Tuesday, March 29, 2016

That river in Egypt

It's called Denial and Colts owner Jim Irsay is the latest to take a cruise on it.

You expect occasional transmissions from outer space where Irsay is concerned, but the other day was moons-of-Jupiter even for him. Irsay, saying "there's so much we don't know" compared the risks involved in playing football to the risks involved in taking an aspirin.

No, really. He said that.

And, yes, OK, there is so much we don't know about CTE and how it affects the brain. But what we do know, irrefutably, is it's showing up in more and more dead football players, which more than suggests a causal link between playing football and degenerative brain damage. Even the NFL finally came out and admitted, reluctantly, that after nearly 15 years of studies -- some of which were commissioned by the NFL, which then denied its own findings -- there probably was something to the notion that playing football probably wasn't good for the noggin.

Go figure.

I mean, it doesn't take an 8-year-old to conclude that repeatedly bashing your head into other people's heads at high rates of speed does bad stuff to your brain. And yet those making vast piles off the head-bashing are going to comic lengths to deny it.

Such as, for instance, Irsay. Or Cowboys coach Jerry Jones, who went so far as to say it's "absurd" to suggest there's a link between CTE and playing football. Either he doesn't get out much, or has decided all that research done by all those smart people in the last decade-and-a-half is meaningless because ... well, you know. They're trained researchers with PhDs and what-not. What do they know about anything?

Look. I get it. These guys are deathly afraid the football money pump is going to seize up because of  this, and so they're going to say any crazy thing to keep that from happening. It's like all those tobacco kingpins swearing under oath that inhaling carcinogens didn't give you cancer. No, sir. No link there, by golly.

But there is no black-and-white to this. You can acknowledge that playing football entails serious risks without having some other, sinister agenda. No one rational is suggesting we abolish the game because of this. The goal is to make people aware of those risks and then send them on their way. And then to take steps to minimize that risk for those who choose to play anyway.

That's all. That's it. There's no "war on football" going on here, no matter what the hysterics say.

That's because everyone who's reasonable acknowledges football is a fine sport with enormous benefits, some of them tangible and some not so. Recognizing the very real brain trauma that sometimes comes with it doesn't discount that. The only consequence of doing that is more and more players are going to be hanging 'em up earlier and earlier. And if that means the day is coming when it's a rarity to see an NFL player older than 30, so what?

The NFL will still be the NFL. And, despite the fears of Irsay and Jones and others, we'll still watch.


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