Why someone would put himself through so much torture is not about being a masochist. It’s about being a football player.
And therein lies the problems with players suffering from the effects of concussions, broken bones and other physical ailments that leave them in a bad way once their playing days are over.
Smith was lucky; he did not suffer long-lasting troubles with his shoulder. But there are countless NFL players who can hardly move, whose knees and shoulders and elbows are creaky, whose brains, sadly, are scrambled.
Many times that kind of impact can occur on one play. Most of the time it’s an accumulation of violent collisions, week-after-week, year-after-year that build up to cause life-impacting, troubling conditions.
Smith spoke at the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health “Family, Football and Fame” luncheon in San Angelo, Texas last week, and his comments about the mentality of being a football player fosters were compelling.
“You do it for the sake of the game,” he said. “You do it for the sake of your teammates. You do it because it’s your team. Should you be out there? The answer’s probably not. Would I do it again? Yes, I would. But that’s football. That’s the way I was raised. If you can’t play with pain, you can’t play the game.”
And that’s the concern right there for parents across the country—even some fathers—who are pushing their sons away from football. The violence is a natural part of the game, and it is taught from youth football on up: Be tough.
Ever watch “Friday Night Tykes?” The entire culture is one of toughness and violence that has been embedded in those kids’ collective psyche.
That’s the concern because all the efforts of the NFL and advanced technology to protect the players, while admirable and needed, cannot protect the players from themselves. A more protective, padded helmet will minimize the impact of a blow to the head. But the cumulative impact of consistent head-banging still could cause brain damage.
One study shows that the culture of football leads players to not report concussions, resulting in six extra concussive hits for every one that gets officially diagnosed. Not good.
Then there is the pressure to win, to perform. Coaches do not want to hear about injuries; they want to hear how soon the player will be back into the game. Trainers are then faced with the pressure of green-lighting players’ return into the fray, making it a moral issue as well.
Pop Warner has required reduced contact during practices, while high schools are stepping up and understanding how critical it is to a kids’ long-term health to get hurt players off the field. The NFL, with a more stringent protocol, and college report a decline in the number of brain-related injuries.
Still, it will always be an issue if players give in to the culture of the sport and lie so they can play, dizzy or not. Nothing good comes of that.