Junior Seau’s death by self-inflicted gunshot wound triggered assumptions that the act was the result of repeated head injuries during a long football career.
The response is premature, but not illogical given the growing awareness of the neuro-degenerative effects of repeated concussions.
Sadly, it brought out everybody from alarmists to apologists; from those who claim the game is doomed by its violent nature to those who say it will be doomed if the violence is taken from it.
That his death could become such a polemic baffles, because so many now seem at odds over a few reasonable points: Football is dangerous to some degree, and making it safer at all levels is an admirable pursuit.
Let Seau’s death hasten the solution. But why such debate?
Seau played the game with unrivaled joy, and an exuberance sustained over 20 seasons in the NFL. He played full-speed, sideline to sideline, snap to whistle.
He made close to 2,000 tackles and assists in the NFL, most of them were face-first at high velocity, the kind that coaches and fans most cherish.
Whether that contributed to depression or mental disorder is not yet in evidence, but the tragedy of his passing is nonetheless worthy of elevating the discourse on ways that rules and technologies can enhance player safety.
We might hope that it also would contribute to changing the so-called warrior mentality that causes players to ignore injuries – particularly concussions. And for the sake of all, it might get players to stop scoffing at those who are making efforts to make the game safer.
But a number of current and former players object to new rules interpretations and the heavy penalties levied for illegal hits by commissioner Roger Goodell. They see it as a pansification of a game in which big hits are not only inherent, but at the root of its appeal.
Goodell is the man who has the greatest power to shape the game – from top to bottom. And player safety has been his prime focus not only in the NFL, but in sports at all levels.
In October 2010, Goodell took part in a medical seminar at the Seahawks headquarters in Renton, and advocated the passage of Washington’s Lystedt Law, which called for extensive medical exams before prep athletes who suffered head injuries would be allowed to return to competition.
“When we change our approach (in the NFL), others take notice and follow,” Goodell said when asked why the NFL was so concerned about safety regulations for high school athletes. “That’s important to us.”
As it is to all parents – including those who made a nice living from the game. Former league MVP Kurt Warner recently expressed the worries of so many parents who watch their children compete.
“I am constantly concerned about my kids and the violence of the game of football,” Warner commented. “I worry about them suffering head trauma and developing any long-term issues as a result of that injury. So, yes, I love this game and all the things that it taught me and afforded me along the way, but regardless of all that I have a responsibility to my kids. I cannot be oblivious to the risks of the game of football simply because it was good to me.”
ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge called Warner’s statement “… irresponsible and unacceptable,” and added “He sounds extremely uneducated.”
No, Hoge, it would be irresponsible for a parent not to be concerned about the health of his child. It is a fair opinion for a parent to voice.
Hoge added that “head trauma is not the issue … it’s how head trauma is treated.”
No, both are concerns. The better it can be avoided in the first place reduces the need for treatment.
Early evidence is that rules changes already have reduced injuries. Moving the kickoffs up 5 yards cut concussions on those plays by 50 percent, according to an NFL study on the matter.
The more the NFL continues to study rules changes, helmet technology and concussion detection, the quicker the information will be passed down to athletes at all levels.
Taking sides is counterproductive.
Nobody knows better than Kurt Warner that the game has its rewards. And he and Goodell are right in believing the game and its players will benefit to whatever extent the risks can be reduced.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com