Sunday, November 30, 2014

On Playing Football and Injuries

I saw it online this morning: a former high school quarterback from Illinois is suing the Illinois High School Athletic Association because of concussions he sustained 15 years ago. This action takes such lawsuits to a new "low" adding to suits against the National Football League and college sports.

Football is a rough and violent sport. I played four years in high school and two years in junior college. (I would have played more except I went to junior high where there were no programs.) I've seen players get injured during games. In fact, my football career ended when I sustained a shoulder injury and the doctors suggested I quit. There were no sports medicine doctors in Norfolk, Nebraska so I never knew if my injury could be fixed. It still aches on occasion but I still regret not taking the scholarship at Northwestern College of Iowa.

But here's my point! Those who choose to play the game know it is a violent game! They know in advance they could get injured. That's just part of the game! Most players don't have serious injuries but there are lots of bruises, cuts, and sprains that go with the game. We lost two tackles to ACL injuries my senior year in high school. One JC player had a concussion on the kickoff of the first game of my first year in JC. If you know the game is violent and you are unwilling to take the risks associated with the game don't play! Don't blame everyone else for your own decisions.

Now, having said that let me add that it is proper for equipment manufacturers to provide the best and safest equipment possible. It is right for leagues and organizations to adapt rules to enhance player safety. Research is ongoing and football has come a long way from the leather helmets of yesteryear to the highly technically developed helmets of today. My freshman year in high school was the first year bars and facemasks were required on helmets--that was 1957. My freshman year in junior college was the first year for mouth guards and the JC players painted latex rubber on dental impressions to make our own. When I coached junior league ball in Grand Junction we made certain the league purchased the safest helmets available for our fifth and sixth grade players.

It is horrible when a player sustains an injury that leaves him paralyzed or crippled. That's for certain. But he chose to play the game! No one forced him. And once a player reaches the NFL--and few do--they are making so much money it is insane.

In our litigious society we hold organizations and individuals responsible for things no one knew was harmful. Why did this former high school quarterback wait 15 years to file suit? No one knew how serious concussions were in 1990. It has only been the last 10 years or so that such injuries have received much attention. There are always lawyers who will "chase ambulances" or look for opportunities to sue. All that does is remove the consequences of individual choices and make the rest of society pay the price.

I know this is simplistic, but when and where does individual responsibility enter the picture?

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