The Spectacle Blog

Football and Perception vs. Reality

By on 11.7.13 | 5:28PM

“Football has not grown too rough; society has grown too soft.”

That’s what The American Spectator’s very own Daniel J. Flynn said in closing last night at the Heritage Foundation, where he spoke about his book The War on Football: Saving America’s Game.

Flynn, as the title of his book suggests, argues that certain media outlets, politicians, and businessmen have launched an attack on football, which has created a national perception that football kills and is unsuitable for 21st-century civil society. Consequently, perception—or mere conjecture—is overshadowing the reality of football, which makes an active defense of America’s Game so necessary.

One such myth is this: Because football is so violent its participants die young. Flynn debunked this by digging up a government case study, which concluded that, in fact, football players live longer than men in the general population.

It should only be common sense that men with more muscle mass, cardiovascular fitness, and access to the best medical health should have longer life spans. Players have these advantages for an average of 6.86 years in the NFL, but they begin preparing their bodies in college, and in high school before that. If you think about it, what results is roughly 10-15 years of peak fitness for the average player, which is above and beyond the duration of fitness we find in the beer-guzzling, snack-gobbling, armchair quarterbacks attacking the NFL.

Another myth: Because players are bigger and faster football is deadlier than ever before.

Fact: In 1968, 36 players died on a football field as a result of hits, though none of these occurred at the NFL level. In the 1960s, two AFL players, Stone Johnson and Howard Glenn, died after games as a result of broken necks they sustained during play. Since then, however, nothing like these incidents has come to pass at the NFL level, where players are biggest and fastest.

Last year there were two collision deaths—both adults. One child was struck by lightning and killed, but no child died from a football collision last season. Overall, there has never been an NFL player that has died on the field as a result of a hit, and deaths-by-football hits, at any level, have dropped from 36 to two only 40 years later, despite bigger and faster bodies.

A final myth: Scientists have demonstrated that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by concussions, making football the unquestionable cause of many brain degenerative deaths. The reality here is actually the opposite. In a consensus statement on brain trauma, scientists had this to say about CTE:

It was agreed that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) represents a distinct tauopathy with an unknown incidence in athletic populations. It was further agreed that a cause and effect relationship has not as yet been demonstrated between CTE and concussions or exposure to contact sports. At present, the interpretation of causation in the modern CTE case studies should proceed cautiously.

Science doesn’t have the answer and yet, ironically, people are still calling for football’s head, which was encapsulated by the NFL’s $765 million dollar settlement on the matter, in which it admitted no guilt.

Dispelling of myths aside, Flynn also emphasized the positive elements of football, namely being a guard against obesity, a form of camaraderie, an introduction to cooperation, a source of masculine role models for young boys, and most importantly the unique potency of football to galvanize a community.

“If you look out at the stands,” Flynn said, “you see America. If you look down onto the field you see players representing every state. You see America. We should be encouraging this.”

“Every play in football someone gets knocked on their ass. But you get back up. That’s a good habit to have—it’s a metaphor for life,” and a very American one at that, he said.

We must recognize that we are barraged ad nauseam by self-anointed perception drivers that have political and economic skin in the softening of the game we love. If America’s Game is to remain just that, we must come to grips with the reality that is that it is worth saving.

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