The first preseason Chiefs game is in the books and September is just around the corner, which means it’s time to ask yourself: 'Are you ready for some football?' As commentator Victor Wishna admits in this edition of A Fan’s Notes, that isn’t the easiest question for everyone to answer.
As training gets underway at camps and campuses from coast to coast, football is back in the headlines — and most of them are bad:
- Ohio State coach Urban Meyer suspended pending investigation of his liability in a domestic abuse scandal
- Thirteen North Carolina Tar Heels disciplined for selling school-issued Nikes
- Thirty NFL players have been placed on injured reserve since preseason began
- Last week out at Garden City Community College, a 19-year-old freshman suddenly and tragically died just hours after his first practice.
And that’s on top of the long-simmering storylines of concussions, PEDs, and player-protest backlash exacerbated by owners’ boneheaded policies and a certain president’s Twitter tantrums.
So I figured this is as good a week as any to make the case for football. Because, yeah, it’s not something too many people are doing right now.
Google “the case for football” and you’ll get hundreds of results, but nearly all of them are listings for actual cases for footballs. I found a nice Lucite one on eBay for just $30.
But there are reasons that football, according to a recent Gallup poll, is still Americans’ favorite sport to watch — three times as popular as basketball or baseball. It’s exciting on every play, with heightened anticipation in between for the next sudden explosive moment.
And yes, it’s violent. Though, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (yep, that’s a thing) skiers, gymnasts, and even cheerleaders face more traumatic and fatal injuries per capita than football players. Another study, by the National Athletic Trainers Association, reveals that collegiate women soccer players suffer concussions at triple the rate of their gridiron counterparts.
That’s not to say it isn’t a problem, but that it is — across many sports. Football happens to be the highest-profile, and the ferocity is right there on the field, and too-often celebrated.
But violence is not the essence. Football, more than most any other sport, is the consummate team game. Every player has a specific responsibility on every play. Guys who never touch the ball play a vital role, and one star is never enough.
Whereas, say, Lebron James carried a very middling Cleveland Cavaliers team to four consecutive NBA Finals and a championship, the legendary Barry Sanders could only delay the Detroit Lions’ equally legendary futility.
There’s an accountability and esprit de corps that should only be a bigger part of our daily lives: doing a job to the best of your ability so that others can do theirs, and helping others succeed as an element of your own success.
And, of course, the civic contributions of players can’t be underestimated, even as the NFL, compared to other leagues, has certainly under-promoted the degree to which its stars and subs alike are involved in their communities, particularly in education and public health.
None of this is to say the problems don’t need addressing — and I fully admit a bit of self-serving rationalization, an attempt to soothe my own cognitive dissonance. But it is possible to enjoy the game and insist on making it safer and better — better equipment, better technique, rule changes that provide better protection. Debilitated former players should be compensated. College players should, in some way, be paid.
But football’s not going away and neither am I. I love it, and I can’t leave it just yet.
Perhaps I cling to a sense of imagined nostalgia and unfinished business. The Kansas City Chiefs, of course, haven’t won a Super Bowl — haven’t been to one — since before I was born.
My mom had a ball that was signed by every member of that championship team, and every once in a while, I’ll get it out and trace the famous names I never saw play. And each time, the ink on that football is a little more faded.
Oh, well. At least now, I have a nice new case to keep it in.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.