowl III. I howled with glee all the way to the bank. My dad fumed all year, and then got to it all over again after losing to me in Super Bowl IV. After that he finally took the AFL seriously--so did the NFL, and so did Don Shula.

  3. Great story Colleen. btw, my son loved & laughed at the video at the link showing the exorcism. LOL! I'm really on the fringe when it comes to things like football because I truly could never get into the sport. However, just to add some good spirit here while the game gets rolling and the sound of it permeates the house and the hootin' and the hollering begins, I'm cheerleading for the Giants, because I don't want to be around the men in the house after a losing game.