By Jared Max
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Despite all the knowledge we have about the dangers of playing tackle football, I do not expect the sport to disappear from American culture any more than I count on the extinction of cigarettes.
Football is deeply ingrained in America’s fabric. Eliminating its presence would be a more arduous task than turning the Titanic away from an iceberg. The game is deeply embedded with advertisers and the American economy, as well as millions of Americans who spend significant amounts of money to support their favorite teams.
Football is going nowhere.
But where are the players going to come from? The poorest families? From where sport is seen as the only way out of a life seemingly destined for crime, violence or potential incarceration? In time, this may be the case. Today, there are still many parents, well-off and well-educated, who allow their sons to sacrifice their bodies and futures to play football. But this may change soon.
Two stories became public on Thursday that may make some parents more leery about allowing themselves to excuse reality and say, “What do you want me to do? My kid wants to play football!”
Not only did we hear the harrowing story about former Lions, Bears and Chargers quarterback Erik Kramer’s suicide attempt — figured by his ex-wife to be a result of decades of depression, initiated while he played in Chicago — but we also read the words of 24-year-old Chris Borland, who retired after his rookie season and told ESPN The Magazine that “if there were no possibility of brain damage, I’d still be playing.”
The title of the ESPN story is, “Why former 49er Chris Borland is the most dangerous man in football.” In it, Borland questioned his self-worth, revealing that “when you’re fighting for a football at the bottom of the pile, it is kind of dehumanizing. It’s like a spectacle of violence, for entertainment, and you’re the actors in it. You’re complicit in that: You put on the uniform. And it’s a trivial thing at its core. It’s make-believe, really. That’s the truth about it.”
From my perspective, Borland is spot on.
In one breath, fans scream, “Knock his &$#*!&@ block off!” In the next breath, many feign compassion about the game’s brutality.
“Oh, it’s such a tragedy that another former player took his own life.”
This is our societal dilemma.
Because I do not have any children, it would be inappropriate to declare whether or not I would allow my son to strap on a helmet to get his brain knocked around.
As a lifelong football fan, my stance remains that if people choose to sacrifice themselves for the adoration, glory and riches that may come with a professional football career, I am happy to be their audience.
Am I complicit, as Borland suggests?
This is our personal dilemma.
Would you allow your son to play tackle football?
Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.