Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jim McMahon & Concussions & Dementia & NFL Safety

Jim McMahon was the larger-than-life professional athlete of my youth.  The headband-wearing Chicago Bears quarterback was a rock star in shoulder pads, and he defined toughness and cool.  I can still recall the images of him being upended and spun around by blitzing linebackers, and his toughness and attitude endeared him to millions of fans, especially young teen males.  And, so the news of Jim McMahon's early onset dementia and the fading of his shining personality is a bit of sadness that takes away the innocence of football fans.  The curtain has been pulled back, and now we are gaining some insight into the incredibly high price paid by these gladiators of the contemporary age.

A needless price that is too high.

In a series of recent profiles and interview pieces, Jim McMahon and his wife have revealed that he is suffering from dementia at the age of 53.  As one of the hundreds of former NFL players that is currently suing the league for not more effectively warning them of the dangers and working to protect players, McMahon has recently said that given the choice again, he would have never played football.  That is a shocking and sad assertion by one of the league's most colorful personalities.  If anyone lived the dream of the NFL player, it was the crazy, competitive, irreverent, and lively Jim McMahon. He was the Chicago Bears.  He was the Super Bowl Shuffle.  Everyone wanted Jim McMahon on their team - and this was the days before Fantasy Football.

Now, he's a shell of a man.  And it doesn't have to be this way.

The lawsuit by NFL players and the increasingly serious news of concussions and their long-term effects have generated discussion of how the sport of football will proceed.  And, it's filtering all the way down to the Pop Warner and high school leagues.  In fact, some articles report that the number of high school players participating in football is dropping for the first time anyone can remember.  Are parents and kids rethinking the risks of a few weeks of Friday night glory.  I know I am quite glad my son is a baseball and basketball player, as well as a distance runner.  I would not want my son playing the sport - though I must admit the hypocrisy of being a serious fan of the game.  Of course, I am not opposed to changes to increase safety.  And, I am actually a proponent of the most serious  and effective rule changes on the table.  If football wants to make its sport safer ...

Ban the helmet.

It's really that simple.  Football needs to return to its origins and get rid of helmets.  For, it's no surprise to anyone that helmets give a false sense of security.  No one without a helmet is going to being willing to smash his bare head against another body.  That's the beauty of rugby.  And it was the beauty of football in the early days.  By getting rid of helmets, the game will inherently become more athletic and less about brute force.  Additionally, football leagues should move to ban the three-point stance.  By requiring offensive and defensive lineman to begin plays in an upright position, they will be less able to propel themselves forward into head-smashing situations.  Ultimately, this will be good for the game.  More importantly, it will honor and respect the safety of the young men who sacrifice their bodies for our entertainment.

So, in the name of a fading Jim McMahon - and hundreds of other nameless men suffering - ban the helmet.  Ban the helmet and save football.


Margaret said...
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Margaret said...
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