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

 

A Few Thoughts on The End of the Football Season

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One of the Patriots’ touchdowns that helped them take the Vince Lombardi Trophy away from the Pacific Northwest

 

ONE LONGTIME SPORTS FAN’S TAKE ON AMERICA’S FAVORITE SPORT ENDING ITS SEASON 

 

Before anyone goes on about I am just a wimpy hater, I should state that like the vast majority of sports fans in America, I am a football fan.

Particularly the collegiate kind, where I have been a loyal and passionate follower of my alma mater’s team, the UCLA Bruins, for over 30 years; that’s no secret to any of my friends and acquaintances.

As for the kind of football that players legally get paid to play…

I’m not nearly a fan of that as I am of college football, for many reasons, among them being more traditions in college and not having to worry about teams moving if the owner is not happy about where they’re playing.

Or players holding out and missing training camp because their salary is $1.15 million dollars instead of $1.2 million.

Despite being a fan of the most popular spectator sport in this country, when Malcolm Butler intercepted what would have been a NFL championship-winning pass from Russell Wilson on the one-yard line, ending the just-played Super Bowl and giving the New England Patriots the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the fourth time, I felt just like Henry Aaron did when the baseball legend broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1974 when the longtime Brave said,

“I’m just glad it’s all over with.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’m glad that a sport where roughly hundreds of its former players are tangled up in a lawsuit with their former employers over compensation for debilitating, brain-damaging, and sometimes life-ending injuries,

Where big names such as the ex-Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon can’t remember where he is going when he goes on errands and where he lives when he is heading for home, his brain issues are so pronounced,

Where numerous stars have committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest so that doctors can research the damage in their brain that caused the suicidal feelings,

And where headlines have been made over players knocking out their fiancés in hotel elevators, whipping their children with tree branches, (allegedly) deflating footballs during a playoff game, and starting a fight a few seconds before the end of their championship game due to them being upset at being denied a second straight title,

Is closing shop until next fall.

Because to be honest, I was getting a little tired of it.

All the drama that went on in the NFL this year has reinforced this longtime conviction of mine, that:

When it comes to which sport is better, baseball wins the argument.

To answer all the pigskin fanatics that are screaming right about now about how baseball is boring, slow, and just plain sucks, among the simple reasons why baseball is the better overall sport are:

1. It’s safer – how many ex-Major League Baseball players have suffered from permanent brain injuries compared to ex-NFLers?

2. Baseball players have longer careers – seven to ten years as opposed to three and a half to four years for their NFL counterparts.

3. Baseball players make more money, with an average salary of more tha $3 million compared to the NFL’s average of just over $1 million.

4. The players’ union is stronger in MLB than in the NFL as the World Series being cancelled in 1994 was a result of the players sticking together while the NFL players’ strike of 1987 collapse due to those athletes’ crossing the picket line. 

5. Despite the MLB Players Union being as strong as it is, there has been a lasting peace between them and management for more than twenty years, while the NFL owners locked out their players as recently as 2011.

In what I believe settles the argument, guys such as former Bears coach Mike Ditka have said that they would not recommend that kids play football because the risk of bad injuries is just not worth it.

That these statements are coming from someone who likes the gridiron game  – me –  is perhaps what is particularly interesting, I think; imagine what someone who hates the sport would be saying…

Meanwhile, I am very much looking forward to the week of February 16th – two weeks from this writing.

That’s when pitchers and catchers report to either Florida or Arizona for Spring Training.

 

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Clayton Kershaw, the reigning King of Baseball (at least among pitchers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UCLA FOOTBALL 2014: An Assessment of the Bruins at the Season’s (Not Quite) Halfway Point

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If you are a fan of the UCLA football team, you may want to use caution as you read this, as well as keep an open mind and try to refrain from saying I’m nothing but a hater who has given up on my alma mater’s program.

Because after what transpired at the Rose Bowl in their last game, I am not going to sugarcoat anything as in the time-honored tradition of “Tough Love”, I am going to be brutally honest about these Bruins and how they have performed not only against their last opponent, the Utah Utes, but during this 2014 season in general.

Probably the most brutal that I’ve been about UCLA on the gridiron in a while.

There was one moment in particular as I sat in Section 1 at the Rose Bowl – yes, I was at this past Saturday’s game – when, sorry to say, I got a gut feeling that Utah was going to win.

It was just before the start of the fourth quarter, during a TV timeout…

I was looking at the two sidelines as both teams gathered together to pump themselves up for the last 15 minutes of what, despite everything, was a hard-fought battle of a game that could go either way.

All of the Bruins gathered together in a huddle and jumping up and down in a fairly modest fashion. I got the impression that they were pumped, but not as excited and jacked to the ceiling as they needed to be.

Which is exactly what I noticed among those red and black-clad Utes from Salt Lake City as they were going absolutely wild, holding their helmets up in the air and squirting water from their bottles.

I hoped I would be wrong in my prediction as the quarter started, and as it turned out I almost was, but…

Well, we all – at least in Bruin Nation – know the outcome of that contest, so I don’t think I need to rehash bad images or bitter memories.

However…

do believe I need to look at this blue and gold-colored team with a harsh hand and a brutally “Tough Love” assessment:

 

THERE ARE TOO MANY HOLES IN THIS BRUIN TEAM TO BE CONSIDERED AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE.

 

What’s more, these holes were exposed in the weeks before Utah celebrated on the Rose Bowl turf and in front of their fans in the end zone, as I’ll never forget how lightly regarded – at least in football – Memphis almost pulled off the biggest win their history in UCLA’s previous home game

One of those holes is one that I and many others thought would be a strength – the defense, which has more or less been a sieve all season, particularly against the run in giving up 242 yards to the Utes, including the crucial yardage needed for them to make their game-winning field goal.

(By the way, we’ll get to the Bruins’ field goal issues in a moment)

I don’t want to dwell too much on raw statistics, but giving up over 400 yards per game is not going to win a Pac-12 title OR a spot among the four teams in the College Football Playoff.

Neither is the fact that the two (arguably) best players on UCLA’s defense, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack, have a grand total of four tackles for loss and ZERO sacks between them.

Though things could be MUCH better on that side of the ball, it’s not the defense that’s the biggest problem in my view.

Neither is the kicking, although after looking at Ka’imi Fairbairn’s career numbers as the Bruin placekicker – 69% percentage, including eight-for-18 from 40-plus yards and never making a kick in three tries from more than 50 yards, one of those tries being on Saturday night – it’s safe for me to state this:

Fairbairn is a decent kicker, but he’s just not good enough.

A GREAT kicker, someone who people won’t have to hold their breath for if long tries must be made,  is what UCLA needs to reach the heights that all of Bruin Nation so desires.

To this point, Fairbairn simply does not fit that bill.

It wasn’t my intention to pick on the junior kicker or the Bruin defense, though; that’s saved for a unit that hasn’t just disappointed me, it has flat-out ticked me off:

 

THE OFFENSIVE LINE

 

 

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NO group of guys whose job is to protect the quarterback and make holes for running backs to gain good yardage should EVER be giving up ten – TEN – sacks in a game; no NFL line, no college line, no high school line…heck, not even a Pop Warner line of seven-year olds!

But that’s exactly what those big uglies did on Saturday as it’s a true miracle that touted quarterback Brett Hundley made it through the game without injury, especially after he was sacked three straight times during a second half possession.

Some fans are blaming Hundley as well for not using his legs more and holding on to the ball way too long, as well as him making bad gaffes like throwing that pick-six in the first quarter when no one in a blue jersey was anywhere near the area.

To those fans I say this:

How can you really blame any quarterback when he doesn’t get any time to throw whatsoever?

That has been the case with Hundley not only against Utah, not only this season as he has gone down a whopping 23 times and counting this year, but for his entire tenure at UCLA as no college quarterback has been sacked more than him during the past two and a half years – 109 times in 32 games!

For the record, UCLA’s ranking in sacks allowed out of 128 schools?

124.

To say that that’s not the mark of even a good college football team, let alone a great one, would be a pronounced understatement as all of this futility has led me to this harsh conclusion:

 

THE BRUINS’ OFFENSIVE LINE IS NEITHER GOOD ENOUGH NOR QUICK ENOUGH TO BE TRULY EFFECTIVE ON A CONSISTENT BASIS IN THE PAC-12 CONFERENCE OR IN DIVISION 1 FBS FOOTBALL.

 

It’s common knowledge that pass blocking is done with the feet, as quick feet makes it easier to block effectively. UCLA’s blockers, in my view, are lacking that quickness – the number of sacks allowed are proof enough.

The worst part of all of this is that this Bruin program has had two and a half years to fix this particular issue, and that these group of linemen have, for the most part, been together that long.

That the results have yet to consistently show themselves on the field is very frustrating and anger-inducing.

It reminds me of my first high school band director (I was in the marching band during my high school days as well as at UCLA), who would scream this at us whenever we didn’t perform well or made too many mistakes…

“YOU STINK! YOU CAN’T MARCH!! YOU CAN’T PLAY!!! YOU STINK!!!! I HATE YOU!!!!!”

Change the “march” and “play” to “pass block” and run block”, and that’s precisely what I think about the Bruin offensive line.

And I don’t want to hear about how that unit has suffered injuries as that is nothing but a crutch and an excuse; championship teams replace injured players in a “Next Man Up” approach and don’t miss a beat.

Nor do I want to hear anything about how “These are 18 and 19-year old kids”, and here’s why:

If our country’s Armed Forces personnel – many of them in the same age group as college football players – can die in Iraq and Afghanistan by bullets and IEDs, those college football players (UCLA’s in this case) can take some harsh “Tough Love” criticism as at least they’re not getting shot at.

I can sum this issue up by a saying that I often use for football:

 

“IF YOU DON’T HAVE A GOOD LINE (on either side of the ball), YOU DON’T HAVE A GOOD TEAM.”

 

Right now, the Bruins don’t have a good offensive line.

Period.

And with that being the case, I honestly don’t think that the Utah loss will be the only one in 2014 with teams like California (believe or not, their offense is top-notch and – more importantly – they are in first place in the Pac-12 North), Stanford, Arizona and USC awaiting.

Having said that…

After all of this brutality from yours truly there actually IS a silver lining…

UCLA’s next game will be against an Oregon team whose problems mirror the Bruins’ as they have an extremely sub-par offensive line who got pushed around in their last game by Arizona at home and caused the Ducks’ star quarterback, Marcus Mariota, to be sacked a bunch of times.

Not to mention a defense that was never that great during their recent glory years, giving up many yards and points with an attitude of “It doesn’t really matter, because we’ll just outscore them.”

I, for one, am very much looking forward to what is now a not-as-big-a-marquee-game-as-it could-have-been for one simple reason…

 

I need to see how UCLA will bounce back from the pounding disaster that Utah put upon them.

 

Because with both teams having one loss, this is essentially an elimination game as far as the Pac-12 championship and possible playoff run is concerned.

In other words, the loser’s hopes for glory and national adoration will be pretty much over.

Thank goodness the game’s at home in the Rose Bowl among the Bruin Nation – that’s why I give the Bruins a chance.

By roughly 6:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon – the game’s at 12:30 – I will know if UCLA’s truly a team to be reckoned with…

Or a team that frustratingly disappoints and fails to meet expectations like so many other Bruin gridiron squads in the past.

 

 

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