The Toll of the Game

Chicago Bears vs New England Patriots @ Soldier Field (12/12/2010)

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seancooley/5256677218 (CC: BY-NC)

As you may know, a lot of attention is now being paid to head injuries among football players.  And rightfully so.  As more is learned about concussions, it’s becoming clear that the consequences of these injuries can be profound, even if they don’t manifest themselves right away.

Chicago Tonight viewers know that on Monday nights during the NFL season we have what we call our “Bears Alumni Club” where we invite a former Bears player to analyze the previous day’s game.   Hosting this segment has been a real revelation.  Most former players still look plenty tough and intimidating.  Even the guys who are in their sixties look like they could still do some damage on the field.

But another thing I’ve noticed is how many former players actually have a hard time walking.  Even some men who are only in their forties walk with limps, stiffness or a noticeable gait–like old men.  The wear and tear of playing professional football has been compared to being in a car crash on a weekly basis, so it’s no wonder.

Two different former Bears told me off-camera that–given the risk of long-term physical and mental damage–a growing number of former players are not letting their own sons play football at all.  Makes sense to me.  Why should the injuries of the father be passed on to the son?    And I’ve got to admit that this new scrutiny of the health risk has taken just a little bit of the pleasure out of watching football.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Players can be lavishly compensated and are doing what they want.  But there’s a part of me that wonders if the entertainment value really outweighs the potential damage another human being is doing to himself just to give the rest of the world something to watch on a cold winter afternoon.

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  • Tim

    Phil, we non-jocks are laughing all the way to the grave. But in all seriousness, even jocks can rehabilitate if they work at it hard enough. Sure, cartilage may disappear. Sure, ligaments can tear. But medical techniques, plus very good physical therapy, can bring a body back. It’s real hard to do, yes, but never iimpossible if you have a good heart, set of lungs that breathe well, and all your fingers and toes.