It’s a big day Saturday, as football season kicks off for both preps and college teams. The games promise to be full of the drama and excitement that fans demand, coupled with the local connections that make rooting for a team so much more than theoretical.
But anytime we talk about football these days, we can’t just converse idly about wins and losses or outstanding plays. We have to talk about football injuries and whether the risks of playing are worth it. The conversation has special weight this year, coming after the surprise retirement decision of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Should players’ bodies be sacrificed for the amusement and diversion of fans? Are the risks — which include serious and permanent brain damage — worth it? Or are these concerns so much namby-pamby hand wringing? Players are hardly coerced out to the field, after all.
We’re reluctant to take one side or the other here, because we truly think that both are important.
On one hand, team sports are an important and constructive part of maturing for teens and young adults. They teach self-discipline, teamwork and good sportsmanship. These are all virtues in disappointingly short supply today. Just look at the political scene!
On the other hand, we also believe that every reasonable precaution must be put in place to reduce risk for players and put their short- and long-term safety first. Each one of us receives the gift of a single brain, and it’s ridiculous to expect young men to literally sacrifice their minds for team sports.
That means that football will evolve (and in truth, it’s already doing so). The game will likely have to shift from full-on bodily assaults to a more nimble, athletic game. Protective wear will change to shield players as needed. Some will likely — have likely — criticized any shifts in the game. Change to our traditions can seem unnerving and unnecessary.
But changes to rules, safety gear and our outlook are crucial if contact football is to survive in our high school and colleges. Fans should roll with the changes. They should even welcome and advocate for them, because without a robust safety regime, we risk the end of contact football itself.
Any as fall arrives, along with the fabled Friday night lights, it’s worth preserving the best of team sports so our children and grandchildren can enjoy them, too.