Questioning My Loyalty to Contact Sports (from August 9, 2017 – for The Daily Nerv)

Steve McNair Tackle by Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (Steve McNair Uploaded by Hello32020) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we come back to another Fall season, one is reminded of that special time of year when diehard sports fans get ready for their favorite team’s games by looking up their schedule and planning accordingly. From high schools to the professional leagues, teams have supporters that give time and money to watch games, keep up with players and coaches, and, for the real fanatic, tailgate or throw game day parties.

I have never been that deep of a fanatic, but I, like so many others, enjoyed different contact sports of the day. College football was a major deal where I come from and then mixed martial arts (MMA) was right up my alley as well. I had been in martial arts as a child and watching MMA had brought back up the feelings of being able to kick and punch with power, devastation, and precision. Things that I cannot do well today.

Contact sports are escapisms for many people to break from the monotony of life and to dream of having the ability to perform great feats of strength. Also, there are some who may just enjoy seeing violent acts being done because it comes in the name of “sport,” which then makes it legal or okay to view.

However, the more stories that come out revealing the price that many athletes pay long after their glory days, the more I lose joy over watching contact sports. Reading about a once great NFL player named Jim Plunkett just gives more anecdotal evidence that what can happen in the future of these contact sports seems to be very grim. He divulges to the reporter that his body is in constant pain and he uses another verb to express how his life really goes now.

Shouldn’t it be different for this champion? I would have thought so initially. A few years ago, I would have guessed that someone like him was sitting back and enjoying the money and the good life from his playing days. And I would have been wrong.

Plunkett is not the first to speak about pain that he is having now, probably from the high number of concussions that he had. Plus, at this point, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE for short) is known as a very real disease that can lead to dementia, depression, and memory loss.

The tragic stories of Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau are real. Their stories give glimpses of what can happen to athletes with CTE and what their families may have to face. Both of these men died about 6 months a part back in 2012 and their brains were tested. It was revealed that CTE was found in them.

While I was ignorant of CTE and other possible effects that may come with the territory, I thought if I had a child that he would more than likely play football. After becoming slightly more educated about the matter compounded with the tragic stories mentioned above, I stopped enjoying watching contact sports, especially football and MMA, as much.

It used to impress me to see hard hits and punches when I was a child because it seems to show that the person receiving the blows was tough and was a real man. Today, my mind and heart have changed. I even shook my head and cringed at hearing a rookie with the New York Jets say that the football field would be the perfect place to die. Um, why? What does it prove? Besides, as Jim Plunkett’s basically shows, many players do not die out on the field, they continue to live on, while trying to figure out how to deal with the pain.

Now, I am not going to try make myself seem as if I am high and mighty and have given up contact sports altogether because I have not. I still take a peak from time to time and may even watch with family, but the joy is gone. The excitement of seeing big hits or savage punches and kicks just do not do it for me anymore. It is not necessarily based off of visually not being able to handle it; it is thinking about what will become of these athletes when the cameras are gone. How many fans will shout for them when they are possibly walking around on canes? Who will pat them on the back and scream their name in adulation after they have had another surgery that only seems to temporarily solve the problem?

Is it possible that our screams of excitement and hunger for more makes us partially to blame for these broken down athletes’ lives being so different than they could have imagined?

Well, obviously, it is ultimately their choice to do with their bodies what they will. But it is up to me whether I want to continue to support that, and I am leaning more and more toward not giving any more money or time to see them give their bodies, possibly their lives, for my own personal entertainment.

Originally published on The Daily Nerv – August 9, 2017

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