The title is in reference to an old, now-defunct group blog called "Chicks Talk Football" that's gathering dust on the Interwebs these days. It has been given over to broken links and red "x"s where pictures (including the banner) should be.
And yes, I basically spent all my midweek football-writing energy in my comments on that thread because, dammit, I'm a Facebook addict. The first step is admitting you have a problem...
Thanks to Amy, Chris, Jen and Mer, who gave me permission to republish their comments.
Transcript of the discussion below the jump.
BETH: Brandon Meriweather delivered an utterly unnecessary (as in, hit came after the play, obvi concussion-causing hits aren't ever 'necessary') helmet-to-helmet hit on Todd Heap Sunday. Even as a Pats fan, I found it indefensible, but some football sites are praising Meriweather for the Ravens offense 'turtling' after that. Sort of like Pedro brushing back Matsui in Game 4. Problem is, Pedro just brushed Matsui back -- he didn't actually hit him in the head.
So basically the point relating to yours I'm trying to make is that for all the league's lip service about concern over head injuries etc., there are still plenty of people who just wanna see guys get jacked up.
CHRIS: See: Mark Schlereth's comments on ESPN today. It's time we faced facts - football is a brutal sport, and the only real differences between football players and gladiators are that they get paid (well), and take longer to die. Still: we're watching people kill each other, however slowly, for our amusement. We as a culture seem to be okay with that.
BETH: Okay, at the same time, let's not oversimplify things. Rugby and Australian rules football are much more brutal, and less regulated, with less padding on players, than American football. The NFL takes more measures to protect players every year, even if we wish they would move faster.
There's something about the lust for brutality that should be addressed in our culture, for sure, but as a football fan, I'm also watching for interesting strategies, transcendent physical coordination and abilities, intriguing team and organizational dynamics, civic / regional pride and many other elements to play out on the field in a football game, not just for blind, mindless violence.
Like I said, I'm as big a Patriots fan as they come, but what Meriweather did was indefensible and most of all UNNECESSARY -- to the action of the game at the time. It WASN'T "just a part of the game" -- it was a totally pointless act of violence, even from a football perspective. If anything, it cost the Patriots for him to do that because of the penalty -- it did nothing to advance their cause from a strategic standpoint.
There's a culture of violence that needs to be addressed. There are issues relating to our advancing understanding of head injuries and their treatment that need to be addressed. But some of the broad generalizations about football as nothing but glorified violence make me think some people are heading down the path of trying to eliminate the game entirely. That, I would "violently" oppose.
MER: The fact that we are now more aware that we're watching people kill each other (slowly) has definitely taken a bit of the enjoyment out of watching football for me. But I fear that I'm a very small minority as far as that is concerned.
BETH: For these guys, it's a job and a profession. Many jobs / professions have risks, including in entertainment. I think these guys are aware of the risks they are taking and want to take them, because playing football is their calling in life. I also think the NFL needs to do a better job taking care of its retirees and helping to inform players of the risks and manage them. But that's still separate from questioning whether the game itself should go on.
CHRIS: I would argue that Rugby and ARF (hah!) are actually safer because of the less padding - specifically no helmets. Helmets are extremely hard to protect the wearer, which also makes them more dangerous to everyone else. However, I honestly know little about those two sports, and I'd love to see some hard data on that issue. Broken limbs and the like don't really bother me - it's the brain injuries and paralysis, which as we saw over the weekend hasn't completely been eliminated.
My dad and grandfather both died while suffering from dementia; both were elderly men, and neither died directly from that, but I definitely have a greater awareness than most of how unbelievably awful dementia is. Once I heard that ex-NFL players were dying extremely young because of concussions, I honestly did (and still do) question whether I can enjoy football in good conscience.
As we've learned, concussions do not occur only on huge collisions, but slowly accumulate over time from a bunch of minor hits. So, the question becomes: If normal football contact causes cumulative, concussion-like symptoms; and if concussions can do things like render a 40-year-old man's brain into jelly; shouldn't we expect that when we watch football, we are literally watching men accumulate brain damage before our eyes?
And yes, of course, lots of professions have risks; the question is what professions have clear risks that are ENDEMIC to the activity itself? Again, we're not talking about just the highlight-reel hits, we're talking about normal collision, on every play, adding up over the years. Baseball players have died on the field, e.g. Ray Chapman getting beaned before helmets were required. But throwing at a guy's head is not a normal part of the game, and that practice has largely been contained.
BETH: //shouldn't we expect that when we watch football, we are literally watching men accumulate brain damage before our eyes?//
We can also assume that any time we drink at a bar. :-) Or, in seriousness, watch people box / compete in MMA. Or wrestle (WWE or real). Or play hockey. Or any number of things many people regularly watch other people do, people who are cognizant of the risks and who choose to participate in those activities anyway, because they excel at them, because it provides them and their families income, and because others find them enjoyable / entertaining to watch.
I bet if you asked the average NFL player whether they'd risk concussion / early death in order to ascend to the highest level of their calling in life, no matter what happens beyond that, or whether they'd rather bag groceries (which, let's face it, is what most of them would be doing otherwise), but live out their lives with perfectly intact brains and bodies, what do you think they'd choose? Or haven't they already answered that question, being out there on the field?
Other questions that pretty much depend on one's personal philosophy...Is a long life the only kind of good life? Is a 'safe' life the only kind of good life? Is there ANY life that doesn't end with degradation, pain, and illness of some sort? And most of all, is this a decision we can make for other people?
CHRIS: Well, I'm definitely not saying we should ban it. I am saying that we as spectators should recognize that the end product of the game we watch is often guys committing suicide, being violent to others (Junior Seau and Lawrence Taylor, anyone?), becoming vegetables, etc. If people can reconcile that with their own consciences, then okay. I just think that reality needs to be more widely known and considered.
Personally speaking, I will do anything in my power to dissuade any child of mine (hypothetical at this point) from playing football. Three years ago, I wouldn't have said that.
BETH: This may sound ridiculous, but I also think of professional dancers in this context, especially ballet dancers. The toll that form of dance takes on the body, and the endemic eating disorders in order to fit the 'form' required by the highest levels of the profession, definitely have some long-term effects most of us wouldn't accept. Maybe it's a matter of popularity / the number of people affected, but I don't hear anyone proposing that people no longer watch dangerously underweight waifs with early-onset arthritis lifted around a stage, if that's their cup of tea, the better to protect the participants by preventing them from practicing their chosen profession.
CHRIS: That's fair, and again, I'm not advocating for any kind of ban. I would lump anorexia/bulimia in with steroids as something that athletes do to themselves to gain a competitive edge. Those things should be regulated and banned. No athlete should feel compelled to do something terrible to their body in order to compete because "everyone else is doing it." But that's a separate issue; steroids are not endemic to the sport of football, but violent collisions are.
BETH: By the way, my side of this discussion is kind of an ironic one in light of the fairly hostile one I got into on Twitter Sunday, with someone who felt I was ridiculous for suggesting Todd Heap's quick return to the game after Meriweather lit him up was 'unconscionable' (which it was--and returning too fast to play after a head injury is at the heart of this issue).
I guess that's what happens when you take the middle road -- you get argument from both sides.
CHRIS: No, you're right, it was. We benefitted from it, but it was still a bad idea.
BETH: Horrendous. And evidence that while the league front office is at least going through the motions of concern, the sense of urgency has yet to reach the field.
CHRIS: Well, there's too much money in it for all parties. The only way things will change is if a lot of athletes start walking away from the game because of the risks, or if lots of fans start deciding they can't watch anymore. If they start losing top-notch athletes because they care more about their health than money, then maybe action will be taken to make the game less inherently harmful. Until then, where's the incentive to change?
WHAT DO YOU THINK, AMY?
AMY: I'm so glad you asked! You can read my thoughts here: http://www.insiteboston.com/sports2.html
Also, I'm extremely concerned about brain injuries and concussions and people playing when they oughtn't, and I think sideline tests are bogus. But... I also think the hard hitting and style of play really ties into off the field issues. If you're playing like that, how do you turn it off? And that needs to be addressed because it's killing people too.
BETH: 18 games IS crazy. That's practically asking to see someone die on the field, unless they also agree to expand rosters.
JEN: I am very late to this, but re: rugby, it's certainly not free of concussions and their repercussions, but it is still less dangerous from a brain damage issue. Partly because of the lack of helmets, as Chris notes -- you will pretty much never see a head-to-head hit when people are not wearing helmets.
I think the bigger reason is that tackles are required, at least in theory (and in my day), to be full wrap tackles, and because a tackled ball carrier has to release the ball, which is then live, and you aren't fighting for every little inch because there's no system of downs, there isn't the need to just Knock Him Down NOW that I see in football. And rugby is more continuous play, closer to soccer, with everyone playing offense and defense, everyone an eligible ball carrier, no blocking...the whole nature of the game lends itself to overall smaller bodies (with further lessened force of impact because you don't have the mass of all the protective gear being added into that F=M*A equation) and less tactical benefit from making some of the hits you see in football. I *think* that the continuous play and length of time on the field also results in the acceleration component of the force equation tending to be a bit less but I know even less about physics than I do about football.
BETH: My father (former coach) and Joe Paterno agree -- take the face masks off the helmets, or at least significantly reduce them. Makes the helmet less of a weapon.
CHRIS: Why would the facemask make it more of a weapon? Isn't the helmet itself - specifically the hardness of it - what makes it a weapon?
BETH: Like Ani DiFranco said, any tool is a weapon if you hold it right.
People are less likely to launch themselves headfirst into another human wearing a very hard helmet if their faces are unprotected. That's the theory I've heard espoused, at least.
I probably should have said "less likely to be used as a weapon in the way they are now" than "less of a weapon."