Gorches: Head injuries make football feel more like ‘deathball’
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org December 6, 2012 7:04PM
Pallbearers place a coffin with the body of Kansas City Chiefs NFL football player Jovan Belcher into a hearse after a service at the Landmark International Deliverance and Worship Center Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 in Kansas City, Mo. Belcher shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their home Saturday morning before driving to Arrowhead Stadium and turning the gun on himself. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Updated: January 8, 2013 6:33AM
There’s not much I love more than watching football on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the fall.
I’m more of a pro football fan, but there’s nothing wrong with a good college game, too — especially if there’s a Southeastern Conference team to cheer against, but I digress.
And high school football is quite enjoyable to watch, though covering it can be a challenge sometimes.
But it seems like every couple of months there’s more depressing news about a former or current football player that makes me rethink my love for a sport that is ruining lives more frequently than ever.
The latest in a growing trend of football-related — and very likely football-causing — incidents is Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then driving to Chiefs team headquarters, confronting his coaches and GM, thanking them for everything they did for him before taking his own life with a gunshot to the head.
How can you not think about other recent football suicides — Junior Seau in the spring, Dave Duerson in 2011 and Andre Waters in 2006. The difference is that this time, it was a current player who didn’t have as many years of physical abuse on the football field behind him.
Belcher was supposedly a level-headed guy who lost his mind for a short period of time, then realized what he had done and decided the only logical thing to do was take his own life without thinking of the dozens of lives he changed forever.
Reports have come out that he actually kissed his wounded girlfriend on the forehead seconds after shooting her, and said he was sorry, before driving five miles and shooting himself in front of GM Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, saying “I got to go ... I can’t be here” just before pulling the trigger.
Belcher was actually a member of Male Athletes Against Violence, a group that campaigns against violence toward women by athletes. So what would make a presumably good guy go against his beliefs?
It was a skewed, immoral decision leading to lives ruined, all because of the violent nature of football.
Now I know what some of you will say: They know what they’re getting into and they get paid very well to deal with the injuries. But I’ll counter with the notion that they don’t realize what they’re getting into and no amount of money makes up for the head trauma that batters brains into mush.
We can’t say for sure that there is a direct link between the Belcher incident and head trauma, but it’s been reported that Belcher had issues with alcohol, pain killers and recent concussions. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
The NFL and NCAA has tried to compensate for head trauma by penalizing players more. The NFL had increased fines and suspensions for helmet-related hits that are deemed unnecessary, but that doesn’t solve the problem. It punishes players for the problem, but you can’t fundamentally change the game of football.
In fact, football hasn’t changed in five decades. Players hit the same way now as they did 30, 40 or 50 years ago.
Dick Butkus once knocked multiple quarterbacks out of a game in the 1960s. Mean Joe Greene from the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers “Steel Curtain” defense wasn’t named as such because he hit you softly. In 1978, Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum’s infamous hit paralyzed Miami Dolphins wide receiver Darryl Stingley. In 1985, Bears linebacker Wilbur Marshall once hit Detroit Lions quarterback Joe Ferguson so hard with his helmet in the chest that Ferguson was laid out on the ground for minutes like he was dead.
The only thing that has changed is the size and strength of the players. Linemen now are 300 pounds or more, but can run to 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds or less. Linebackers such as Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis are 20-30 pounds bigger than their past counterparts, like Marshall.
It’s all about math and the formula E=mc2. Energy equals mass times velocity squared. Simply, the force players are producing now is more than it was then for the same crowd-pleasing hits, meaning brains are being rattled harder.
How many suicides do you hear about in other major professional sports? How about players dying early due to excessive injuries? It doesn’t really happen in baseball or basketball, but it’s a way of life — or more accurately a way of death — in football.
Let’s rename it deathball, though that name already describes a videogame that combines elements of football, soccer, rugby and handball. Coincidence? I think not.
Doesn’t it make you want to send your 8-, 9- or 10-year-old son out to play football?
Northwest Indiana has three Pop Warner football teams in the national finals in Florida this week — Gary, Southlake (Lowell) and Michigan City — and they deserve kudos for getting that far and earning a nice week off school at Disney World. But those kids are taking their lives in their own hands — or maybe it’s their parents’ hands. It’s not tag or flag football for them. They’re hitting each other as hard as little kids can. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) can gradually build up and can start at that young age when brains and bodies still aren’t fully developed.
Yes, you guessed it. This is leading up to me saying that Pop Warner football should be disbanded. With all the studies coming out on CTE and the stories about former and current NFL players living a culture of death due to accumulated stress, the only logical way to prevent future trauma is to eliminate the sport at the lower levels and work your way up to extreme changes in higher levels — more extreme than increased fines and suspensions.
Then again, the world has become a culture of death and maybe deathball fits right in.