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Evan Weiner: Is high school football an endangered species?

May 9, 2012

Posted with the express consent of Evan Weiner:

THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
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Wednesday, 9 May 2011
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BY EVAN WEINER
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY
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It is that time of the year when school boards have to get budgets in place for the new school calendar and the 2012-13 school year. The people who do the budgets and the people who vote on the budgets probably aren’t too worried about the 2012 high school football season but there will come a time when school districts will have to evaluate the value of fielding junior high and high school football teams.
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There is evidence that football is causing major health problems for former players later on in life. Some National Football League players have been quite vocal about post-career problems, which include depression, thoughts of suicide, family problems, bankruptcy, homelessness and for some – like Dave Duerson and Junior Seau – suicide.
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Following Seau’s death, a few former players went public with their post football plight on Dave Pear’s Blog. Pear has been fighting for years for the NFL to get medical benefits to pay for the injuries he says he suffered during his career. The injuries were numerous.
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The comments should be noted by school boards and others with a passing interest in watching football whether it is Friday night high school contests or Monday Night Football featuring two NFL teams.
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One-time Pittsburgh Steelers player Reggie Harrison, now known as Kamal Ali Salaam-El wrote, “Since we don’t have a crystal ball, we may never know what was going through Junior Seau’s mind. I have yet to entertain the thought of taking my life, but I can relate to the pain that a lot of us are going through. I take 10 methadone, 4 oxycodone and 2 ml of liquid oxycodone daily, and sometimes the pain still overtakes me. I just pray that I can hold on and lean on my fellow alumni if I feel that I can’t go on. My heart goes out to Junior and his family and I hope he has found Peace. I sure haven’t found it.”
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Former Los Angeles Rams player Rick Hayes responded to the former Steelers by writing, “Kamal, I believe we played against each other in the L.A. Coliseum during our Rookie Year in 1974 Pre-Season. I, too, have been in pain today following the news of Junior Seau, and I find myself wondering about the possibility of CTE being the cause. For the last month, I have missed two Brain Scans and MRIs because of fear and pain. Several months ago, I finally detoxed from a daily dose of over 1000 mg of oxycodone via the Subuxone method. I think of suicide almost daily. There were other pills too. I feel much better now but still question the pain and sleep disturbances.
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“In your note, I found the realization that these medications treat and cover our emotional traumas as much as our physical pain. And eventually, they stop working due to our Opioid Tolerance. I wish you, our fellow Former Players, and myself, a path through all this confusion. We are all one, but unfortunately the NFLPA is failing in providing us guidance and assistance. They are aware of our PAIN and ADDICTIONS. Now they are having SUICIDES thrown in their faces. When will they act truthfully and completely? The BLOOD is on the OWNERS and NFLPA’s hands.”
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Janet McCoy speaking on behalf of her husband Mike, who played for Green Bay, responded with a different viewpoint: the position of a wife with a suffering husband. She said, “I received a call from my husband yesterday when he received the news of another player’s death. Since Mike is in assisted living for his dementia, all he could do was weep when I answered the phone. I knew why he was crying even before he spoke. How many tears do the players, wives and families have to shed before the NFL takes notice? I would like to suggest that the NFL have a plan payment for mental health therapy after this. Most men are not able to express themselves when this tragic diagnosis is received. Blessings to all our families.”
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Former NFL players who have been broken down and left on the curb have a place to vent frustrations. The awful truth for the former players who are suffering is that the National Football league owners never let them down; their own Players Association is the culprit. The National Football League Players Association was so focused on just getting money that there were not secondary concerns about players’ safety or post career medical and insurance benefits. The owners and players collectively bargained agreements, and whether it was 1974, 1982 or 1987, the players’ negotiators — and in turn the players’ agents — wanted liberal free agency rules and money.
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That was a mistake for about 97 percent of the players. The owners legally are not bound to give players extended medical benefits. That should have been a collectively bargained issue. Broken down players are living in the government safety net of Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare.
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It may be those are some of the lucky players who survived the funnel and made it into the National Football League. There are probably hundreds of thousands of players from the college, high school and semi-pro ranks who have suffered severe injuries and didn’t have a players association – albeit a weak group like the NFLPA – who never got a football pension or a partial medical plan and now are depending on government assistance for life-altering injuries.
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But there really isn’t much about the plight of high school players who are suffering from football injuries that is documented.
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High school football remains king in certain sections of the country but what would happen if former high school players suffering from devastating injuries started suing schools? Would school boards who are either self-insured or pay a huge premium keep the games going?
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That is a difficult question but that question may come an awful lot sooner than anyone thinks. The National Football League, along with a helmet manufacturer, is being sued by hundreds of former players who contend that the league didn’t look after players’ health during careers and in post-career life. The lawsuit involves just the NFL and former players at this point.
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Many people play football from the youth level on up to the pros. Many of those players will never have an opportunity to sue school boards even though the life-altering injuries took place on some high school football field.
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Football has always been a brutally tough sport.
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It seems the issue of players’ safety was settled in 1905 after President Theodore Roosevelt pressured a few college presidents into cleaning up the game after the deaths of 18 players in college games and the maiming of others.
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But did President Roosevelt and the college presidents really clean up the game or was the game “properly” sanitized, with the injuries swept under the rug?
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Until 2010, players’ safety didn’t seem to have been much of a priority on any level, whether it was high school, college or the National Football League. The NFL was very slow to get into the players’ safety issue, and the league finally started addressing head issues 105 years after President Roosevelt made the issue of player safety part of his presidency.
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The NFL is urging all 50 states to take a very close look at head injuries suffered in high school and other football programs for children. Whether it is lip service or not, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent out 44 letters to states urging them to enforce strict surveillance of head injuries. The league is continuing to beef up head injury protocol, but that is for future generations.
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The league is not taking responsibility for past injuries.
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But there is now a lawsuit and even though the players have directed their complaints against the National Football League, all of football is really on trial. That includes youth level, junior high school, high school, and college football. If the NFL and a helmet manufacturer lose this case, the whole structure of football will be shaken from the NFL down to kids’ football. The NFL depends on kids’ football as a feeder system into junior high school, then high school and colleges. The NFL gets ready-made players with years of experience. That could all change because school districts may decide running a football program is too costly in terms of insurance premiums and safety.
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If the school boards get rid of football, Troy Aikman’s words last February, looking at the NFL’s future, may be prophetic: “The long-term viability, to me anyway, is somewhat in question as far as what this game is going to look like 20 years from now.”
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Evan Weiner

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Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.com or amazonkindle. He can be reached at evanjweiner@yahoo.com
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We’re also attaching a full episode video of a debate last night May 8, 2012 from Intelligence Squared posted on FORA.tv that was originally started by Malcolm Gladwell on the discussion about Why College Football Should be Banned (click on the WATCH FULL PROGRAM button in the lower right corner of the video screen to watch the entire 1:54 episode..
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Ban College Football from Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates on FORA.tv
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2 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Pear
    May 9th, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Dave Pear

    If the NFL (and the NFLPA) had allowed their injured employees full access to their full earned disability benefits in the first place, then things would be vastly different.

    Instead the NFL, NFLPA and the illegal Bell/Rozelle Disability Plan SCAMMED disabled retired players and their families (esp. pre-1993) out of their earned disability benefits and now the NFL house of cards is starting to unravel and fall apart.

    Two years ago the NFL claimed that repeated blows to the head from football did NOT cause brain injuries or dementia. Players were taught from youth football to hit with their heads. Now, hitting with your head is illegal.

    So what about those highlight films the NFL used to sell (as recently as 2 years ago) memorializing the most brutal hits for that year? To this day, the league still does NOT recognize concussions (which are brain injuries) as an injury that qualifies each injured player for disability benefits (esp. the pre-1993) players.

    This is about GREED and liability that is now in the human interest section of the newspaper and the NFL continues to lead the way.

    The NFL has never really been a family or a fraternity but it continues to be Big Business and their bottom line is ALL that really matters.

    Regards,
    Dave & Heidi Pear

  2. Joanie Hardy
    May 22nd, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Joanie Hardy

    Traumatic Brain Injury Highlighted by NFL Woes (Click this headline to read the story.)

    Soldiers are experiencing the same difficulties and the military is investigating. Maybe more progress will be made considering this fact.

    Joanie Hardy

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