Life and Death in Football
Issue   |   Wed, 11/13/2013 - 01:57

It seems like it is impossible to escape the talk about Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.

I can’t remember the last time I turned on the TV or surfed the web without reading about the saga involving the Miami Dolphins.

At the heart of the story is whether Martin faced unfair treatment at the hands of his teammates.

This article isn’t concerned with whether Martin was bullied or not.

Underlying the whole discussion about Jonathan Martin is the nature of football and whether a certain type of physical and mental toughness is required to play football.

Lawrence Taylor, one of the most fearsome defensive players in NFL history recently came out and said this about Jonathan Martin, “If you are that sensitive and weak-minded, then find another profession. That’s the way I feel about it. This is the NFL. This is football. This is not table tennis. This is not golf.” His opinion is an example of the opinion of many football players who believe that without physical toughness it is impossible to be successful in football.

What is often lost in the discussion about football and how physical the game is, is the fact that every time a player puts on their shoulder pads and straps on their helmet there is the very real possibility that they won’t walk off the field alive. That may sound melodramatic, but it is true.

This week a high school football player in Arizona died of a brain injury that he suffered in a playoff game.

The memory of the most successful season in Hopi High history will be erased at the realization that the sport that the young men loved took their friend and teammate Charles Youvella.

He died as a result of a brain injury that was inflicted during the fourth quarter of a blowout loss in the first round of the state playoffs.

His death serves as a reminder of the dangers that football players, especially youth football players, face when they step on the field.

A report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council revealed that the reported concussion rate for high school football players is almost double that of a college football player and that incidence rate of concussions in high school football is far greater than any other sport.

What is scary about this report is that it only measures the “reported rate” of concussions by athletes.

From personal experience, I know that many of my teammates in high school and in college ignored concussions.

We wanted to be on the field as much as possible, and it is difficult to fully comprehend the dangers of concussions until something horrendous happens.

For me that moment was in my sophomore year of high school.

My Chadwick Dolphins were playing our rivals the Pasadena Polytechnic Panthers. We were winning the game handily (as per usual) when the game stopped.

No one knew why at the time, but one of the Poly players had collapsed on the sideline.

The player, Jackson Allen who is my age, had suffered a serious head injury during the game on a routine play and found himself on death’s doorstep.

Thank goodness there were doctors at the game that were able to take him to the hospital in time to save his life.
For everyone on the field and in the stands that day the game of football changed forever.

Allen underwent numerous surgeries to remove swelling and blot cots from his brain and eventually recovered. However, his life was forever altered.

The most surreal part of the whole story for me was the following year when we played Poly.

For the first time in a long time Poly was beating us, but that wasn’t what got me. During the third quarter I made a hard block on one of their players who got up, took a few woozy steps and then fell back to the ground.

After the game as I went to go check on him, Jackson Allen came over and said, ”Man you got messed up!”

It was one of the strangest encounters I have ever had. I had just ended this poor kids season, and Jackson Allen was in awe of how hard one of teammates had gotten hit.

He didn’t say anything to me about the hit or talk about how dangerous it could have been.

Instead, he appreciated how brutal the hit was and how much his friend had gotten dominated on the field.
That moment was the most guilty I have every felt playing sports at any level.

I tell you this story not to brag about some hit I made in high school but as an anecdote for how society views the game of football.

The game is the modern day conception of a battle in a Roman arena where gladiators dressed head to toe in armor battled to the death.

For someone who almost died because of a routine play like Jackson to celebrate a big hit almost exactly a year later tells you about the appeal of football.

Physicality is what draws people to the game of football. Without it, we might as well play patty cake.

In an era where player safety is first and foremost in the minds of players and coaches, it is impossible to escape the fact that we are drawn to the vicious aspects of the game.

We hate to see players get hurt but celebrate when big hits are made.

Hitting is something that can’t be taken out of the game, but how do we alter incentives so that the game is played safer?
I don’t even think that is possible. When I see big hits in college football it is impossible to ignore the fact that one person physically imposed their will on another.

What never escapes my mind now is that a hit like that could end someone’s life just like it did to Charles and how it almost did to Jackson.

Seeing, worse, hearing those types of hits, remind me just how dangerous the game of football truly is.

I think that society is drawn to football because of the risk that players take on every time they step on the field.

They appreciate that football is a game that requires a certain desire of physicality, while not fully understanding that even the most routine of plays can have the most devastating of consequences.

To answer the question I posed at the beginning of the article, I do believe there is a certain physical and mental toughness required to play football.

I also think there is a belief that most players have that they are invincible when they step onto the field.

However, pro players like John Moffitt who just retired after his third year in the league believe that the physical wear and tear isn’t worth the fame and the money, “it’s not the big collisions to the head, it’s the consistent every play hits to the head that can really affect you.”

That belief is something that is becoming more and more widespread among pro players. Let’s just hope fans start to catch on too.

Glinda (not verified) says:
Sun, 12/08/2013 - 05:52

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.