This column is about what I feel is the real sports story of the year and, if you know my optimistic and positive approach to writing, and living, I’m sorry it’s not an upbeat, inspirational piece, but its importance can’t be overstressed. Also, I’ve waited a long while before addressing it because it strikes a personal note.
While the question of steroids in sports continues to be a hot and sensitive topic that will continue to persist as a by-product of serious, high-level competition, it will always have to be monitored because every time one “extra edge” component for achieving success is regulated, another one is discovered.
It’s all part of the competitive world of sports, or life in general – to obtain the passion and drive to be a winner using by any means necessary, often spurring the need of a substance to accomplish the addictive task of winning, or, from a professional point of view, making money and increasing income, which is the American way.
This brings us to the root of my column, “concussions and the consequences,” which is truly the most pertinent story of this year, or any year.
Of course injuries are part of life, and the more physical the endeavor, the more the risk of injury, putting the world of sports in the spotlight for assorted injured body parts. But when the injury is a concussion, then we’re dealing with both the body and the mind.
Outside of serious, and sometimes tragic, injuries involving the neck, spine and paralysis, injured ankles, hands, arms, legs, fingers, shoulders, hips and the muscles and bones that connect them can, in most cases, be mended, fixed and healed with ever-progressing modern Western and Eastern medicine.
But with concussions, we’re talking about our brains, our minds, our memories, our present and future conscious existence.
Currently, the recovery rate from concerning concussions, which range from mild to serious, is and should be a slow one – not popular with a fast-paced society – because we’re still learning more about concussions.
This, again, brings us back to sports, with football at center stage, which are producing the chilling proof of the after-effects of multiple concussions.
In fact, I feel today’s football is endangered because, and there’s no two ways around it, is a violent sport played with the head snear the center of the action. I don’t care how engineered for protection with padding and head pieces a helmet is, there’s a head with a brain inside that’s being thrashed about.
So let’s not blame the helmet makers because no matter the protection, the head will always be in harm’s way when someone plays football, which has always been known, but the yearning to play turns the right decision into denial.
I do love football as a former player and current follower and reporter, and I’m willing to accept major changes that will protect the head, even though it will alter the athleticism of the players and change the violent culture of the sport. But something better be done because parents are already stopping their children from playing football because of head issues.
As it currently stands, football will not survive the damage and cost of concussions, and the NFL is feeling the ongoing pressure, though its recent money pledge to aid the many former players suffering brain debilitation from aconcussions they incurred in their careers was paltry and far from adequate.
The NFL owners and executives should be ashamed of themselves and better share more of their millions and billions of dollars they owe any player, from any era, for their health, and toward research to save the sport, though the head issues are daunting and not making for a good future for football as we know it.
I have a lot more to say about the subject of concussions and will continue my thoughts in future columns.
But for now, I want to explain my intense interest and concern about concussions because, being a serious, lifelong athlete and competitor in many sports, including high-level soccer, I’ve had numerous head injuries and trauma and I have a constant worry inside me about how much damage I received.
So far, I’ve been fortunate to have no cognitive effects that I’m aware of from past head and facial injuries – including seven broken noses and a pro-soccer career-ending injury that broke all the bones in half of my face and detached my retina – along with all my head balls and shots from an eight-year soccer career.
I actually switched to soccer from football after turning down athletic scholarship offers from three colleges in the sport that I’ve always loved playing, following and covering because I was concerned with my size and body abuse I received playing football, which included multiple concussions.
Over the years I’ve come in contact with many competitive athletes who also have concerns, especially those my age.
Back in the decades before the increased concussion syndrome of the 2000s, it didn’t matter that you dinged your head – you always got back up and into the action because you might loose your position, or playing time, or self pride.
Unfortunately, or devastatingly, you might even lose your mind.