DISPATCHES | Futbol Boots Football, Long-Term
by Rob Schultheis
Jan 22, 2013 | 1674 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I played “American football” in prep school; like many secondary school players I had at least one concussion, along with a broken nose and finger.  And I absolutely loved the sport, though I was far better at soccer. Football is enormous fun, from the strategy and tactics to the fine science of making a swim move over an offensive lineman and meeting the ball carrier head-on. 

In one game Steve A. and I ended the season of an all-state running back by breaking his collarbone; he was returning a punt, and we met him  at full speed.  He wasn’t following the old rule of “keep your head on a swivel” when you’re on the field because you never know what malign opponent

is going to appear out of nowhere and knock you six ways from Tuesday; it was like a miniature version of the Titanic meets the iceberg, only there were two icebergs,  and they were both moving as fast as the Titanic. The poor guy lay there, crumpled up like a sandwich wrapper, clutching his shoulder and gritting his teeth, while Steve, who had a definite mean streak, held the ball high above his head (he had recovered the fumble) and grinned ear to ear.

Well, it was football, right? A “clean hit,” and besides, the other team beat us like a Chinese gong in the end.

It had been years since I had thought about those halcyon days on the autumn turf with the smell of burnt leaves in the air and the temperature turning chilly as the afternoon waned and the shadows lengthened (thanks for the license to bloviate, Grantland Rice).  But the terrible injury to Robert Griffith III, the charismatic rookie quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Sunday before last, got me to remembering and thinking about the game and its future, and I came to the unhappy conclusion that in 15 or 20 years, professional football will either be dead or a niche sport, with a small fanatical band of fans.

The problem is, RG3 is just one example of the star NFL players who have been knocked out of the playoff games by injuries, or are gimping around at half their usual effectiveness.  Ironically, the athletes have gotten too big and too fast for limbs, joints and brains to bear.

I don’t know how the NFL owners and management could effectively deal with the dilemma, but tweaking the rules till they squeal, like banning headshots and planning to eliminate kickoffs and punts definitely isn’t the answer;

 The measures do little to actually safeguard the players’ safety while at the same time they harm the game itself.  And of course the owners, some of the greediest, most unconscionable scallywags in history, want to add two more games to the regular season schedule when it will inevitably undo whatever good the abovementioned measures might possibly do. Brothel owners care more about their employees’ welfare than NFL owners do their players.

We’ll end up with Super Bowls played by third

string/practice squad quarterbacks and players swathed in body armor and bandages till they look like Galapagos turtles, pie-eyed on pain killers, hobbling around like an army of Long John Silvers.

If there ever was an incipient new superstar in the NFL it is RG3: highly intelligent, charming and funny  (when his knee was hyperextended earlier in the season, he told a press conference “I screamed – like a man, of course”), movie star handsome, courageous to a fault, he could be the most important player in NFL history in terms of dramatically expanding the game’s audience. If he survives – this is his first year in the league, and he is already facing major surgery, and questions about whether he is big and bulky enough to play quarterback in the NFL.

It’s sacrilege, I know, but I think the writing is on the wall: American kids are going to go into soccer instead of football, and we’ll be watching the World Cup instead of the Super Bowl in 2033. 

“It is written.”

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