An editorial on football from the Publisher of The Baltimore Post
What lies ahead–and at what cost–for these gridiron heroes?
I can no longer watch professional football or, for that matter, college football. Maybe it’s because, as a journalist, I am always searching for the facts in any particular story.
Some facts leave a lasting impression, as they did the night I watched the movie Concussion starring Will Smith as the doctor who discovered the brain damage associated with retired NFL players.
To me, this was the NFL’s Watergate.
The movie Concussion is a riveting story about the reality of what has become an honored tradition in this country–watching football games. As I write this article, that once-sacred tradition is kept by millions of people who view the modern day equivalent of the Roman gladiators. The only difference today is that death does not come at the immediate end of the engagement via a “thumbs down” from the Emperor of Rome.
Rather, today both the winners and losers of each contest face a more agonizing condition–a debilitating process called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. This condition continues to happen every week under the glare of the media spotlight that is focused on the NFL.
The movie Concussion focused that beam of light directly on retired NFL players and their continuing battle with this ravaging condition.
Here is a brief description of the term CTE:
CTE was first described in 1928, when Dr. Harrison Martland described a group of boxers as having “punch drunk syndrome.” Over the next 75 years, several researchers reported similar findings in boxers and victims of brain trauma, but fewer than 50 cases were confirmed. In 2005, a pathologist named Bennet Omalu published the first evidence of CTE in an American football player: former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster. Shortly thereafter, the Concussion Legacy Foundation partnered with Boston University and the Veterans Administration to form the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, led by Dr. Ann McKee. The Brain Bank has revolutionized how we understand the disease, with more than 400 brains donated, 250 of which have been found to have CTE.
In this recent report published by CNN, it revealed that CTE was found in the brains of 99% of deceased former NFL players.
Let’s take a look at the situation involving Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Here is a video clip of the vicious hit that knocked Flacco out of the game against the Miami Dolphins:
Oops, they did it again; they shot the messenger.
Video credit/CBS Sports
Joe Flacco is an icon–the face of both the Baltimore Ravens and the entire city of Baltimore, which he proudly claims as his hometown. Mr. Flacco is a devoted family man and father of four beautiful children, and he has been playing professional football for 10 years.
My intention for this opinion piece is not to judge anyone for his decision to pursue a career in professional football; instead, I want to reflect on the potential dangers that lie ahead for many of our dedicated athletes. Compounding the problem is the NFL’s seemingly less-than-stellar effort to protect these gridiron players who basically give the league and the fans everything they have week in and week out.
Unfortunately, many of them don’t know just how much of themselves, and their futures, they are leaving behind on that field.
Diehard Baltimore football fans should remember one of the all-time great quarterbacks whose name is immortalized in the annals of history and NFL lore. His name was John Unitas, and he died at the age of 69. Another name synonymous with the Baltimore Colts during the early years, that ultimately led to the explosion of the NFL into its present day status as the number one sport in this nation, was former Colt linebacker Bill Pellington, who died from Alzheimer’s at the age of 66.
It is heartbreaking to realize that these two great athletes and men passed away at a relatively young age after spending many years in the NFL. I knew many of the former Colts players because I grew up in the Towson neighborhood of Campus Hills, where many of those players lived during their years on the team.
Looking back on those days of playing in the youth league football program, I have many vivid and fine memories. Back then, we had no idea what would lie ahead for many of our sports heroes.
This man should know the score:
Video credit/NBC’s Today
The Baltimore Post touched on this subject in a previous article, which featured a YouTube video revealing some of the vicious hits in the NFL. Several days later, the video was pulled from the YouTube site. We believe there was an ulterior motive in pulling the video, and it has nothing to do with copyright infringement.
Apparently, we must’ve struck a nerve.
As I stated in the beginning, this is just my opinion as Publisher of the Post. There are a multitude of reasons that have caused the decline in viewership for the NFL. Some of those issues include politics and over-saturation.
However, the violence that is graphically featured in slow motion over and over again can also be a cause for the decline in viewers.
As we saw with the vicious hit on quarterback Joe Flacco, and the implied endorsement of the hit by the league, I wonder if the bottom line comes before the health and well-being of these great heroes of the gridiron.
In the decades to come, will anyone remember why many of us chose to ignore the issue? Or will we forget–just like those former athletes who suffered brain damage from playing a game.