There are few more American traditions than watching football on Thanksgiving. It’s something out of a 1920’s cartoon — the women happily mosey about the kitchen, making turkey and stuffing, while the men sit around and watch 22 massive beings slam their heads against each other. But the United States is finally beginning to realize the problems this entails. Studies in recent years have displayed the correlation between football and head injuries, and yet these discoveries have done nothing to slow down their prevalence.
Growing up, I loved watching football. I lived for the crunching hits that sounded around the stadium, the pure and raw athleticism players put on show constantly. On almost every play I’d witness a man get knocked to the ground and hobble off the field, only to return to the game within moments. Yet a few years ago, I realized just how devastating these hits were. Football is a wonderful game in many ways, but in others, it hearkens back to the days of gladiators, with roaring crowds watching poor, often enslaved men spill the blood of others.
On the one hand, professional football players are certainly not enslaved. Playing in the NFL is an extremely well-paying job and like all professional sports, it’s a dream for countless kids around the country. But on the other hand, players tend to come from a place of poverty, and poverty in the United States has close ties to race. Despite African-American males making up only six percent of the population, almost 70 percent of NFL players come from this demographic, according to the Huffington Post. This paints a picture of the NFL as essentially a lottery. Poor kids have a massive incentive to work to make it to the top, but of course not all can. And considering the overwhelming presence of head injuries in football regardless of level, people are hurting their brains and often not actually making the money they dream of.
Even at the top level, players aren’t protected enough. Out of 111 donated brains from NFL players, only a single one didn’t show brain damage. In this study, 202 brains were observed (including the initial 111) and 87 percent displayed signs of trauma. The players that donated these brains averaged 15 years of playing football and on average died at just 66 years old. The average life expectancy of an American is 78.8 years, indicating that playing football can truly shave years off your life. High-profile cases such as that of Aaron Hernandez, a former New England Patriots star, further display the devastating effects these injuries can have. He was convicted of murder and then proceeded to hang himself in his jail cell at age 27. In the aftermath, doctors realized he had severe CTE despite his shortened career. This again shows how harmful the sport can be.
Though this may be controversial, I think football is a dying tradition. There is no way to truly improve the sport. The injuries are horrifying, and something must be done — yet attempts to make progress have all failed miserably. At some point, people have to realize that football is a negative thing for our country and stop giving it the time of day. Though it’s a long process, I hope that by the time I’m my parents age, I’ll be able to sit around with turkey and not have to look away as men living “The American Dream” destroy each other for entertainment.