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Sports Authority

Kramer: We don’t need football

| Monday, August 17, 2020

“We want to be safe and we want to play.” So begins the open letter penned by the Irish football SWAT captains.

More of a desperate plea for clearance than an expression of intent, the message that flooded social media platforms this past week came ahead of the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences’ nightmarish news. In perhaps the most heartbreaking 12-hour spell of sports press releases this summer, conference administrators across the NCAA opted out of fall football, delaying their participation until the spring semester of 2021 at the earliest.

Per usual, Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book spearheaded his team’s work and released the statement on his various media accounts. While Ohio State players, in the words of the legendary Cardale Jones, were being forced to “play school,” commotion around the open letter seeped out of the woodwork that binds the South Bend bubble.

As a huge Ian Book supporter, I hate to stray from my unrelenting support of our fearless leader. But the letter’s blatant attempts to dismiss the Irish football team as unsusceptible to coronavirus-related health risks strays from the advice of powers that be, so I’ll forgive myself. Sorry in advance, Ian.

It goes without saying that everyone wants football. Book, like all of us, appreciates the game as a uniquely potent antidote to the lingering social and cultural dryness, both on campuses and on our television screens. But the question, of course, takes a different form entirely: while Power Five icons want to play football, should they play? Do we, a society so deeply hell-bent on the catharsis of adrenaline, need America’s game?

Surely Ian Book, the NCAA at large and medical professionals across the country understand the answer to this question. Concerns with revenue and player eligibility aside, the prospect of football as a distinctively dangerous game becoming potentially deadly is terrifying. To say that the “mental and physical health of this team is in a better place with the football season taking place this fall” would be to overlook the overwhelming amount of research suggesting otherwise.

Look no further than the MLB for a little proof. Just days after the ever-anticipated start of the 2020 MLB season, Boston Red Sox ace Eduardo Rodriguez announced that he would not pitch to empty stadiums in light of lingering heart issues. Health experts attribute Rodriguez’s myocarditis, a severe inflammation of his heart muscle, to his battle with COVID-19 symptoms. Even as an elite, 27-year-old southpaw riding the peak of his athletic career, Rodriguez claims that the virus made him feel “100 years old.” In spite of numerous health officials approving a return to play, Eduardo’s health never improved as originally anticipated, and Boston began its season with a three-man starting rotation. Rodriguez joins countless other patients with proven links between permanent heart issues and COVID-19.

Pair this side effect with the nearly unavoidable brain damage caused by football. The trajectory of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) begins well before a professional stint, spanning throughout careers characterized by irrevocable loss of mental and physical health. Granted, players willingly assume the threats of America’s game, but a season away from lasting cognitive harm would become safe and healthy time well spent.

To be fair, activating the ACC as a great American experiment would vastly benefit the players from an economic standpoint, given the incredibly brief NFL career span and the importance of three strong collegiate seasons for potential draftees. But no amount of resiliency, raw athleticism or medical oversight protects athletes from coronavirus or brain damage. Period.

Like the players, coaches and personnel throughout the NCAA, the “die-hard sports fiend” part of me can’t help but crave football this fall. The American landscape, however, invites us to be honest with ourselves and ask: Really, at what cost?

After all, as the old saying goes, heartbreak is temporary, but heart damage from coronavirus lasts forever … right?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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