Depending on whom you ask within the game, there's a concussion-related "war on football" between those protecting the sport and a faceless group of so-called haters that's happening within media and in popular culture. But it's really a "war on science and fact," because football protectionists are fighting against a moving tide while the other side simply reports and shares.
Take people like Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who say football is being "attacked," for example — he didn't say by whom, but his point boils down to the proliferation of updated knowledge about how head injuries can impact one's long-term health. Or people like former NFL quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst Danny Kanell, whose tweets make it clear he's convinced that "liberal media" gives too much voice to the "concussion alarmists."
Football people, current and active ones, are fearful of the link between playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease — one that the NFL acknowledged for the first time in March — because it threatens their football-entrenched livelihoods, passions and dreams.
And that's OK! It's OK to be scared about the future and all of the is this thing going to ruin my life uncertainties that come with living. It's called experiencing adulthood. Last Friday, Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas, 49, outlined how people like Arians, Kanell and anyone else who thinks football is under siege or that the sport is getting "too soft" should feel, regardless of how they personally view the sport's tepid, concussion-addled future.
Speaking at the DSBN International Concussion Summit, the former Buffalo Bills Pro Bowler said:
One thing that I realized is that discussing the effects of concussions and the reality of the situation doesn’t make me less of a man, less tough, less loyal to the National Football League, [have] a less love for the game.
All it means is that I’m not an ignorant fool, and that I don’t ignore factual evidence that this is happening to not only football players, but [to other athletes].
Basically: Act like an educated, well-informed adult and keep it moving. Those two sentences are the best explanation of how we, as an NFL-addicted culture, can go on enjoying and playing a game that, we are now more aware, has inherently dangerous and potentially deadly risks. (The same goes for soccer, hockey and boxing too.)
Thomas' points are well-versed, especially considering the historical opposition to his stance and the fact that this was the first time he's publicly spoken about the issue. He brings up salient points: reporting a game-ending concussion for one's own safety doesn't make a player less of a "man" or less "tough." Openly having intelligent discussions about where football is headed doesn't make a player, coach, fan or media member suddenly "against" the NFL or hateful of the game.
Thomas made it clear he only cares about the facts, and considering what he's experienced since retiring from the NFL in 2001, they speak for themselves.
During his speech, he said that the frontal lobe of his brain is damaged. He experiences mood swings for which he apologizes to his family after the fact. He can't focus for very long. He loses his train of thought. He has to carry notes with him to remember things. Despite all this, and against his wife's wishes, he still lets his son play football and doesn't discourage other parents from letting their kids play football. He's far from a fool.
Head injuries in sport are a complicated issue, and as Thomas proves, there's no "one side" to this hypothetical movement against the NFL. There are just two things: Facts and football, with people caught in between.