On the surface, it seems Gitz would be someone who argues based on reason. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois and teaches at Lyon College, which has a fairly high academic reputation among mid South private colleges.
But Gitz opined about new football rules stemming from the increasing concern about the game’s violence with so much sloppy thinking, overgeneralizing and sophomoric name-calling, I shudder at the prospect of him teaching our nation’s future leaders to think.
His column ran in Monday’s Democrat-Gazette and online is behind a paywall. Still, it’s probable tens of thousands of people at least skimmed through the article since the Democrat-Gazette is the state’s largest newspaper.
Gitz’s opinion matters because his megaphone matters.
And, for that reason, it’s important to call him out on some of the more troublesome things he wrote. Below are excerpts from his “Football’s risky — so what?” column.
“The best thing about this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t how exciting the game was (although it was certainly that) but that there were so few of those ridiculous flags for breathing on the quarterbacks or accidentally touching the receivers that make fans groan and smack their foreheads.
Maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the officials telling them to put the sissy stuff away and let the players actually play the game, for once.
The powder-puff probably won’t stay put away for long though, as football at all levels is now squarely in the cross-hairs of our self-appointed pleasure police. They don’t much like football for the same reason they don’t like fast food, tobacco, fizzy soft drinks, SUVs, or guns—because the rest of us less-sensitive types in flyover country do.”
“Dedicated to a life of pestering their neighbors over their unhealthy habits and unenlightened attitudes, our hand-wringing “girly-men” have, in a moment of sudden revelation, noticed that football is violent and dangerous (imagine that!).”
All of the sudden? Sports Illustrated delved into possible long-term health consequences of violence in football in the early 1990s.
“In their search for causes to support that prove their moral superiority, they have finally discovered that the idea of huge, fast men tackling each other might run counter to the concept of safety.
An obvious answer to such moral preening would be to readily admit that football is dangerous, and always has been. And to agree that there might be ways to make it less so that are worth exploring, perhaps in terms of better equipment.”
Bigger, “better” helmets don’t ameliorate results from subconcussive hits which are sustained every game, nearly every play, by multiple players at all levels. Nor does any other type of padding.
As athletic trainer B.J. Maack wrote in a series of Tweets, “The brain can’t be protected like other body parts. It’s suspended in a kinda-liquid state susceptible to moving inside the skull . . . Collisions to the head, no matter helmet etc, and the brain will get “bumped.” Can’t 100% stop it. The key is to manage the resulting concussions properly. And to minimize head hits via rules.”
In sum, rule changes – not equipment – are the only way to effectively deal with brain injury.
“But all that doesn’t change the fact that football is (and should forever remain) a violent sport; that you can’t take the violence out without it becoming something else altogether.”
I agree with Gitz here. The game as we know it will either die a slow death or ultimately evolve into something entirely different.
“The key part, however, is that football and lots of other risky activities are voluntarily taken up by human beings because they enjoy them, and because they often get paid handsomely for doing them well.”
“All of which leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that some people choose (and consider themselves lucky for being able to choose) violent professions in which they are more than amply rewarded. And that when such lucky people make those choices, they generally know what they are getting into and what risks they are running, almost certainly to a better extent than football’s vocal critics do.”
This argument holds only if considering adults or mature teenagers who are well informed on the issue. But most junior high and high school players aren’t up to speed on the long-term brain damage they could suffer through repeated football collisions. They don’t yet know the risks involved. Adults should look out for them.
“So who would you rather grow up to be, Troy Aikman or the wimpy journalists who write those smug articles about football and violence in The Atlantic or Sports Illustrated? The hunch here is that the losers from our high school days—the uncoordinated dorks that the football players gave noogies to and who never got the dates with the prom queen—are now seeking their belated revenge. The guys who always got picked last when choosing players for dodgeball always seem to be the guys who later want to ban dodgeball.”
Seriously? A liberal arts professor is going to imply to gullible young readers that it’s better to pursue a career where the focus is on using brawn over brain?
And what makes an article “smug,” anyway? That it takes an opposing viewpoint supported by data and rationale? Gitz refers to a “wimpy journalist” who writes for The Atlantic. He likely means historian Taylor Branch, who wrote this monumental work in 2011. I hope Gitz knows Branch played linebacker for his high school football team. Perhaps, in Gitz’s book, this makes Branch more qualified to write on the subject than his Pulitzer Prize.
“This leaves us with a fundamental question—should we proceed to protect people from themselves, on the assumption that we know what’s in the best interest of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady better than they do?
“And if we go down such a paternalistic path, how far should we go? How do we recognize when we have gone too far and how do such tendencies not end in absurd efforts to limit risk and thereby take much of the fun out of life?”
“So yes, football is dangerous. But so are lots of other things human beings do and like. And if football offends your dainty sensibilities, you don’t have to play it or watch it.”
Gitz chases a red herring here. This issue doesn’t boil down to liberals trying to force their airy-fairy egghead sensibilities on steak-eating manly men. It centers on cold, hard economics. The game Gitz and I love has no choice but to change. If it doesn’t change, it will sooner die as a mainstream American sport.
The writing is already on the wall, and on the legal papers. The NFL is currently being sued by nearly 4,000 former players (including Arkansans like Keith Jackson) who want compensation for sustaining brain damage at work which they claim they weren’t properly appraised of.
These lawsuits could cost the NFL hundreds of millions and the league’s leaders don’t want future generations of players pursuing similar litigation. So, for the sake of self-preservation, the league institutes rule changes to try to make its workplace safer to keep the entire business afloat.
In the end, even the most drastic rule changes may not matter. An emerging mountain of information about the long-term consequences of football violence casts a widening shadow on the game’s future. Parents of boys who want to follow in the footsteps of their NFL heroes are more and more aware of the link between the medical articles at the bottom of sports pages and the suicide headlines at their top.
Some of these parents are already starting to pull their boys out of youth league and junior high football and route them to other sports. This trend will only accelerate as more news concerning the toll of subconcussive injury comes out. The NFL knows that if it doesn’t evolve, it will lose future generations of players to sports like lacrosse, soccer and basketball. “Softening” the game will tick off a few fans, but those fans will nonetheless keep watching.
Refusing to “soften” the game would please fans like Gitz in the short term, but in the long term would cost them the game itself – by starving it of the young talent it needs to thrive.