Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Michaux: Football isn't worth the danger to players

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Hypocrite? Guilty.

More than any other team sport, football ranks at the top of the list in America, present company included.

We flock to coliseums to watch our modern-day gladiators wage staged battles for our viewing pleasure. We crave the violence that is at the heart of the game.

To answer Russell Crowe’s Maximus: Yes, we are very entertained.

Every fall of my adult life has been spent watching high school games on Friday nights, college games on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays. As if that wasn’t enough, I’m usually ready for some Monday Night Football.

In spite of that lifelong fascination and my professional stake in it, I have a confession to make: I would never let my own son play football. No way, Absolutely not. When my 11-year-old has on occasion inquired about the Pop Warner games that go on as we leave the youth soccer fields, I’ve quickly changed the subject. If the day comes when he brings home a permission slip to play football in high school, I will not sign it. Should he kick and scream and ask “WHY?” my response will be simple.

Because I love him too much.

Football is an outrageously dangerous sport. We’ve always known that in the back of our minds as we watch players regularly get carted off fields with broken bones, torn up knees and worst-case spinal injuries. We might comfort our conscience by believing we’re a little more civilized than the Romans because we usually offer polite applause for the fallen instead of a thumbs down to finish them off, but the truth is we’re really no better.

The scope of the danger in football is being realized more every year as we see the players we thought survived the gladiator’s ring get stricken prematurely with all manner of debilitating post-concussion side effects that have long-reaching implications. Brain damage from football injuries has been cited as the cause of problems with memory, depression and other cognitive functions. The risk is considered enhanced for children and young teens who suffer concussions.

Lawmakers in the Georgia House of Representatives heard testimony on Wednesday from several current and former NFL players in support of House Bill 673. The legislation would require a player who shows signs of a concussion be removed from a game or practice and would forbid the player from competing again until being cleared by a licensed health care professional trained in concussion evaluation and management.

It’s something that the NFL is taking very seriously these days, and has established protocols similar to the proposed Georgia law. According to an Associated Press story, 31 states already have similar laws on the books and Georgia is one of 14 currently considering one.

“The athletic trainers in the state support it and we hope it gets passed because we think it’s way overdue,” said Tim McLane, the senior athletic trainer at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics. “We’ve been saying for a couple or three decades now that this needs to be paid more attention to. It’s a real issue.”

Gone are the days when players would have their “bells rung” in violent collisions, have the cobwebs cleared with a quick snort of smelling salts and be sent right back into the game to do more damage to themselves. It was the manly thing to do in a man’s game where phrases like “suck it up” and “play hurt” are de rigueur.

But young boys shouldn’t be subjected to such reckless macho ideals and coaches should not be trusted to diagnose brain injuries with the tried-and-true examination techniques of asking what day it is and how many fingers they’re holding up.

McLane hopes that well-trained trainers – kept up-to-date on new trends and research – are involved in the entire spectrum of concussion care from the football field to the follow-up assessments.

“We are trained, educated, et cetera on recognizing those and how to handle them,” McLane said. “It’s what we do. To do that in concert with physicians and other professional health care personnel is where it’s at. Often the athletic trainers, especially at the high school level, we’re the front line.”

Georgia Health Sciences University is developing a concussion center that will specialize in objective testing and follow-up assessments to make sure players are safe to return to the field. McLane hopes it will be up and running before spring practice begins.

McLane has two sons and despite knowing what he knows had no qualms about letting one of them play football.

“As long as they were taught proper techniques and conditioning,” McLane said. “And as long as the officials are enforcing the rules that are aimed at reducing the frequency of those (injuries) occurring.”

With an estimated 90,000 concussions per year at the pre-collegiate level, it’s a matter of grave importance. Autopsies to numerous football players who died prematurely have revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that might have been the cause of dementia, depression, memory loss, aggression or other cognitive diseases from repeated concussions or sub-concussions. Similar results have been found in a recent string of deaths involving hockey enforcers who endured repeated blows to the head in their careers. Most experts believe similar trauma was the cause of the Parkinson’s disease suffered by boxer Muhammad Ali.

Americans like our gladiators. Even so, some have seriously speculated that litigation from sports-related head injuries could ultimately lead to a future without football. Far-fetched? Probably, but it’s telling just how aggressively the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell are trying to get ahead of the issue after so many years of neglect.

“We’ve got to start even sooner than high school and make sure it’s handled properly,” McLane said.

For the children whose parents do choose to let them participate in the gladiatorial arts of football (which mine signed off on in middle school before I came to my own senses when puberty accelerated the growth of my peers), they need to be protected as much as possible. There is no outcome of a game worth risking a lifetime of good health by continuing to play after sustaining a head injury.

The safest way to avoid it is abstinence. Risk is part of life, but there are a lot of other great sports out there which don’t so routinely jeopardize life and limb.

But if they choose football, we can’t be safe enough. We all need to use our heads to save our kids.

Comments (16) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/11/12 - 11:38 pm
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Interesting that you never

Interesting that you never played high school football and won't let your kids play. I don't suppose you would sign them up for the Golden Gloves either. Baseball can be pretty dangerous, too. Personally, I'm glad I had the experience of playing. It was the ultimate challenge and the fact I did it served me well in all aspects of life.

KSL
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KSL 02/12/12 - 12:45 am
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One of my son's suffered a

One of my son's suffered a slight concussion on the opening kickoff of a high school game. Iforget how many touchdown passes he threw in that game--they won something like 55-7. None of which remembered.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 09:17 am
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I’m going to tell you what

I’m going to tell you what those anti-football, badminton loving people like Scott miss. Young men need physical challenges that keep them focused with positive goals. Reality is young men, coming of age, with endocrine storms worthy of The Outer Banks, having to prove themselves physically and staking out their territories. Football is not for everyone, but it is for those physically superior, the toughest young men who will find a way to exert their dominance is the realism. The quest for proving themselves against other alpha types is going to happen. The wise and strong kids channel it into things such as football. Others into less admirable pursuits. The wise communities recognize the role of football. Maybe Scott would be better off writing about Frisbee golf than Georgia, blood and guts, football.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/12/12 - 09:37 am
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Wow River.....you speaketh

Wow River.....you speaketh the truth on here....we will always have these sports....people want the thrill of danger-the tingling of winning-the rough/tumble challenge----why do you think nascar is so popular...
The Romans knew what the people wanted---at least we don't have lions in the stadium eating the losers...
Btw...didn't the Mayans kill the losers too.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/12/12 - 09:48 am
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The sacred Ball Court was the

The sacred Ball Court was the site of a brutal Mayan sport. The field, approximately the size of a football field, is bordered by two imposing walls 26 feet tall. Seven combatants on each team tried to get a small rubber ball to go through a small stone hoop 23 feet above the ground supposedly without using their hands or feet to touch the ball. Virtually all descriptions of the native Mexican ballgames stress that hands were not allowed to touch the ball. Yet two 8th century Maya sculptures and several Peten Maya vases show players with their hands on the ball.It is believed that the losers of this game were often sacraficed to the Gods. These Mayan games predate the olympics by about 500 years!

The games played in the ballcourt were sometimes played to the death.

Played to the death.......ya see whatta mean...

I stood inside this court at Chichen itza...it was a feeling I'll never forget.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 09:48 am
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"Btw...didn't the Mayans kill

"Btw...didn't the Mayans kill the losers too."

Heh, heh, heh...I knew there was a reason I played so hard.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 09:55 am
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SeenIt, you are exactly right

SeenIt, you are exactly right with this history. It's always been necessary to have physical and dangerous challenges for young men for the safety of the society. Realism. Scott learned in high school he better not talk in a negative way to the football players. That's probably why he decided to write for the school newspaper or something so he could get HIS coming of age emotions recognized.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/12/12 - 10:01 am
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My last post here... Thank

My last post here...

Thank God for Alpha males!!!!!
:)

Austin Rhodes
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Austin Rhodes 02/12/12 - 10:35 am
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The year I spent working in

The year I spent working in the ER at MCG opened my eyes to a lot of things. Scott, if you want to REALLY have your son avoid the most serious risk in recreational activity commonly known to children, don't ever, ever, ever let him ride a bike.

Not only does it hurt/kill kids...it takes out plenty of adults as well.

Statistically speaking, football does not hold a candle to bikes when it comes to injury and death.

avidreader
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avidreader 02/12/12 - 11:43 am
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Well said, well written.

Well said, well written. Neither of my sons played football, even though they were of the right size and both were extremely athletic. I never promoted football as a source of athletic competition. All sports carry the potential for injury, but football is truly a gladiator mentality. My sons participated in baseball, tennis, and crew rowing (and disk golf, tee hee!). They are both fit and happy with their accomplishments. Their brains are sharp and their muscles are toned. You'd be surprised how many young women think rowers are quite sexy.

Scott, thanks for your commentary.

KentDaniel
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KentDaniel 02/12/12 - 11:44 am
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My dad played in the NFL for

My dad played in the NFL for 9 years during the sixties. He is in a nursing home now with a feeding tube and and severe brain damage from the concussions he received during his career. His brain and spinal tissue will be donated at death for research. The memory loss, depression, speech problems, started being recognized in his 50's and continued to get worse.

He is cared for 100% by the NFL under the Mackey 88 medical plan that a hundred players or so qualify for. He also has had five joint replacements-2 knees-2 shoulders- and a hip

So-- The changes and discussion around the precautions are productive-- Back then they just waived the smelling salts and stuck two fingers up-- There were virtually no medical records of these "Rung Bell"s --just newspaper accounts of hard licks-- Players were under pressure to play or they didn't get paid----Now we've moved along way-- the NFL has programs in place to monitor these players from the day they enter the league and have enormously talented people watching them

We know more about CTE-- Chronic Traumatic Encephalapathy than ever and its causes-- and can warn people of the dangers of multiple concussions so people can make decisions

But before people make bold statements about it being part of the game and you should have known--- I'd like you to go to the nursing home with me and visit an old warrior ----just saying--- don't be to quick to judge folks on decisions they make to keep there families safe

Kent

jfb
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jfb 02/12/12 - 01:59 pm
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Scott, you fail to mention

Scott, you fail to mention the heart disease induced by overeating, poor diets and steroids so you can weight 300 pounds. Also there are the problems of bone and joint injuries and chronic physical disabilitiy from those injuries.

follower
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follower 02/12/12 - 07:44 pm
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I enjoy football season.

I enjoy football season. Every football fan enjoys the bone jarring hits. But reality is that todays athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger than even a decade ago, and the body is just not designed to absorb the punishment that is inevitably inflicted. While I played football and baseball earlier in life, nothing can prepare for the violence and speed of a professional football game from the sidelines. At 6' and 200 pounds, I'm not a little guy, but the players today are beasts, with speed and power that are imcomprehensible.

I would hate to see a game that is such a part of Americas culture disappear. But after meeting several pros that had been retired for a decade or two, I can tell you that not one of them didn't suffer from severe joint and back pain, not to mention gnarled fingers and scars. The list of former players that died early is long indeed.

I hate to think that we are sacrificing the health and well being of so many for our entertainment. If steps can be taken to lessen the chance of severe injury, let's take 'em.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/13/12 - 04:26 am
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Do you know that the Super

Do you know that the Super Bowl was watched by more people than any other tv program.....so raise your hand if you think THAT is going away..

trevor67
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trevor67 02/14/12 - 02:41 am
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For you to attack football in

For you to attack football in such an irresponsible way is plum silly, most studies are 5 to 10 years old or even older. Equipment is so much better made today than ten years ago it's scary. Coaching methods have also changed from putting your helmet/facemask into his chest, to now we teach to kids to put their helmet(facemask up of course)to the right side or left side of the body depending which way the ball carrier is running. I personally have been coaching youth football for 8 years and had 1 player end up with a concussion, and it was caused in my opinion by a cheap $25.00 helmet. As Austin said bicycling is one of the the top five leading activities for concussions in youths 5 to 18 the others being, football, basketball, playground activities, and soccer. Youth football teaches kids many things, like how to be part of a TEAM, self esteem, discipline, and good exercise. Lets look at some studies 5 years from now with the new equipment and coaching methods, i'm sure concussions will go down. Go to usa football and take the 2 1/2 hour online course for youth football coaches, that is mandatory in our league to become a coach, and you will see how serious it is being taken in the younger ages, which is where it all starts, or better yet come check out some of our games this spring(cayfafootball.com). I'm sorry you cheated your chidren out of a great experience. FOOTBALL IS FUN

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/15/12 - 11:27 am
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Well, to be completely honest

Well, to be completely honest here, I do waiver a bit about the safety of football at the highest levels. I've written before about how big and strong the players are these days. I would certainly let my son play high school football for the reasons I voiced above, but big time college and the NFL is a whole other game these days. College lines average over 300 now. That was unheard of 30 years ago.

One suggestion is a much bigger, better padded helmet. But the hard slick surface has to be maintain so the blows are glancing. I don't know if bobblehead like players will be entertaining.

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