Cook: Football a great life experience
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A lot of people are worried about the direction the NFL is going. Will it still be here 10, 20, 30 years from now? Will it be the same game? Or will it turn into -- prepare to say the words with great disdain -- flag football?
No one can predict the NFL's future with any certainty. The controversy surrounding concussions in football isn't going away soon. Former players continue to sue the league, saying it knew of the dangers of head injuries but did nothing to protect them. Current players are screaming the league is ruining the game by trying to make it safer for them.
What is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to do?
Things became even more complicated for the league in the past month when future Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide amid speculation he might have had degenerative brain disease from playing football. Then, last week, New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma sued Goodell essentially because Goodell suspended him for the 2012 season because of his role in Bountygate. Goodell's defense figures to be that he is just trying to save the players from themselves. It makes sense to me, but I'm not a judge or juror.
With that as a backdrop, all we can do is offer an educated guess about the NFL's future. There will be more rule changes, just as there have been with helmet-to-helmet hits and kickoff returns. It seems fairly likely that the three-point stance will be eliminated so the 300-pound linemen aren't banging heads on every play.
But it still will be football. Too many people in the game and in the businesses attached to it are making too much money for it to change dramatically. Too much communal pride is involved. Could you imagine Pittsburgh without the Steelers? Too many fans in the stands have an insatiable hunger for the violence on the field. They don't give a damn about what the players will be like when they're 50 as long as they get their testosterone fix on Sundays.
The players signed up for the job, right? They know what they're getting into, right? They're being paid millions, right?
The NFL isn't going anywhere.
But youth football? High school football? Those might be different stories. That thought breaks my heart.
I'm not talking about pee-wee football. You hear the horror stories about organized leagues for 6-year-olds. That's way too young. It's outrageous if you really think about it, especially when the coaches are Vince Lombardi wannabes. Do you realize there actually are some alleged coaches in this area who gather young kids for conditioning runs in the brutal heat of June and July? The Steelers don't even start that early.
I'm talking about football for children 10 or 12 years old and older. There is so much good and there are so many terrific life lessons that come from the sport for those who like it and want to play it. There's the sense of teamwork and accomplishing a common goal that is hard to get anywhere else. There's discipline. Dedication. Commitment. Perseverance through failure and adversity. Literally, you get knocked down again and again, keep picking yourself up and fight on to be successful.
You know, sort of like you do in life every day.
If I had a son, I would let him play football, even encourage him to do it.
There is another viewpoint, of course. We ran a story on these pages last Sunday about Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, who has post-concussion syndrome and has admitted to suicidal thoughts. He flat out said he won't allow his young grandson to play football. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner also has said he will discourage his kids from playing.
These men are well known. They earned great fame from football and amassed great wealth. Their words will carry plenty of weight with many parents who are struggling with the play or don't play issue with their sons.
What happens if those parents decide to follow Carson's and Warner's lead?
"That's not my problem," Carson said in the story.
Actually, it would be a problem for a lot of people. We would lose something very precious in our communities. We would lose a valuable teaching tool for a lot of our young people.
I know, I'm not in a position to tell any parent how to raise his or her child. Nor are Carson and Warner, for that matter, despite their many years and experiences in the game. I just hope that all parents do due diligence when their son comes to them and asks to play football. Check out their league. Is it age- and weight-matched? Check out the equipment. Is it up to date? Check out the coaches. Are they Lombardi wannabes or are they qualified, caring people who will look after your son and get him off the field at the first sign of dizziness or wooziness or headache?
Parents need to make an educated decision, not one based on fear because of what they hear on television or read in a newspaper.
Something very valuable is at stake here.
A wonderful, life-enhancing experience for a lot of our kids.
First Published May 20, 2012 12:00 am