Junior Seau committed suicide after suffering from brain injuries. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa.)
This Sunday, citizens across these United States will indulge in the country’s most cherished pastime: watching large men give each other life-threatening concussions. For about twenty weeks, millions of us sit riveted as players in the NFL collide into one another at breakneck speeds, delivering bone-crushing hits that thrill and excite, and it all concludes on our favorite holiday, Super Bowl Sunday. Buckets of chicken and kegs of beer will be consumed in raucous atmospheres at homes and bars across the land, as we all watch the next generation of Alzheimer’s patients and suicide victims ride on to national glory.
It sounds grim when put that way, but that’s exactly what is happening. Over the past few years, the dangers of the sport have come under more scrutiny, as more than 3,800 former players have sued the NFL over the issue of head injuries. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly referred to by its initials CTE, has become a huge concern for retired football players, as a number of high profile suicides have put the debilitating brain disease on their radar, including that of former star linebacker Junior Seau. Only 43 years old, Seau was found dead last year of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Like others before him, he chose to preserve his brain so that it could be studied after his death. During his playing career, Seau was never sidelined due to concussions, but it has been established that he did develop CTE, likely because of repeated hits to the head during his twenty year career. His family has filed a lawsuit, according the Associated Press, accusing the NFL of “deliberately ignoring and concealing evidence of the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries.”
On his MSNBC show, Chris Hayes hosted a roundtable discussion, including a former NFL player and the wife of one who committed suicide, on the future of football:
The conversation centered around our culpability/responsibility as consumers of the sport. As we learn more about the risks involved for the players, and knowing that the owners want the sport to continue so long as it is profitable, do we as fans hold the ultimate key to protecting these guys, in that we can change the channel? Yes, but here’s the problem. The average fan, aside from being enticed by the violence, is able to put some distance between themselves and the players, as they justify watching by telling themselves that these men are being paid millions of dollars to play a game they know is dangerous.