The head football coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Larry Fedora, stirred up controversy during the ACC kickoff last week when he said data is mixed about whether the game of football causes long-term brain injury. The media pounced, but in the midst of the feeding frenzy, Fedora’s insightful comments about football’s positive impact on the country have been lost.
After Fedora told reporters he didn’t think football causes CTE, he was compelled to clarify his comment: While concussions can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), he said, the game of football itself isn’t the cause.
Fedora is splitting hairs. It’s true that as long as there aren’t any head injuries in a game, players aren’t going to suffer from CTE. However, because of the nature of the high-contact sport, many players get concussions and are therefore at risk of CTE. This risk can be minimized, though never removed entirely.
Fedora went on to say that football is safer than it ever has been, and colleges work hard to tweak the game every year to improve player safety. He advocates flag football for young children, while introducing them later to the game of tackle. But, he added, we can’t ignore the fact that football is a dangerous game. As long as there’s contact, people are going to get hurt. Players at the college level and above know what they’re getting into, Fedora explained. They know the risks, and it’s up to the individuals to decide if the benefits of playing the game outweigh the risks.
These risks, however, have turned many people off to football. They either want to get rid of it altogether or they want to turn it into something it’s not. The game will be lost, and Fedora said that there’s no doubt in his mind “that the loss of football would be the decline of our country”:
If we go to touch football, the game’s definitely changed. The game will not be as physical. The game will not be as tough as it is. A few years back, I had an opportunity to ask a three-star general, I had a question for him. I said, “What is it that makes our country, our military, superior to every other military in the world?” He was like, “That’s easy. We’re the only football-playing nation in the world.” He said, “Most of all of our troops have grown up and played the game at some point in their life at some level, and the lessons that they learned from that game is what makes this great.”
I do believe we’re involved in the greatest game there is on earth, I really do. And I do believe it’s what makes our country so great. I’m passionate about that. And I believe the game is under attack right now. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose what the game is all about.
Fedora has a point. Throughout human history, contact sports have been a means to strengthen men to protect their homes, clans, tribes, and countries. Through rough play and facing the power of other men on the field, men were trained to be warriors — a clear advantage for any community that wants to develop strong defenses.
Young men were knocked around in game-playing to toughen them up for life as well as war. There wasn’t much concern about their welfare because the scrapes, bruises, and broken bones were deemed a necessity. Of course, past generations didn’t have the benefit of science to show the long-term effects of these activities, but I would wager that even if they did, those generations wouldn’t change their behavior. Contact sports had an important place in society.
The problem football is facing today is we live in an age of relative peace and ease. We still have a military that faces conflicts throughout the world, but those conflicts are removed from most people. Everyday life often doesn’t demand physical strength. The dangerous jobs men do are remote and mostly unrecognized by the majority of the population.
Moms and dads in the suburbs who are pushing to end football at all levels or keeping their kids from playing any risky sport don’t experience the daily struggles and physical threats faced by past generations. They enjoy the luxury of flaccidity. They don’t value football and its risks because they have experienced no need of the particular lessons taught by football. They’re so removed from hardship that they don’t even see the value of climbing trees.
While other sports teach competition, teamwork, pushing through pain, etc., football offers these and more. Like the military commander told Fedora, football is unique because it makes men stronger in a struggle. It prepares men for war and the physical trials of life.
This thought horrifies bleeding-heart liberals, but as a society we all need to decide what we value. Do we need football to train men to be fighters and to prepare society for conflict and hardship? In many ways, we no longer need the risky, physically painful lessons of football or any other sport that knocks heads and twists knees. There is no imminent necessity to justify the risk. In a society in which luxury far outweighs necessity, football is mostly entertainment, and who wants people to be injured just for entertainment?
If this is true, and football has no other value, then quivering liberals have a point. Why suffer any risk when it’s simply a blood sport? This view, however, is shortsighted. Given lessons from history, we can safely assume that hard times will come. Threats surround us, and ground wars with hostile nations are still a possibility. In some instances, war is here, and we need strong men to defend us. Even if we are living in peace, we still need to have a mindset of readiness, a recognition that life is not stagnant.
Technology will not always be able to protect us from the struggles, conflicts, and fears of life. If we allow ourselves to become blind to the future, to the possibility that the ease we enjoy will disappear, then we will soften into complacency and lose what we have gained.
Football is an insurance policy against weakness, a keeper of the value of preparedness and competency in conflict. This doesn’t mean we should be reckless. We should work at making the game safer, but we need to do so without losing the essence of the game — the tough lessons men need to overcome threats to our way of life.