If I Had A Son (or Daughter), Would I Let Him/Her Play Football?

The NFL’s  Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers getting it on. Photo courtesy of profootballweekly.com

 

I’ve seen it on ESPN and Fox Sports reports and documentaries.

I can vividly recall my heart breaking when I saw former Chicago Bears quarterback and basic sunglasses-wearing bad-ass Jim McMahon struggling to remember where his home was on outings.

Not to mention big names such as McMahon’s Bears teammate Dave Duerson and former San Diego/just moved to Los Angeles Chargers and USC  linebacker legend Junior Seau kill themselves.

And I’ll never forget the sad condition of Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers center from the Super Bowl glory days of the 1970s, who was the same age as I am now (fifty) when he passed away of a heart attack.

All because of Cardio Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which is essentially brain damage caused by way too many concussions.

Which these guys – and many more football players (and hockey players, too; can’t forget them) I may add – have suffered from for so long as recent research found that out of 111 brains of former football players studied, all but one showed signs of CTE.

It’s at the point where for the past couple of years, whenever I watch a football game one of my first thoughts is this…

“I hope his head’s OK.”

I think that’s a main reason behind me, despite liking the pigskin game as much as the next guy, preferring baseball.

A thought came to me very recently regarding all of this on a personal level:

 

CELEBRATING UNDER THE FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Hart High School’s football team, from Newhall, CA, after winning a CIF championship. Photo courtesy of archive.signalscv.com

 

 

IF I HAD A CHILD – WHETHER IT WAS A SON OR EVEN A DAUGHTER (Plenty of girls have liked the sport enough to have played it and want to play it) – WOULD I LET HIM/HER PLAY FOOTBALL?

I won’t waste any more time on answering this:

If it was flag football in a Parks and Recreation league, sure!

That brand of the game is obviously much safer, with no tackling.

Now the big question; if it was a Pop Warner tackle league or a high school team…

My Answer: YES – if my kid really wanted to do it.

There would be one condition I would put upon my youngster before I signed the form, paid the entrance fees, signed up for the booster club, etc…

The first concussion my child suffered on the gridiron, he/she would be immediately pulled from the field by me – or I would order the coach to – and would be done for the season.

Like any other sane parent, I would take no chances with my loved one’s health.

He or she would be gone, then have a complete brain scan at the beginning of pre-season practice – and pass with flying colors – the next year before I would let them take the field.

I can’t make it clearer than that.

For all those parents and loved ones whose children are doing battle on that 100-yard space, whether he’s a eight-year old in Pee-Wees, a 16-year old under the Friday Night Lights, or a five-star recruit at one of the country’s collegiate football kingdoms,

I pray that your kid gets through this season concussion-free.

 

Action from a Pop Warner game. Photo courtesy of readingpopwarner.com

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Concussions, CTE, & Other Debilitating Injuries: Is Football REALLY Worth It?

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Members of the reborn Los Angeles Rams, back after 21 years in St. Louis, taking the field at the Coliseum. Photo courtesy of ibtimes.co.uk

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON THIS ISSUE AS SUPER BOWL LI AND FOOTBALL SEASON IS NOW HISTORY

 

Now that the confetti’s been cleaned up and the Vince Lombardi Trophy has been awarded in Houston, with the team receiving that trophy embarking on their celebratory parade as I write this,

Over the past several years I’ve watched football games on TV and in person and – sometimes in the back of my mind, sometimes in the front of  it,

Considering all the stories of former stars and heroes who were seen as near-gods in during their time on the gridiron who are…

  • Unable to remember how to get home from the store as well as sometimes needing help remembering their oldest friends and even their own names
  • Can barely walk without significant pain
  • (In some cases) are paralyzed
  • Broke and homeless or even dead by suicide due to the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy suffered from all the hitting on the field

I have wondered if playing the game of football is worth it.

Many big names have ended up as statistics as far as CTE and other permanently painful injuries and how it ultimately ruined their lives, Super Bowl champions like Brett Favre, Jim McMahon, and Harry Carson along with ex-Tennessee Titan Frank Wycheck, who has recently stated his fear of having CTE,

As well as guys who are tragically no longer with us such as former Baltimore Colt and Lite Beer commercial legend Bubba Smith,  Oakland Raider Ken Stabler, and notably Junior Seau, the former USC and San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer who shot himself in 2012.

These are and were the athletes who, suffer from bad headaches and memory loss in addition to the sometimes excruciating pain in their joints and various other body parts.

As former New York Giant Carson described it, in his words he “…doesn’t think as clearly as I used to. Nor is my speech (and) selection of vocabulary as good as it used to be.”

To make it clear, contrary to what some may be thinking I do enjoy football, having been a fervent fan of my collegiate alma mater’s team, the UCLA Bruins, for roughly 35 years and having seen them play approximately 130 times.

 

 

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Philip Rivers, the longtime San Diego Chargers QB who will as of next fall be playing his home games in Los Angeles; he’s another guy whose brain and overall health I’m praying for. Photo courtesy of wowtrending.com

 

I completely understand the appeal of football in this country, how it attracts people not only with its violent, battle-like nature and the pomp and pageantry that goes along with it, i.e., cheerleaders and marching bands (which I was involved with in both high school and at UCLA),

But – more importantly – also with the extreme sense of camaraderie that the game provides in the form of tailgating (my favorite part of football) and simply being with people similar to you as far as the team they root for.

I also completely understand the appeal of playing the game as who wouldn’t want to be adored by anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 people on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.  Not to mention all the lovely young women in short mini skirts holding pom-poms showing such enthusiasm over what they are doing on the sidelines.

And the fact that injuries suffered on the gridiron are unfortunate but also an occupational hazard that is more or less inevitable.

However…

The more I hear and see all these tragedies stemming from playing football – I’m praying that newly re-crowned Super Bowl hero and the guy who everyone’s saying is the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, doesn’t end up like Carson or (even worse!) Seau with all the hits he must have taken over his nearly 20 years as a New England Patriot,

The more I’m glad I chose to play baseball as a kid and continue to play softball today, because I know I wouldn’t be able to handle the costs of being a football player.

And the more I’m convinced that in the long run, because of its level of safety, longevity (the average NFL career being four years as opposed to 7-10 years for Major League Baseball) and security (the average salary is higher in MLB than in the NFL) compared to football, baseball is the better game to play.

I suppose that’s my answer as to, as much as I still like it and understand that it’s a forever slice of Americana, if I feel football is truly worth it.

By The Way:  On a side note, I think Brady needs to retire as with all the success and accolades he has collected squatting behind the center and throwing spirals, not to mention the many millions he has earned – enough so that his great-grandchildren will be set for life – what more does he need to prove?!

 

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Two guys whose heads I’m fervently hoping and praying will ultimately be OK shaking hands after the recent Super Bowl; the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the Patriots’ now-five time NFL champ Tom Brady. Photo courtesy of inquisitr.com

 

WHY BASEBALL SHOULD STILL BE CONSIDERED THE NATIONAL PASTIME (Sorry, Football)

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The tools of what I consider to be the greatest game in the word. Photo courtesy of littlerockchristian.com

A LOOK AT THE CONTINUED APPEAL THAT BASEBALL HAS, IN LIGHT OF THE MAJOR LEAGUES BEGINNING THEIR SEASON

 

I know, I know…

The bulk of Americans haven’t seen baseball as relevant for quite a while, as football – the high school and college kind as well as the NFL – has been considered this nation’s top spectator sport for several decades, and especially this century.

I’ve heard all the negative comments about baseball:

“It’s too boring!”

“All they do is stand around!”

“Why should I spend so much money on a glove and a bat (true, they don’t come cheap)?”

“You make more money in the NFL and the NBA!”

“Baseball’s just too stuck in the past!”

As someone who has had a fondness of baseball and has considered it my favorite sport for four-fifths of my life, I do see the point of those who find the sport boring; I get bored anytime I watch a game, particularly a little league game, where the pitchers aren’t able to throw strikes, ten runs are scored every inning on both sides, and no one’s hit the ball.

However…

There are reasons why baseball (and softball) still holds the number one place in my heart – and this coming from a guy who loves college football and who’s been a passionate fan of the team of my alma mater, UCLA, for roughly 35 years.

Let me list some of the factors as to why baseball still matters and should continue to be called the National Pastime in my book:

1.  LONGER CAREERS

The average career of an NFL player:  Four Years.

The average career of an NBA player:  About the same as his NFL counterpart.

The average career of a Major League Baseball player:  7-10 years.

Which leads us to the reason why that is so…

2.  HEALTH AND SAFETY

The issues that NFL players have had with concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, have been well documented, as has been the tragedies of former stars such as Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters committing suicide due to the condition’s effects.

Simply put, baseball doesn’t have those issues as even the catcher, who experiences the most trauma of any position with foul tips and collisions, doesn’t get his head and body knocked around hundreds of times per game like a football player does.

3.  MONEY

Minimum salary of an MLB player:  $507,000

Minimum salary of an NFL player in 2015 (rookie): $435,000

This coming season it will be $450,000.

Which is still less than a rookie baseball player just up from the minors.

And in addition to that, the average salary of an NFL player – $2.11 million – is roughly half that of his Major League counterpart.

So in a nutshell…

Baseball players make more money.

 

 

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A Japanese player scoring a run in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Photo courtesy of espn.go.com

 

4. HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

Sportscaster Bob Costas put it perfectly in Ken Burns’ acclaimed documentary “Baseball” when he said,

“What is Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar)’s final point total? And what was Wilt (Chamberlin)’s when Kareem passed it? What is Walter Payton’s final yardage total? And what was Jim Brown’s when Walter passed it? 

Even the most fervent football or basketball fan doesn’t know.

But the casual baseball fan knows that 1941 was the year of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ .406, and that 1947 was the year of Jackie Robinson…”

I’d even venture that the rabid, die-hard women’s softball fan wouldn’t know who the all-time leaders in hits, home runs,  batting average, and strikeouts are.

But the casual baseball fan knows that Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits, Ty Cobb’s .367 average, and Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs are the all-time records in those categories.

Which leads us to this final factor of why baseball should still be considered #1…

5.  THE CHARM OF THE GAME

There’s a reason why despite it’s supposed irrelevance, the number of fans attending baseball games are at an all-time high at all levels, at the college and the minor league levels as well as in “The Show”.

Largely of the history involved in it, but also because it has a charm – akin to a longtime family heirloom that has been passed down generations, or a heavy quilt that you had for most of your life that you like to wrap yourself up in on a cold night because it’s so comfortable – that football and basketball simply cannot match.

Putting it another way:

When Opening Day comes around for the MLB season, I get a good, holiday-like feeling that I don’t get for the openings of football or basketball as in those sports, they don’t do anything special to mark the occasion that baseball does.

Maybe I’m a little naive, a bit too nostalgic for the past, but…

My sentiments for baseball haven’t changed since I first followed the game in the mid-1970s.

And I don’t see it changing, even after I’m dead and cremated.

 

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What former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda called “Blue Heaven On Earth” – Dodger Stadium, a place where I have been over fifty times, attending 50 Dodger games over nearly forty years. Photo courtesy of salesianalumni.com

 

 

 

 

Ten Ways That Baseball Is Better Than Football

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I completely understand that this will be a most unpopular position I am taking, being that the National Football League is this country’s most popular spectator sports enterprise and all.

Indeed, I can hear the “You must be out of your mind!” and “Baseball’s so boring!” and “You’re such a wimp!” rants now.

Before I’m summarily dismissed as some out-of touch wuss, however, let me say this…

Just because it’s my opinion that baseball is better than football and is still the national pastime does NOT mean that I don’t like the pigskin game, or the battles on the gridiron that are played out every Friday, Saturday and Sunday around this time (as well as Thursday and Monday nowadays).

In fact, I consider the UCLA Bruins football squad my favorite team in all of sports, as I have been attending their games at the Rose Bowl for over 25 years, dating back to my days as a UCLA student.

However, there are quite a few reasons why the game played on the diamond, in the long run, is better than the game played on the gridiron.

Here are ten of those reasons that I think football fans will be forced to acknowledge if not agree with, starting with this…

 

1.  MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYERS HAVE – ON AVERAGE – A LONGER CAREER THAN NFL PLAYERS

The average time an athlete has in MLB is seven to ten years, while his NFL counterpart’s tenure in that league averages out to a mere four seasons due to a MUCH higher chance and certainty of injury – which brings us to…

 

2.  LESS CHANCE OF DEBILITATING INJURIES (concussions, destroyed ACLs and cartilages) IN BASEBALL

This is especially the case when it comes down to head injuries that curtail a player’s quality of life years after retirement; how many MLB players have gone the way of guys like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, NFL stars who after they killed themselves were found that their brains were permanently affected by all the collisions they endured on the field?

I’ll bet anything that there are far fewer baseball players who fit into that tragic category.

 

3.  AVERAGE LIFE SPAN OF AN NFL PLAYER:  55 YEARS OLD

As opposed to 75 for the average American male, which ties into numbers 1 and 2 in that the debilitating and crippling injuries definitely take their toll later in life.

I really don’t think its the same for baseball, even for pitchers who had Tommy John surgery for blown ligaments in their elbows.

 

4.  CTE – CHRONIC TRAUMATIC ENCEPHALOPATHY – IS A LOT MORE COMMON IN THE NFL THAN IN MLB

Also known as Dementia, the instances of NFL players suffering and ultimately dying from this disease are well documented.

Among CTE’s symptoms are memory loss, depression, a change in behavior for the worse, and loss of coordination.

Along with Seau and Duerson, at the end of 2012 it was found that 39 former players were found with this disease after their untimely deaths, including ex-Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster and ex-Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling.

Meanwhile, former Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Freel was the first MLB player to be diagnosed with CTE after his death in 2012.

Which makes the score thus:

National Football League – 39 (and counting),

Major League Baseball – 1

 

5.  FEWER REPORTED INSTANCES OF WOMAN OR CHILD BEATING IN MLB

To put it another way, when was the last time you heard of a Major League Baseball star beating his wife or his child – besides Ty Cobb, of course.

However, you would have had to have lived under a rock on Mars to not have heard about the issues that Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Jonathan Dwyer are facing.

 

6.  BASEBALL PLAYERS EARN MORE MONEY THAN FOOTBALL PLAYERS

Minimum salary of an NFL player:  $420,000

Minimum salary of an MLB player:  $500,000

Average NFL salary:  $1.9 million

Average MLB salary:  $3.3 million

Pretty self-explanatory, I believe.

Especially when you consider the physical risks that have been covered in this post.

 

7.  LABOR RELATIONS BETWEEN PLAYERS AND OWNERS MUCH MORE PEACEFUL IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Last work stoppage in MLB:  1994 

Via a player’s strike that wiped out the World Series and wasn’t resolved until mid-April 1995 when a judge – Sonia Sotomayor, who would go on to the Supreme Court – ruled that the owners were engaging in unfair labor practices.

Last work stoppage in the NFL:  2011 

Via a owner-induced lockout that lasted 136 days, the longest in league history.

 

 

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers

 

 

8.  FOOTBALL PLAYERS FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO THE PROS DROPPING DEAD AFTER PRACTICES AND GAMES. NOT SO MUCH IN BASEBALL.

The most notable instance of this was the Minnesota Vikings’ Korey Stringer, who died during training camp in 2001.

There have been quite a few others passing away on the gridiron before and since then, due to factors such as undiagnosed defective hearts – which meant that they shouldn’t have been playing.

Meanwhile, I haven’t heard of anyone dying on the diamond, at least not nearly as often.

 

9.  HISTORY IS MORE IMPORTANT TO THE BASEBALL FAN THAN TO THE FOOTBALL FAN

As a perfect analogy of this, let me ask a few questions, all having to do with the top records in the NFL’s record books…

– What is Jerry Rice’s final career touchdown total? And what was Emmitt Smith’s when Rice passed him?

– What is Emmitt Smith’s final career rushing yardage total? And what was Walter Payton’s when Smith passed him?

– What is Brett Favre’ final career passing yardage total? And what was Dan Marino’s when Favre passed him?

– Who broke the NFL’s color barrier, what team did he play for, and when did he do it?

If you asked the die-hard football fan these questions, the fan who spends every hour of his Sundays either watching the NFL at home or at his local sports bar, owns ten jerseys of his favorite team, bets good sums of none on such team, and spends the wary part of the weeks in a deep funk if his team loses, guess what?

Odds are, he wouldn’t know!

And more importantly, he wouldn’t care!

However…

The casual baseball fan, the one who doesn’t keep track of all 162 games that his team plays, goes to maybe one game a year, and is only a fanatic when his team is in the World Series, knows that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs.

He knows that Henry Aaron broke that mark in 1974 and ended up with 755 homers.

He knows that Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games, which stands as the record to this day.

He knows that Ted Williams was the last man to hit .400 in a season when he batted .406 in 1941.

He knows that the Boston Red Sox went 86 years between World Series titles.

And he definitely knows that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

That makes it fairly clear that football, despite the NFL’s status as the #1 pro sports league in the U.S. and despite their championship game, the Super Bowl, being the most-watched TV show, still doesn’t have a hold in the fabric of American society the way that baseball does.

 

Last but not least…

 

10.  THERE IS NO CLOCK IN BASEBALL, WHICH MEANS THAT NO MATTER HOW FAR BEHIND A TEAM IS DURING A GAME, A COMEBACK IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE

Unlike in football, where if it’s one or two minutes left in game that is a blowout, coaches on both sides are expected to clear their benches and play their scrubs because there is no chance for a comeback due to lack of time.

Meanwhile, in baseball you have to get 27 outs (or 21 in softball’s case).

You can’t just take a knee and kill the clock.

A perfect example of this was during a pick-up softball game which I was personally involved in a few years ago, when the team I was playing on was winning by 20 runs in the ninth and last inning. I believe there were two outs before something incredibly devastating happened…

The other team got hit after hit after hit and scored run after run after run.

Roughly 20 minutes later we actually found ourselves on the losing end of the contest!

Which illustrates and proves once and for all Yogi Berra’s time-honored cliche of how “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”.

 

As was said, I don’t expect – at all – for probably the majority of football fans out there to agree with me on these convictions of mine.

I suppose I’m just old school that way.

But I do hope that I have – at the very least – triggered some things to think about among you disciples of the gridiron as the season hits its quarter point…

 

 

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