NFL has turned soft

Sports and politics are two of the biggest topics in our media, not just at the moment, but on a daily basis. As a presidential hopeful, Donald Trump has made it a habit of saying things which seem to be aimed at getting people agitated. At the moment, his tactics seem to be working well for him.

While I believe that most Americans are looking for change and solid leadership, I’m not one who believes that Donald Trump possesses the compassion and ability to lead our nation. He seems good at stirring things up, but at the same time appears to lack the interpersonal skills and diplomacy to bring people together to work for the common good. Funny how once again sports mirror life.

In Trump’s latest rant, he compared the USA to the NFL, and said that both have turned soft. He referenced Dick Butkus and the old style of the NFL where players would use themselves as projectiles and throw themselves with reckless abandon into each other, sacrificing their bodies for the good of the game.

Oddly, it was just yesterday that the report from the Journal of the American Medical Association (Neurology) was released regarding the findings from the autopsy of Michael Keck. Keck was a 25 year old former football player who was forced to quit while in college because he suffered too many concussions. The researchers lamented that his was the worst case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE that they had ever seen in such a young person.

The effects of his severe head injuries caught up with him in college, and got so bad that he suffered symptoms that most of us have no idea how to relate to. According to the report, He developed painful headaches, neck pain, and blurry vision. He was driven to distraction by a constant ringing in his ears. His sleep suffered, his mood darkened. He became anxious and irritable, then violent. After he quit football, his headaches were so bad that he couldn’t read and was incapable of finishing college. Because of his condition he was unable to work and this challenged his marriage in the worst of ways.

We sports fans adore our professional athletes to the point that they are of rock star status in our culture. They demand huge pay checks and lead seemingly glorious life styles. But what about the ones who have retired and suffer so much on a daily basis? Frontline reported on numbers from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, where researchers studied the brains of 165 people who played football at the high school, college, or professional level. They found evidence of CTE in 131 of them—79 percent. Of the brains studied, 91 of them belonged to former NFL players, and 87 of those 91 (96 percent) had signs of CTE.

Michael Keck was of the caliber that many thought would catapult him into the NFL. Unfortunately, all of his suffering was for naught, as he never made it to his payday. Concussions are gaining more and more awareness in sports, with the recent release of a movie about this problem in the NFL. A billion dollar settlement was just achieved to help pay retired players for their injuries related to concussions. Many argue that that is not enough.

For me, this problem hits a lot closer to home. Interestingly, as a collegiate soccer coach for nearly twenty years, I recall only one instance when one of my players suffered a concussion. One. In the past year alone, I coached two teams of young teenagers; one boys team and one girls team. Together, we saw six players suffer concussions. Six. One of those children was rushed to the hospital because she suffered convulsions and her parents thought that they might lose her. How scary do you think that might be if it were your child. Think about that for a minute. These players are playing on a team where the focus is on development, where they are encouraged to make good decisions, and they know that they are not looked upon to play recklessly. Yet, we still saw six players suffer concussions. Try as hard as you like, and you can still become a victim.

Too many of our youth sports teams are being pushed into more physical play at younger age ranges, and yet we parents think that youth sports are the answer to everything. When are we going to wake up and start supporting good decision making as parents? Something has to change.

When will sportsmanship once again become the main ingredient that we teach our kids? I am not sure what Donald Trump’s athletic experience looks like, but I can tell you that he has no clue about sports and how that relates to the political problems of our country. Once again he comes off as the Bull In The China Shop, spinning around out of control and hoping to shakes things up. His comments lack responsibility. I certainly wouldn’t want him coaching my child, and you can pretty much guess how I feel about him as a prospective world leader.

- Steve Locker