I’m from New York, but the Wolverines have always been a part of my family. I watched many football games growing up and managed to get to the 1998 Rose Bowl with my grandma and grandpa, who are both University alumni, to see Michigan beat Washington State.
I’m sharing my personal history to qualify the difficulty that I face in urging football fans to stop supporting the sport. No other game combines physical ability and strategy like football, but along with the excitement comes the injuries — and we can’t ignore the injuries any longer.
The prevalence of brain damage in football players is becoming more acknowledged. In a 2009 study, the University’s Institute for Social Research reported on the incidence of injuries among football players. It found that memory problems (i.e., dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other memory-related diseases) were 19 times more prevalent among NFL players between the ages of 30 and 49 than all U.S. men in the same age range. Similarly, in men aged 50 and older, the study found that memory problems were three times greater in NFL players than the average U.S man.
It seemed for a little while that changes to tackling rules and additional penalties for illegal hits could help prevent brain injuries among college and NFL players. The reality we’re seeing is that even after safety measures are put in place, football continues to be dangerous. Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie suffered one of the most recent injuries. He was rendered unconscious after an Eagle’s safety collided with the back of his head. Additionally, according to the Detroit Free Press, our very own Denard Robinson had to leave this year’s game against Illinois game because he was experiencing headaches and dizziness due to an unknown injury.
Robinson’s symptoms weren’t even the result of a heavy or egregious hit. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez told the Free Press that neither Robinson nor Rodriguez were aware of the specific hit that caused Robinson’s disorientation, which brings up an issue that complicates the matter of head injuries even further. Concussions and head injuries aren’t always the result of a big hit. A high frequency of small injuries can lead to concussions. In an Oct. 19 article in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell interviewed the head of the Sports Concussion Research Program at the University of North Carolina. The research program produced results that showed that cumulative exposure to contact with the head can also lead to concussions. Thus, the minor changes to rules — like penalties for helmet-to-helmet collisions — fail to remove the danger of injury.
Coming to terms with injuries that result from football provides the fans with two courses of action: force football to change or continue to support a dangerous sport. Part of a free society is allowing people to participate in activities that are bad for them. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to endorse these activities. Smoking cigarettes is legal, but that doesn’t mean we should support it. Ultimate Fighting Championship is legal and it should be, but that doesn’t mean we should support it. The question is whether football will change or remain an abusive sport. If it doesn’t change, fans will have to come to terms with the fact that they’re supporting an activity that is detrimental to the people they cheer for.
The other option for football fans is to decrease support until the sport becomes less dangerous. Football is a business. And like any business, if its activities are pulling in a lot of money, it will continue those activities. The only thing that can get football to change is a statement by the consumers of the sport.
We can’t leave it up to the football industry to protect our classmates and professional players. We, the football fans, are the driving force that supports a dangerous environment for athletes. We need to force the sport to change and the only way to do this is to remove our support, especially our financial contributions. We need to act on our disapproval of football’s preponderance of injuries. We need to write letters to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, University Athletic Director David Brandon and University President Mary Sue Coleman. Most importantly, we need to stop buying tickets to games.
Teddy Papes is an LSA junior.