Last week's column about controversial Chargers team doctor David Chao and the NFL's continuing campaign to discredit CTE pioneer Bennet Omalu prompted a comment that I’ve heard often in the discussions of making professional sports safer.
It’s a point worth considering - do the players really want a safer working environment?
Indeed, injuries are part of the cost of making a living for many players, and that brings up another point: there are times when people in a certain situation aren’t qualified to judge things like the costs of long term care, or the realities of dealing with CTE. A 22-year old rookie in the NFL - and even many of the ‘older’ players, relatively few of whom are over 35 or are well educated in the realities of health-related issues.
If I knew that the things I did when I was younger would increase my chances of living like that, I wouldn’t have done them. I live with some brain trauma issues myself. I’ve treated people with those conditions. I’ve advocated for traumatic brain injury patients, and I wouldn’t say that I’m without attachment in this discussion.
But a professional athlete has a vested financial interest in playing for a long time, and I didn’t. They will see things differently. If you ask if this is just protecting them from themselves, I’d say yes - and no.
Yes we are, in the sense of making rules that protect them more effectively. People with more experience in and around the game but who can weigh the dangers and minimize them when possible should be the ones making the rules. People who understand the game from a more distanced perspective can provide a better insight into what the players do need.
It’s no, we’re not just protecting them, in the sense that it’s also protecting the league from the creation of lawsuits like the one that 4,100+ players have filed against them. The NFL’s obstructions notwithstanding, some influence on rules that might stop future suits would benefit all concerned.
It’s also protecting them in the sense that we, as a people, have a certain level of responsibility to each other. That may not sit well with some folks, and I can live with that. I ran businesses for nearly all of my post-education life.
I employed other people, and I was a businessman, although in the field of medicine. Why mention that? It might reduce the number of inevitable cries of 'Socialist!’. I continue to believe that the example we set for our children should reflect the values that are common among all people of any or of no faith - compassion and mutual benefit are among them. Adding disabled people to the society when changing some rules and equipment would prevent them is simply irrational.
I know, from my professional life, what it’s like for these people to live the way that they do. And that outcome is ugly - these people struggle to form their thoughts into words, they can’t remember simple things, and it’s frightening for them and theirs. On some level, they know that they’re trapped in that situation - many of them still can think clearly enough, but they can’t communicate. Others no longer can even cognate.
That a group of young men in a testosterone-fueled environment, who make their living in our cultural version of unarmed territorial warfare, don’t see the potential long-term outcomes of their profession, is the best reason of all why intelligent people who aren’t in their shoes need to formulate the rules by which the game is played.