This Is Your Brain on Football
Paul Solotaroff’s article from Rolling Stone was incredibly interesting to read. I have some personal insight into football injuries because my brother Skyler played until this year on the Bainbridge Island high school football team.
Skyler chose not to play this year for handful of reasons but the biggest reason is the “play until it hurts” attitude of the JV conditioning coach Tracy. Skyler was not a very good player and saw very little action on the field. Coach Tracy used that as an excuse to use Sky as a punching bag for his first string players. It was a common occurrence for the “scrubs” to be put in positions where the larger varsity players could pummel them daily.
Bainbridge Island is not even a competitive football dynasty school like O’Dea. In some parts of the country football is fanatically followed at every level from peewees up to professional NFL players. Yet even in sleepy little Bainbridge Island one fanatical, sadistic, volunteer football coach can put the very life of my brother in jeopardy.
Skyler and I both played in peewees when we were little. Once the real hitting started at about age 11 it stopped being fun and we both quit. Skyler and his best friend Joe both joined the football team in ninth grade. There was very little talent on the team and the coach was very nice so he was relatively safe in ninth grade. In 10th grade so few children went out for the football team that the varsity ended up playing the JV players all the time and Skyler had his first view of what the next football season would look like. It was last season he would play.
Solotaroff make some great points in his article. I especially like the part where grown-ups are making decisions about the risks that they are taking on themselves for their children. Both of my parents would have been very happy with Skyler joining the chess club and were actually pretty disappointed he decided to play a contact sport where he could be hurt. So my parents weren't pushing him to do anything hard but we saw plenty of parents pushing their kids way beyond their abilities.
Because so few children played football our starting running backs were all freshman this year. Ninety pound weakling's going against the monsters of O’Dea is sad to watch, and kind of scary. In the story the parent of the child who died is understandably shaken yet even after his death they almost sound proud that the National Honor Society student and homecoming King was so tough. Nathan Stiles and Eric Pelly both complained about headaches and you have to wonder how shortsighted a parent would have to be to even consider putting their child in a game when they don't feel well. After reading the article you could explain it away by the narcissistic attitudes of parents wanting their children to be the next big NFL star and simply not understanding the risks.
The article ends on a horrifying note with the New Jersey hockey player who had received a concussion and the father who insisted she returned when the doctors cleared her with a great quote about her “toughing it out”. It makes you just want to wring his neck. I love the lack of foresight and the generalized stupidity of this man. I have to assume that his goal is for his child is to receive some sort of scholarship for college because, of course, there is no professional women's field hockey team out in the real world. If that really is his goal, than he is a moron. Let's do the math.
According to NCAA.com there are 271 college women's field hockey teams. Of the 271 colleges only 29 offer scholarships based on women's field hockey. Of the 29 teams only six of the schools offer scholarships of more than $5000 for women's field hockey. Of the six schools that offer scholarships of more than $5000. Over half of last year's recipients were from outside of the United States in 2012. If there are 23 people on a team and NCAA regulations say that only six can receive scholarships the math works out to a total of 78 scholarships a year that are more than $5000. NCAA.com reports that there were 61,471 high school varsity field hockey players in 2012. So the question this idiot father must ask himself, is your daughter one of the 78 best field hockey players in the United States? Were on a roll here so let's keep going with this fun math. Even if his daughter was one of the best 78 players she would only receive $5000 a year for four years equaling $20,000. This of course assumes that she never gets hurt and has to drop out of playing for any other reason. If she instead used her big brain and studied in high school instead of letting it leak out of her ears by playing field hockey she could've increased her GPA and received merit money based on her high GPA that would be significantly more than $5000 a year. Not to mention if she hadn't played a sport at all and her parents hadn't spent all that money on equipment, away games, hotel and travel expenses, playing fees, coach fees and uniform fees her parents could've socked away all that money in a savings account and saved more than $20,000. Math doesn't lie.
I believe Solotaroff had a great idea for an article I just think it would have been more effective if instead of talking about one or two children who died of concussions it talked about the culture of fanaticism that allowed them to die in the first place. The culture in the United States that values the excitement of Friday night lights more than a lifetime of earning power and family connections that your child can bring you.
I can't remember where I read it but I recall once reading that you are more likely to become a surgeon then you are to play a single down in the NFL. Not become a superstar, not become Marshawn Lynch, but just to play one single down of professional football. I for one would rather my children become surgeons.