The future of a beautiful, brutal game

Micah Rice: Commentary

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor



When I recently took my daughters to a hair appointment, I didn’t expect football to be the topic de jour.

But there I was, talking football with the woman working on my girls’ hair.

Her son plays for Hockinson High School. Football and concussions have been in the news a lot, so I asked whether she had any worries when her son is on the field.

“If I worried it would drive me crazy,” she said. “There’s always a chance something could happen, but there’s risk in everything.”

She went on to laud all the good that comes from football — team-building, physical conditioning, school pride.

This is why I don’t fear for the future of America’s most popular and brutal sport.

Every week, we hear another story of a former NFL player struggling with memory loss, dementia and other effects of multiple concussions suffered years earlier.

These stories have scared many parents, some of whom forbid their children from playing football.

Credit goes to those who play. Respect goes to those who don’t. But what’s important is that as much information as possible be available for parents and teenagers to make an informed decision.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Only recently has the NFL acknowledged a link between football and the brain disease CTE.

Great. Give Commissioner Roger Goodell a gold star. Just forget that he and others in the NFL had spent several years been planting seeds of doubt as to whether football caused traumatic brain injuries.

A New York Times story last week detailed how the NFL spent years relying on flawed research to gauge concussion rates in football. The story compared the NFL’s tactics to those of Big Tobacco.

Never mind that one of the league’s most high-profile owners, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, last week called it “absurd” to link football and CTE.

Jones is football’s equivalent of a climate-change denier, putting politics, profit and the company brand over scientific consensus.

But that’s the way of the world. Should we really be shocked when the NFL, a multi-billion-dollar corporation, behaves like a multi-billion-dollar corporation?

Football is both a beautiful and brutal game. Those at the highest level of the sport owe former players the best care possible, both medically and financially.

A 2015 study by economists at the University of Washington, Cal Tech, George Washington University found that one in six former NFL players goes bankrupt. Beyond a pension, the league should offer free health care for life to its former players, especially those with brain injuries. God knows the league has enough money.

Those at the entry level of the sport owe future players the best coaching possible, especially how to tackle. Thankfully, Clark County has a multitude of knowledgable and caring coaches.

How football affects the brain should continue to be studied. Whatever the findings are, get the information out there.

Whether it be for camaraderie, a path to college or a way to make a living, there are many who believe the benefits of football outweigh its risks.

Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, or on Twitter @col_mrice.