In an earlier time you could say football is barbaric and people around you would recognize the fundamental truth but it wouldn't change their behavior. They'd sit down in their favorite couch for Monday Night Football and enjoy Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and "Danderoo" (Don Meredith, the very folksy color man who I understand now isn't in very good health).
I remember reading a book called "The Violence Game" about the New York Jets during the Joe Namath era. And we're supposed to enjoy this? Violence? This is admirable?
In an earlier time, the ability to win a game while dishing out violence was considered admirable. Translation: It was considered manly. Of course, our culture has been through significant changes that have rendered terms like "manly" archaic.
Terms like that simply connote a sense of being brave or undaunted, but what does gender have to do with it?
Women have progressed light years in sports since the 1960s but they aren't put in position to beat their brains out like in the male sport of football. How fortunate and much more enlightened they are!
This current 2010 football season is significant because for the first time, we are hearing persistent talk and concern about the health effects of football. The talk is so much more than those old offhand remarks about football being barbaric.
I was sitting at breakfast at McDonald's the other morning telling friend Brent Waddell that "it isn't necessary for these guys to bash their heads in order to entertain me."
I wonder if this thought is beginning to dawn on a lot of people.
It's hard to withdraw from football completely because it's such a tempting distraction on weekends. Or has been. People's behavior can change. Take a look at the sport of boxing. It's hardly on the periphery for sports fans anymore.
We used to anticipate those ridiculously hyped ("Thriller in Manila") heavyweight bouts. (This was parodied nicely in the movie "Mars Attacks" by the Jim Brown character, a casino doorman, as he remembered his "Shaker in Jamaica" bout.)
I remember as a kid when all the buzz was about the upcoming bout between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay. "Clay" turned out to have been a slave name and this boxer shed it. He became Muhammad Ali. He seemed like a bigger than life figure, transcending sports and getting implanted in our psyche.
But he was slowly being destroyed by his sport. We see the effects today in his greatly handicapped position, and it's not an isolated case. Former Minnesota Viking Wally Hilgenberg appears to have been a victim of his sport.
We learn that Lou Gehrig probably didn't die from Lou Gehrig's Disease. He had a degenerative condition that aped the symptoms of ALS but was due to the damage done his body by baseball and football. You'll recall that Gehrig ("The Iron Horse") was a famous New York Yankee. But he was also a football player of note in his younger years when I suspect football was more raw and violent than it was later. Leather helmets?
Today when I hear about someone like Vern Gagne having dementia, I can't help but suspect that his sports background did damage to him. This is the year when awareness throughout society is making leaps. Advances in medical science are revealing more and more on the connection.
Is it a gross exaggeration to suggest that football as a sport is endangered? Well, I think not.
Boxing went into retreat over a relatively short timespan. Mike Tyson biting off an opponent's ear didn't help either. But some of these helmet-to-helmet hits we had Sunday in the NFL are hardly more palatable than the ear-biting.
I frown and wonder if I'll really be able to pull away from this sport. I think it's happening slowly.
Reading about Brett Favre photographing certain parts of his anatomy for presentation to female colleagues (all right, allegedly) might help in the process too. I'm not sure what Howard Cosell could have said about that in an earlier era.
Dandy Don was famous for singing "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over."
Maybe the mayhem in football, the barbarity, will make that song apt for the sport itself.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org