Modern Gladiators

Gladiator vs. Football player

Over two thousand years ago in the Roman empire, gladiators entertained large crowds in coliseums by fighting condemned criminals, wild animals, and challengers who risked their lives to gain wealth and glory. This practice was hugely popular and its violence was celebrated by the majority of Roman citizens. Parents even sent their children to schools specifically designed to train combatants for these fatal competitions. Although this dangerous sport’s popularity died out in the fifth century, a new sport has taken its place with a similar sense of violence and danger: football. It has become the favorite of Americans all across the country and children commonly start playing the sport in youth or “pee wee” football leagues. Rarely is any thought given to the horrible outcomes of playing the sport. Parents should not allow their children to participate in this destructive pastime, which makes them vulnerable to serious injury.

Football is a physically demanding game that causes its players great suffering, much of which is not apparent to its spectators. Studies have shown that each year, 1.2 million serious injuries are sustained by football players. To put that number into perspective, only 1.5 million Americans play in football leagues (Common American Football Injuries). Besides these immediate and obvious effects of the contact nature of football, playing the sport can lead to several long-term and mental health related issues. In 2014, there were 202 reported cases of concussions among NFL players (NFL Concussions Fast Facts). When a concussion occurs as a result of a collision with another player, the brain shakes inside the skull, potentially resulting in severe damage. In the best case scenario, the sufferer may experience mild headaches, dizziness, and confusion. In more extreme cases, concussions can lead to severe learning impairment, a change of personality, and even depression. In fact, according to CBS News, concussed people are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than those who haven’t experienced a traumatic brain injury (Thompson). What worries me more than anything is the audience’s reaction to the injury-causing plays. Crowds scream and clap whenever their favorite players slam into an opposing player, forcing him to the ground like an angry bull charging a matador. Their positive reaction to these events causes dangerous plays to become an integral part of each game, even an aspect that the audience looks forward to.

These risks exist in all levels of the sport, perhaps more so for younger participants. It is widely accepted that the human brain continues developing into the mid-twenties, making youth and high school football players more susceptible to concussions and their long lasting effects. Recently, a sophomore at my high school suffered a severe concussion. She experienced dizziness and frequent headaches. Her doctor forbade her from looking at any screens, being around any bright lights, performing strenuous exercise, and even reading for an entire month. As you can imagine, this was the worst possible news you could give to a teenage avid athlete and it left her a month behind in her difficult high school classes. With the prevalence of these concussions in football, a high contact sport, it seems an unwise decision to allow youth to participate. Scott Fujita, a former NFL linebacker, is often asked the question, “Would you let your kids play football?” Despite his massive success in the sport, the relationships he formed, and his love of the game, he would answer with a confident ‘no’. He wouldn’t want his children to play the sport because of the “Concussion, trauma, and disease,” that come with it (Fujita). During adolescence, the areas in the brain that allow for decision making are not yet fully developed and the responsibility choosing what sports should, and usually does, fall on the child’s parents. Bennett Omalu, the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California, argues that mother and fathers should be wary about potentially endangering their children by not “Protecting the organ that defines who we are as human beings” (Omalu). The main responsibility of a parent is to keep their children safe and the only way to fulfill this duty is by not letting them participate in this risky activity.

Some argue that with the relatively recent technological advancements in safety equipment, football has become a safe sport. Although it is true that mouth guards, shoulder pads, and helmets help protect a player’s body to some extent, these precautions do very little to prevent concussions. As Yale scientist Ainissa Ramirez explained, helmets are designed to protect the skull, not the brain, which is still free to be damaged by its movement within the head (Yuhas). Furthermore, even if the helmets were able to protect against concussions, youth and high school football teams rarely use state of the art safety apparatus because of their high cost. Besides, even with the greatest safety provisions available, there is no way a 6 foot 7 inch, 325 pound, boulder shaped linebacker charging with his head down at full speed directly at you could ever truthfully be called safe.

It is very peculiar that a sport so old has only recently begun to be questioned. This is most likely because the vast majority of research on concussions and other injuries has been funded by the very organization that would benefit from a false perception of safety in the sport: the NFL. The National Football League has historically produced research that paints their sport in a good light, much like the clearly biased research on the safety of cigarettes published by big tobacco companies (Redford). This corporate deceit at the expense of the safety of almost 1,700 professional and many times more amateur players should not be tolerated and Americans’ thoughts about this sport need to be reevaluated.

Ultimately, ending the glorification of this sport and making substantial change to its youth participation must require an adjustment to the way the country currently idolizes the sport, which only encourages children to partake in it. This will be difficult. After all, football is truly engrained in our society. Very few people refrain from partaking in the annual tradition of Super Bowl Sunday festivities centered around what is consistently the most viewed tv program of the year. However, the safety of some the nation’s current and future athletes must be achieved. With more and more objective research being published about the dangers of football, there is no longer an excuse for ignorance. Parents must not encourage or allow their children to risk their physical and mental well being and even their lives by participating a sport so dangerous for the sake of entertainment. Do not let your children become this millennium’s gladiators.

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