When Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin was hit in the chest by a splintered maple bat back in late September, many in the media and blogosphere reacted with outrage. The question most asked was something along the lines of how could the selfish owners and disinterested players sacrifice safety for economics? Apparently, those sounding off had never seen the NCAAF or the NFL.
Over the weekend, there were two particularly violent injuries in college and pro football. On Saturday, Rutgers’ defensive tackle Eric LeGrand went from the gridiron to intensive career after he suffered a severe spinal cord injury while making a tackle on a special teams play. LeGrand’s injury required emergency surgery, but the 21-year old remains paralyzed from the neck down (apparently, student athletes can sacrifice their bodies for their universities’ sporting glory, but the idea of receiving compensation is abhorrent). Then, on Sunday, Philadelphia Eagles’ WR DeSean Jackson suffered a “severe” concussion after being demolished by Falcons’ cornerback Dunta Robinson.
Obviously, football is a violent game, but more and more the sport has seemed to glorify the bone rattling hits that regularly produce serious injuries, particularly to the spinal cord and head. Concussions have become a major epidemic, yet each week those in and around both the college and pro game seem to have no problem glossing over the issue. At least football doesn’t have to worry about those scary maple bats.
The statistics involving concussions and the NFL are downright scary. According to the New York Times, a 2000 survey of former players found that an overwhelming 60% had suffered at least one concussion, while over one quarter had experienced at least three. What are the ramifications of these injuries? The same Times articles cited a University of North Carolina study that found links between multiple concussions and depression as well as a University of Michigan study with similar findings. Another study done at Purdue University conducted on high school football players has gone even further, suggesting that multiple impacts to the head, even if not strong enough to cause concussion, could lead to permanent brain impairment.
The worst part about the violent injuries that occurred over the weekend is that they are not unique. In fact, you could pretty much pick out any given Saturday or Sunday and find an injury that is a part of this alarming trend. And yet, no one seems to be bothered that much.
Congress has made overtures about looking into the problem of concussions, but hasn’t yet mustered the same level of outrage it expressed about the use of performance enhancement drugs in baseball. I wonder what happened to all of the concern about “the kids”? After all, there are an estimated three million children between the ages of six and 14 playing youth football, and many of them face the same risks of serious injury. Just ask Zackery Lystedt.
Football is violent. I get that. I also understand that America loves to watch violence, especially when it is packaged in a vehicle that facilitates our equal desire to place a wager. Although it would be nice if football was held to the same high standards as baseball (concussions are at least as serious as maple bats, right?), the fact that it is not only proves a point that I have long been making: baseball remains our national pastime, while football has become our national vice.
The NFL’s bread and circuses may seem like they are more popular now, but baseball should resist the urge to appeal to the same lowest common denominator. Just like baseball outlasted the popularity of boxing in the first half of the 20th century, it will also endure long after the nation’s appetite for football’s combination of gambling and violence moves on to another sport. And, if America is really starving for crushing hits and crippling blows, then let them eat cake.