Football Is the New Smoking
By Daniel J. Flynn on 8.24.12 @ 6:09AM
Even George Will is on board, trying to haul America's Game off the field.
This morning, fat kids across America ran wind sprints until they vomited, drove sleds like beasts until muscle collapse, and alternated between jogging in place and hitting the deck so frequently that it jarred even the insides of onlookers. And they do it all again this afternoon.
This isn't a federal anti-obesity initiative. It's football.
Two-a-days are good for you. Video-game addiction, blasting ear buds to "11," and treating Skittles as one of the four food groups are not. Madly, it's the fitness-inducing pastime of teenage boys that public health crusaders inveigh against as though an end-around were as dangerous as a pack of Marlboro Reds. They're not called health nuts for nothing.
Football star Junior Seau's autopsy released Monday by the San Diego County medical examiner revealed no brain damage. What cerebral malady caused so many otherwise sensible people to reflexively blame the linebacker's suicide on decades of violent football collisions?
"Football's in trouble for two reasons," George Will explained in the wake of Seau's suicide on ABC's This Week. "First of all, the human body is not built for the violence that is inherent in football at the highest level. Second, people are going to watch football differently from now on, because they're going to feel a little bit like the spectators in the Coliseum in Rome, watching people sacrificed for their entertainment, with a kind of violence that is unseemly -- third suicide in 15 months."
It may surprise the bow-tied baseball buff to learn that total suicides among Major League Baseball players greatly outnumber suicides among National Football League athletes. Should a numbskull baseball-hater have made a connection between Hideki Irabu's recent self-inflicted death and, say, his 98 mph fastball, surely George Will would recognize the logical fallacy at work.
And certainly Will isn't writing any columns about the dangers of baseball in the wake Wednesday's $14.5 million settlement between defendants including Little League and a young pitcher left brain damaged after being struck in the heart by a batted ball. Like most intelligent people, the columnist recognizes that partaking in beneficial activities -- travel, work, exercise, sex, eating -- involves risk.
Why should football alone be judged by its risks but not its rewards?
There is a witch hunt quality to the Fourth Estate's football fixation. The dubious connections made between on-field trauma and off-field drama -- suicides, meltdowns, violence -- ranks somewhere between shark-sighting sensationalism and SARS alarmism in the annals of journalistic irresponsibility. The facts don't warrant the conclusions drawn.
Suicide-by-football fits too neatly into the narrative. And when the facts don't fit, those seeking to sack football sack the facts. "For all players who play five or more years," George Will reported in his column earlier this month, "life expectancy is less than 60; for linemen it is much less." This isn't true.