Thursday, September 20, 2018

It is safe to say that football is the number one sport in America. It is enjoyed by millions of people year-round, and fans have the luxury of watching college and NFL games every weekend during the fall. The game isn’t just the most watched sport but the best money maker. The NFL brought in $14 billion dollars in revenue for the 2017 season and is projected to reach $25 billion dollars by 2027.  Football is a national treasure to many and has been for over 50 years.

However, there is a tremendous dark side that comes with the game– the mental and physical aspects of the sport. Football is one of the most violent sports to be played. There is a constant fear of a serious injury that can permanently alter your life. There is also a constant fear of the mental abuse that comes with the game. Football is a very emotional and physical game, and the overall culture of the game can be toxic if not done responsibly. This post was inspired by the University of Maryland football incident.

Jordan McNair was a 19-year-old, 6’4” 325-pound lineman and was running 110-yard sprints for a conditioning test for the school when he passed away due to a possible heat stroke.  Head football coach, DJ Durkin and head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court are under investigation for abuse towards McNair. The university has since taken responsibility for the incident.

A similar incident took place 17 years ago on the professional level. Korey Stringer was 6’4” and weighed 335 pounds, and a well-known Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings. He passed away due to complications from heat stroke in 2001 after practicing in 100-degree weather. Dr. Steve Marshall, a sports injury epidemiologist for the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, states, “This kind of death is completely preventable. At that level, there is a very high quality of medical staff on hand. From what I understand, he exhibited symptoms of trouble earlier (yet still died). That’s troubling.”

The physical aspect is the most crucial to football. There is plenty of running, lifting, and hitting. We see the overuse of this physicality on every football team. Coaches expect a player to put their body on the line when that might not be the best decision.  High school players experience this problem, too. Football is stressed harder on these kids as parents search for that Division I scholarship. The thing people do not realize is pushing these kids too far leads to resistance to the game, and it takes a huge toll on their bodies. And the consequences can be deadly.

From 2005 to 2014, 92 high school football players died indirectly from the sport, from heart-related issues to heat stroke. There is constant stress on the young player’s body. They can’t handle the repetitive abuse. People may argue that it’s accidental, or the players are weak and need to have better training. Medical experts disagree and say these tragedies can easily be avoided.

The problems may begin with the head coach. Their lofty expectations are placed on the heads of the young players, and to meet these expectations, coaches test you in many ways.  One of the main ways is their attempts to mentally toughen the player. They test their manhood. Coaches have the idea that since you are “their player” they think they can say whatever they want without any retaliation. When a player does retaliate by talking back, seen as immature and disrespectful. Being in that situation over and over wears a person down mentally.

Players don’t talk about it as young men for fear of being labeled “soft”. They must put on a straight face and carry on like it doesn’t bother them when it does. This drives the player to push themselves to lengths they have never been. That makes players question if football is ever worth it. Is it worth taking the constant berating?

Does every football program, from Peewee to professional, use physical and mental abuse towards their players? No. It happens more often than people think.  It’s written off because football is the way it is, and you should act a certain way.  But, there is a line between motivating someone and mistreating them.  Personally, I hope coaches see this pattern and pay attention to what people say in the news. Jordan McNair’s passing needs to change the culture that comes with football because it can easily be preventable.

Stop trying to do things based off what you THINK the culture is supposed to be, and not what it is. The culture needs to change for kids to continue living out their dreams. This unfortunate incident involving Jordan McNair and the University of Maryland should be a conversation starter throughout the nation. College coaches must test their personal mindset about the culture of football and how to change it.

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