There is probably no more famous football hero than “Broadway Joe” Namath, who “guaranteed” the upstart New York Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Joe is 70 now and has been hobbling around on two artificial knees for several years. In the run-up to last week’s Super Bowl, Namath revealed that he also suffers from brain damage, the result of getting his “bell rung” too many times during his 13-year NFL career. “None of the body is designed to play football,” he told an interviewer.
The realization that there are long term consequences to playing football is causing a lot of people to reexamine their attitude toward the game. The latest evidence is an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that revealed that 40 percent of adults would rather have their children play a sport other than football.
That follows reports that the number of boys playing Pop Warner Football declined 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012, and that California teenagers playing football peaked at 107,916 in 2007, and is down 5 percent since then.
Most of the anxiety centers around the long-term effect of concussions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that children are more likely than an adult to get a concussion, and to require a longer time for recovery. New research suggests that repeated small hits, even without the concussion diagnosis, may be harmful to long-term brain health.
The National Football League recently settled a suit over concussions brought by a group of former players for $765 million, and several legal observers think the league got off cheap when you consider the potential damages the NFL could have sustained if the case went to trial.
The NBC/WSJ survey showed that the more parents are aware of the concussion issue, the less likely they are to let their sons play football. That’ a good trend for the long-term health of our youth, but a bad one for football.