Headbangers’ Heaven

I used to love concussions. I reckon I had two of ’em in my time as a six-man footballer. We’d kick off, and then everybody would sprint at each other like a pair of Red Rover teams gone mad. The objective was to knock somebody’s block off, preferably someone from the opposing team. On two occasions, I’d actually managed to tee-up someone and slam into him. Boom! Next thing you know, I’m peering out of the earhole of my helmet and one of my teammates is saying, “Dude, do you know where you are?” And then, as the sparkles melt away from my eyes, my muddified brain tells me to say, “Blue.” Which is hilarious because blue is a color, not a place. And then my teammates would gently turn me around because I was walking toward the wrong sideline.

Sit on the bench, helmet off, dreamy haze. A little while later, Coach asks if I’m ready to go back in and I say, “Yes,” because I don’t fear concussions, because they’re fun! So I’d go back in and play the rest of the game, badly, which always went unnoticed because I played badly under all circumstances. Then, after we lost the game, everyone would have a laugh at how discombobulated I was. It’s a blast, seriously.

Even after my football days were over, in my mid-twenties, a buddy and I played a game where we’d roll up a newspaper and whack each other on the forehead. Why? Because it was fun!

Let’s be clear: rolling up a newspaper and hitting someone on the head is a really stupid way to get yer kicks.

Is running full speed into a guy holding a football any less stupid? As football players in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we kind of knew that concussions were kind of bad, but we also figured we’d be fine once the old cobwebs had cleared out of the old noggin.

Now, thanks to our good pal, science, we know just how unhealthy concussions can be. And yet I still hear arguments that go like this, “NFL players need to stop acting like wimps. They know what a concussion is and they get paid too much money to start whining when they develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”1

I can’t think of a single thing about that argument that holds merit. Unless, of course, you consider If you get paid a lot of money, then you shouldn’t be a wimp to be a valid point of debate, which it isn’t.2

Certainly, all football players know that they’re going to bang their heads. But do they understand the true consequences of all that headbanging? Way back when, in the distant year of 2010, who knew that linemen could develop CTE simply due to an accumulation of micro-concussions that occur on play after play? The NFL did3 and yet they denied it. In doing so, they deceived their players (and fans). Give the NFL credit, at least they had a sound argument. If players (and fans) were to understand the consequences of concussions, they might stop playing (and watching), and that would slow down the river of money.

The NFL put its players at risk in the name of profit. Yes, people have always kind of known that playing football was unhealthy. But they didn’t always know the extent to which the sport could destroy their lives. And that kind of makes me sick.

All of this begs the question, “Given what you know, Mr. Righteous Pants, do you still watch football?” I’ll have to think on that one. Can I get back to you after the Super Bowl?

1 I’ve just employed a strawman argument, which is bad writing. But, just like Loretta Lynn in a cornfield, I stand by my strawman.

2 “Don’t be a wimp” is something third-graders shout at the indecisive kid lingering at the edge of the high dive, not something adults shout at someone who (a) played professional football and (b) can no longer remember his own address.

3 For evidence, the documentary League of Denial is a good place to start.