Tough talk: Violence unavoidable, celebrated in football
Consistent hard hits are a staple of football, and part of what makes the game so perpetually dangerous.Image By: Katie Scheidt
I’ll be the first to admit that I love football. There’s something inherently primal about lining up in front of someone, knowing that your only goal in that moment is either to get past them or stop them from getting past you.
It’s not necessarily always that simple, but when you get the ball in your hands, all you’re focused on is plowing through people to reach your goal. No tricks, no mind games; just beat the guy in front of you.
Football has this incredible ability to bring out the most powerful of emotions within us sports fans. And much of that emotional charge is brought about by the violent nature of the game. For many, it makes it fun. But it almost makes it kind of horrific.
When you remove yourself from the emotional investment and take a step back, football is absolutely terrifying.
I stood in the student section during the game against Ohio State with 14,000 fellow fans and jingled my keys before P.J. Rosowski sent a kickoff through the end zone. As Rosowski’s foot connected with the ball, I heard dozens of voices around me shouting, “Rip his f---ing head off!”
I’m not guiltless here, either. I’ve said the same thing countless times for countless kickoffs. Maybe it comes from high school football, where my one job was to run down the field and recklessly fling my body at the ball carrier as hard as I could.
Football has made great strides in recent years toward reducing the impact and frequency of concussions, but no rule change can stop the brutal beating endured by every player on every down.
Sure, massive, skull-crushing, head-to-head hits are now banned (although the efficacy of this rule is up for debate), but is that enough?
If you follow football, you’ve almost certainly heard of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. It’s the disease that dozens of former football players have been diagnosed with following their deaths. And as much as we want to believe that rule changes can prevent CTE, they can’t.
To me, the most dangerous part of football is the trench play. It’s the every-down, helmet-to-helmet contact that every lineman makes a hundred times a game. It’s the repetitive brain trauma undergone by offensive and defensive linemen thousands of times each year—and “repetitive brain trauma” happens to be the exact cause of CTE.
So, yes, it’s good that it’s no longer commonplace to see someone carted off the field unconscious after another player slammed their helmet into theirs. But while anti-targeting rules might make the game look less violent, they might be more of a distraction from the fact that football will never change.
Football has a culture where violence is celebrated and injury concerns are an afterthought. When Ohio State’s Jamarco Jones fell to the ground and needed to be helped off the field at Camp Randall, the first thing I heard was, “I hope that was the guy blocking T.J. Watt.”
Not a soul near me cared for the well-being of this young man in searing pain, lying on the ground writhing in agony. A kid our own age, one that we might be friends with in another life, limped off the field, but no one was worried for him.
Football is certainly fun, but it’s also arguably the most dangerous major sport in the world. And there’s nothing that can be done to mitigate that danger to the point that it isn’t a humongous concern.
People are starting to notice, though. Will Smith’s recent movie, “Concussion,” drew widespread attention to the NFL’s head injury problem. Critics have become more outspoken and numerous, calling for massive changes to football’s culture.
If you ask me, it’s a losing battle. Changing the culture won’t change the relentless hammering that players take every single down. In my mind, there are two options: either football will carry on, dangerous as ever, or we’ll look back in 25 years from a football-less world and ask, “How the hell did we ever let kids do this?”Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter