It is an ugly subject that won't go away. And the longtime explanation (excuse?)--"Oh well, stuff happens"-doesn't cut it anymore. It has become a serious issue, not just one of those rare incidences that can be shrugged off simply with "life goes on."
Too often and too recently, life is not going on, and that really hit home recently when former NFL star Junior Seau committed suicide-possibly because of brain damage caused by multiple concussions suffered over two decades in pro football.
Seau, 43, would not be the first. Former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson also shot himself in the chest, and it was suggested he did that so his brain could be examined. And former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling had dementia at age 62 and committed suicide in April.
The question is, when will all this end? What can the NFL and those in charge of football at every level do to make the country's most popular sport safer? Sadly, they all have the same answer: "We have no idea." They would never come right out and say that, however.
Something must be done so long-term players can have an enjoyable life after they take off their cleats and hang up their uniforms. Instead, too many of them aren't sure what day it is. Last week, more than 100 former NFL players filed a federal lawsuit in Atlanta, and word is they are among 1,000 or so who have filed similar suits.
Neurosurgeon James Johnston of the University of Alabama at Birmingham told the Chicago Tribune that NFL players "have a higher rate of depression, substance abuse and dementia compared to the general population, which may be connected to head impacts."
So what's the problem: NFL rules-or lack thereof? Poor helmet technology? Bounties paid to players? My answer: All of the above, plus one ingredient that will never go away-the I'm-the-baddest-dude-on-the-field attitude. Too many NFL players want to strike fear into their opponents, and if it causes a concussion or two, so be it.
Another ingredient that won't go away is the size of players today. Too many of them are humongous-King Kongs wearing shoulder pads. Once upon a time, a 300-pound player was big news. Now more than 400 players weigh 300 pounds or more. As I've written before, if a 340-pound guy just falls on you, he can break a bone or four. And potentially much worse, if he slams into you.
This reminds me of Fred Dean, a defensive end who was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Dean was 6-3 and weighed 230 pounds; blocking him was like trying to block a lightning bolt. Nowadays, Fred might be a linebacker in the NFL, or maybe even a wide receiver.
How about the most famous backfield in college football history, the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame? No, not the best, just the most famous, although they led the Fighting Irish to a 10-0 record and a 24-10 victory over Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl.
Two of them weighed 162 pounds, one was 160 and 5-foot-7 quarterback Harry Stuhldreher was a hefty 151 pounds. At Notre Dame today, they would be battling each other to be the starting water boy.
Is there a solution to the risk that nearly 1,700 active NFL players take when they trot onto the field? Someone jokingly suggested adding an F to NFL and making it the National Flag Football League. Not a bad idea, but of course it won't happen.
It wouldn't surprise me if the NFL eliminates hitting other players above the waist. And I mean hitting the guy with the ball, not grabbing him. Putting one's hands on somebody and pulling him down rarely, if ever, results in a concussion.
According the NFL Players Association, the average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years. And that number obviously includes the talented players who survive the beatings and suit up for more than a decade.
Here's my suggestion to all you moms and dads out there: Tell your son to put his shoulder pads and helmet in your next garage sale. Then go buy him a set of golf clubs and get him hooked on a game he can play as long as he's alive--and actually remember doing it!
And if he gets really good at golf, he can play his way onto the PGA Tour and have a chance to win more money in four days than a so-so NFL player can make in six months.
Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at www.rbjdaily.com. His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.3.5/11/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.