Photo by Sal Ingram
Photo by Sal Ingram

When one watches football, one can see America’s pastime. I used to see that. Now all I see is gladiators and head injuries.

Football is by far America’s most dangerous sport, with players sustaining more concussions than in basketball, baseball, soccer or hockey. The game needs to change.

According to a Scientific American article, suffering three or more concussions greatly increases the chances of major depression or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to suicides, later on in life.

While it can be reasonably understood that all players step on the field expecting the worst physical injuries possible, many players do not expect their injuries to reflect so poorly on their long term mental health.

When I watch this game I cannot help but wince whenever I see a big tackle or a player’s helmet fall off. Worse yet, a significant group of players have admitted to underreporting concussions in order to continue receiving pay days according to ESPN.

To me, any given Sunday is not a celebration of athletic achievement, but a pain endurance test, and one that makes me cringe when I think about the health issues these players may sustain.

The only rational thing for us to do is to consider changing the game before it hurts more people long term. Whether it’s implementing rubber helmets or getting rid of kickoffs, no change is too small when it comes to protecting a person’s well-being.

The revelations last week that likely Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau suffered from CTE before his suicide has made this NFL season become a site of tragedy.

He’s not the only one to have suffered from the disease, just the most recent example. A 26-year old Chris Henry from the Cincinnati Bengals also had CTE when he committed suicide according to ESPN. This last season saw 38 different NFL brains with CTE submitted to a scientific study out of 85 NFL player brains by the relatives of deceased players, according to ABC news reports.

Playoff glory is no substitute for long term health. When Robert Griffin III from the Washington Redskins ignored doctor’s wishes to stop playing two weeks ago, one could see how unhealthy the game is. What if he were hurt even worse by playing? And why was he risking his life for a game?

A football player is the only job that asks a player to continue against a doctor’s orders. I can’t imagine my editors forcing me to write if my right hand were broken, or to “suck it up” if I had the flu. But football coaches push players to do this every game.

Twenty years ago, boxing was considered America’s most visible sport. Mike Tyson possessed real fame in this country, and not as a punchline.

Knowledge of head injuries has made the sport harder to sanction in states. That golden era of heavyweight boxing marked by Tyson has been knocked out by the science surrounding repeated head traumas. Football must follow suit.

I had a conversation with a friend over this weekend, a Niners fan, over how important football is to him, and how excited he is for his team to maybe go to the Super Bowl this year. And yet, he remarked that he wouldn’t let his kid play the game, even if he wanted to when he becomes a father.

But he will watch the Super Bowl, he promised.

If it’s not safe for the kids to play, then it must be changed. There’s nothing super about it.