Beyond the Locker Room: NFL sending mixed signals to fans

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There isn’t one football fan out there who hasn’t secretly wished for a punishing blow to be placed on an opponent’s star player. Although we might not all say it verbally for fear of sounding insensitive toward a person who has a life o

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There isn’t one football fan out there who hasn’t secretly wished for a punishing blow to be placed on an opponent’s star player. Although we might not all say it verbally for fear of sounding insensitive toward a person who has a life outside of football, we’ve all thought it, whether we want to admit it or not.

While taking a player out of a game through a hard hit sounds like a measure taken that would guide the home team to an easy victory, we often forget that these players have families and will continue to live their lives after the last buzzer has sounded on their career.

We all shared these sentiments in the wake of former NFL great Junior Seau’s death, which has been ruled a suicide by San Diego law enforcement. The loveable linebacker, who was only 43 years old at the time of his death, shot himself in the chest, causing some to believe he wanted to preserve his brain for science, similar to the action former Bears great Dave Duerson took when he committed suicide.

Considering the recent struggles of the retired NFL players that have been brought to light, the league has cracked down significantly on the once-smash mouth sport. From six-figure fines being handed down to players for illegal hits, to athletes and coaches being suspended for a year after being found guilty of purposefully targeting players to cause injuries, the NFL commissioner is aiming to make a point that aspects of football, which made the game in the past, will not be tolerated any longer.

But is this possible: Taking hard hits and the physicality of the game out of the sport that is built on such actions?

Superbowl champion and two-time MVP Kurt Warner isn’t sold on the idea. Warner recently released a statement that details why he doesn’t prefer his kids to play the game that brought him wealth and fame.

“As a football player and a fan of the game I want my kids to play the game that I am so passionate about, Warner said in the statement.  “They currently play football and there are few things that bring me more joy than watching them play and getting excited about the game I love.  But, at the same time I am constantly concerned about my kids and the violence of the game of football.  I worry about them suffering head trauma and developing any long-term issues as a result of that injury.”

Warner went on to say that even though he loves and appreciates what the game did for him, he can’t be oblivious as a parent to the countless risks associated with the sport.

Warner has received criticism from several of his peers following his comments being released, stating that the former quarterback is deterring parents from allowing their children from participating in football.

However, while not having to go through an injury is ideal for all athletes, the reality is that it happens and will continue to happen. Those who wonder why athletes get paid as much as they do, take a look at the stories of John Mackey, Larry Morris and Ralph Wenzel, all former NFL players who were just a few of many suffering from dementia or some form of cognitive impairment. The money is thought to be an insurance policy for putting your life on the line every time you step foot on the field.

According to a 2005 study by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, former NFL players who suffered three or more concussions are five times more likely to have mild cognitive impairment and are three times more likely to have memory problems compared to those who didn’t have concussions, which has been proven to be rare in the league. It was also found that players who suffer three or more concussions are three times more likely to suffer from depression than a player without a history of concussions.

While the league praises the hard hits and glorifies players who deliver them, it also punishes the athletes for smash-mouth football, sending mixed signals to the fans, players and kids who idolize the game. While wanting to keep all the players safe and healthy for a long life after their playing career is ideal, it isn’t always possible, leaving the league in a Catch-22 situation.

Although this argument could go on for decades from now, debating the pros and cons of changing the rules of the NFL to eliminate risks, two things everyone should be able to agree on – something has to be done to prevent tragedies similar to those of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson from happening and keeping kids from pursuing their passion is not the answer.

*Follow on Twitter @IfFansCouldTalk

Copyright 2012 Chicago Defender

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