The Super Bowl is finally over and luckily there were no clear major injuries on the field, but that doesn’t mean the conversation about brain injury in professional football is going anywhere. The conversation was at a fever pitch in the days surrounding the game however, and people connected with the NFL were giving their opinions freely, especially the players.
One of the loudest voices was that of Steve Largent, Hall of Fame receiver and former congressman, who spoke to Bloomberg Television’s Peter Cook. The interview took place just days after President Obama criticized the state of traumatic brain injury, especially in football. Largent believes the President and the government as a whole shouldn’t be involved in the brain injury conversation.
Firstly, it is important to note that President Obama emphasized he was much more concerned with youth and college level football, because he believes that NFL players are adults who can make their own choices. Specifically, the President stated that if he had a son, he would think “long and hard” about letting him participate in football. Of course, if youth level football loses the number of children signing up every year, college and professional football will be eventually affected.
“The important point is that he doesn’t have a son, but it’s just another indication of the issue that’s at hand for the NFL, and it’s front and center,” Largent said. “If studies come out and show that playing football is detrimental to your health for the long term, even for the short term, I think that’s up to the players then to make the decision about whether they’re going to play or not play.”
While at some point you have to put the responsibility on the athletes for putting themselves in danger, Largent and even Obama’s “they knew what they were signing up for” comments are problematic. Largent himself shows just how he might not have been fully aware what he was risking when playing. “The more studies that come out that talk about concussions and so forth, it makes me wonder,” Largent said. “I wonder, more importantly than the stroke, the impact that concussions have had on my life, particularly as I get older.”
Many football players associate brain injury with temporarily being pulled from play, or in severe cases, death. Few realize that the more common symptoms can last for years and bubble up under the surface. While players worry about bed rest, they should be much more concerned about the years later in life where they will be disabled, not by a broken leg or destroyed spine, but by their brain’s own inability to cope with the damage done to it.