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Gorches: Are you ready for the end of football?

Updated: June 17, 2012 8:21AM



Beware football fans — a storm is brewing. It’s been building in recent years from the top on down with the National Football League, but you can bet it will hit every level down to Pop Warner.

Not to sound like a doomsday prophet, but it could mean the end of football as we know it (insert dramatic, ominous music here).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in recent years, head injuries in football have been a common occurrence in the news. It’s mostly focused on the NFL, which often seems to amend its rules on trying to eliminate dangerous head injuries, including concussions.

The subject is morbidly re-emphasized when former NFL stars such as Junior Seau, Andre Waters or Dave Duerson commit suicide, likely because of the accumulative trauma their bodies — especially their heads — were subjected to over years of playing a game that has turned into a death sentence.

Seau, a former linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, was the most recent, shooting himself in the chest, leading some to believe he did so to allow his brain to be examined.

Duerson, a former Bears safety, did the same in 2011, while Waters, a former defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, shot himself in the head in 2006.

Even though Waters suffered a head wound, his brain was studied and a pathologist determined his brain tissue had deteriorated to the point that it resembled that of an 85-year-old man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, not a 44-year-old athlete.

Any way you slice it, football caused these men to choose death instead of dealing with pain caused by a game.

Stricter rules, though, aren’t the answer, and they definitely won’t prevent high school football from being under duress.

Usually these things start at the bottom and work their way up, but in football it’s backward. A group of former NFL players is suing the league, saying it didn’t do enough over the years to inform players about head injuries, or prevent them.

You can bet it will make its way down the food chain.

Can you imagine the first instance of a former football player suing the school district he played for, claiming the coaches and administrators didn’t inform players enough of the dangers of head trauma?

It’s going to happen, and I’d like a legal expert to explain how the school district is going to defend itself against such a lawsuit.

It would be very difficult, and the end result may be said school district eliminating football. And then there will be another and another and another.

Can you imagine in about 20 years, maybe less, that high school football may not exist?

Maybe Pop Warner will cease to exist well before then. In fact, with all the information coming out every day on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), who would allow their young kids to play a game in which bodies are flung at each other with complete disregard for injury?

CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found mostly in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions and asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.

Do you think pee-wee and junior pee-wee kids think about the dangers of hitting each other? Of course not because they try to emulate the NFL players they see on TV. But that’s the level where CTE starts and gradually builds to the point of making decisions like those made by Seau, Duerson and Waters.

It’s not just concussions that lead to such tragic endings. In fact, not suffering the symptoms of a concussion could be worse than an actual concussion. On almost every play in a football game, brains rattle against skulls. Sometimes that causes a concussion, which now results in the athlete sitting out, either for the rest of a game or a couple days or longer.

No concussion means more plays and more rattling and a more gradual build-up to CTE.

Lawsuits seek to blame someone who usually has money to compensate for pain and suffering. But who’s really to blame for football’s barbaric nature leading to health issues down the road?

You and me.

Are you a football fan? If the answer is yes, then the next question is, why do you watch?

Besides wanting to see your team win, you watch for the hits, just like NASCAR fans want to see their favorite driver win, and the others crash, just like many hockey fans enjoy fighting or really hard hits on the ice.

Oh yeah, just ask Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby about those hits.

Football is the most popular sport in the world. Billions of dollars are dished out for TV contracts because seemingly half the country loves it.

It truly is a catch 22. If we didn’t watch, it wouldn’t be so popular. But it’s so popular because the majority of fans love to see players hitting each other hard.

Oh yeah, you know who else is to blame? Parents who let their kids play football without thinking about what can happen down the road. When my son was in eighth grade, he asked if he could play football. My wife and I said no. There wasn’t a discussion or debate. But if there was, we would have informed him about the threat of serious injuries, then we would have made the decision for him without his input.

Not enough parents are thinking like that at the youngest levels of the game. Maybe future lawsuits can be prevented if more parents said ‘No” well before those kids grow up and possibly become the next Seau, Duerson or Waters.



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