Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Football is Safe, Relatively

"Bobby's playing with the Titans", announced proud Mom, Janine. She made her declaration to three other Shop Rite cashiers, one meat packer and to Teddy Tedesco, the cart man. Teddy limps, more when it rains, when he walks around the parking lot gathering carts. He was the only one in the lunch room who was not enthused by Bobby's good fortune.

Indeed, the Titans are the reigning Pop Warner champs at the Junior PeeWee level and are a legend in these parts of New Jersey. Coach Carl Bateman, an icon at Rowan University for his jumping touch down celebrations, has already guided four former Titans to Division 1 full boat rides. Janine prefers the Big Ten, but Al Ukelele thinks his son, Bobalu Ukelele, is better suited for the PAC-10. Either way, Al and Janine so want their son to be a football hero. Oh, Bobby Ukelele is eight years old.

Football, while not America's past time, is America's sport. Baseball is a pass (the) time. Slow, deliberate and ponderous, the sport of Mays and Mantle is played without a time clock.

Better suited for the suited masses of the 30's, 40's and 50's, baseball's appeal has remained static over the last 40 years, while the bang bang of football has risen. No wonder. Fast and violent are the hallmarks of pigskin play. In truth, football fans live for the "big" hit. Big is defined by the level of impact and injury sustained in the collisions. But, as it has become increasingly known, every play is filled with enough violence and injury potential to qualify for a red alert emergency. Just look at the line play. Four or more opposing players, dug in and low, ready to pound each other at the snap of the ball. Helmets bang, heads are concussed, leg muscle explode forward, arms and hands flail and beat, as the opponents on either side of the ball spar to either get to the quarterback or prevent penetration.

Quarterbacks are fearless and frequently injured. Ribs, arms, knees and ankles are offered up willy nilly. The sacking of a quarterback excites overly large, overly strong players to glee when they succeed. Running backs don't last too long, with NFL careers of 5 years on average. Since runners are the targets of tacklers, their injury rates are high. Knees, in particular, can only take so much twisting, turning and hyper extension.

The existence of injury in football is so well known that regular reports are generated. Bettors want to have the skinny on who is in and who is out for a given game. For example,

The number and degree of cerebral concussions in football is under recognized and under diagnosed. Moreover, players are encouraged to play through any and all injuries. Playing hurt is a measure of greatness. For every "successful" National Football League player there are hundreds of wounded, maimed and impaired contestants, who didn't make the cut. Injury is an accepted risk of football. While parents. like Al and Janine Ukelele, are careful to keep Bobby safe, they have no reservations about football. As Al says, Bobby has a greater chance of getting injured playing soccer.

Every once and awhile a player gets a spine crush. Most recently a Rutgers Scarlet Knight by the name of Eric LeGrand

sustained a C3-C4 injury. Now paralyzed, he will begin recovery. Maybe he will walk again and maybe he won't. Maybe he will be free of a urinary catheter and maybe he won't. Maybe he will regain a full life and maybe he won't. Adam Taliaferro is a focus of encouragement. He was completely paralyzed after his fifth game for Penn State. He had sustained a C5 injury. He went through 8 months of rehab to learn to walk again. Although he had a 3% chance of recovery, miracles do happen. Indeed.

Although there must be dozens of soccer, mountain biking, tennis, gymnastic, basketball, hockey and baseball players similarly paralyzed, these paralyzing neck injuries occur more notably on the gridiron. Nonetheless, football spine injuries are rare and unpredictable. And as Al argues down at Maloney's over beers with his buddies, look how many boxers have been killed in the ring. "Football is safe compared to boxing.", he boasts and then he often will digress onto the sport of NASCAR. Sport that it is.

All things considered, the risks of injury from football pale in comparison to the benefits of the HUGE entertainment delivery. Football is one heck of a spectator sport. Just look at the attendance figures for college football on any give Saturday. Look at the attendance figures for the NFL on any given Sunday. Look at TV viewship and TV revenue and advertising advantages. Football is the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

So, Al and Janine are no different than thousands of other hopefuls. If Bobby can be as good as his parents think he is, he has a bright future. For those few successful athletes in any field, life can be a bowl of cherries. But for those less than successful, there are no cherries. Perhaps sour grapes. Just ask Teddy Tedesco. An all state wide out from Deptford, NJ, Teddy took a full scholarship from Penn State. He blew out his knee as a college freshman. He never finished his degree work at Penn State inasmuch as he was more of a football player than a student. And so it goes.

NOTE: Did you know that Pop Warner football is safer than soccer? Pop Warner football has 12% fewer injuries per capita among 5-15 year olds than organized soccer in the same age range! (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, NEISS) from

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