Ron Colone: On the subject of all those scars

RON COLONE

In last week’s column, I made mention of what a big football fan I am and how much of it I’ve already watched in this young new season.

While I’ve been enjoying the games immensely, one thing that both disturbs and concerns me is the number of season-ending knee, ankle and Achilles tendon injuries that are occurring each and every week at the pro and college level.

One team I was watching in Week 1 of the season lost five starters for the whole year in the two-week period between their final preseason game and their first regular-season game, so they were done before they even got going. In another game later that same day, four other players sustained injuries that put them out for the entire 2021 season. I found myself shouting, "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?" It’s never been this bad before.

Given the nature of the injuries, many of which involve torn ligaments and ruptured tendons, the first thing that comes to (my) mind are the artificial surfaces they’re playing on these days. There’s a large body of evidence showing that injuries of the lower extremities occur — at least 28% — more frequently on synthetic turf than on natural grass. But it’s not hard science that I offer as my reason for opposition to the artificial turf; it’s that I’m concerned with artificiality in general, although this is a discussion I will save for another time.

As for the head-and-neck concussion-type injuries, which deservedly remain a focal point of player safety, again, I attribute much of the problem to technology, in this case, hi-tech helmets — polycarbonate shells stuffed with propylene, polyurethane and vinyl nitrile foam, with carbon steel face masks attached to the front. They are designed to make the game safer, but the unintended consequence is that they equip players with deadly weapons.

I’m reminded of when we were in Australia, watching rugby with our Australian hosts. Their friends down at the pub started bagging on American football, calling us wussies for wearing all the padding and protection the way we do, to which I replied, "What you fail to understand is that when you have that helmet and the rest of the padding on, you can hit and also get hit so much harder than if you didn’t have protection."

Sure, the rugby players might be tough guys absorbing jarring blocks and tackles and bumps and bruises, but it’s nothing like the kind of blow that an NFL strong safety or linebacker wearing shoulder pads and a shatter-proof helmet can deliver. Without the padding, a player will naturally find ways to protect him (or her) self from extreme contact (the way we used to out on the playground), but with the padding, too many players start to think they can run through a brick wall, and some of them try.

That’s why I say, if you want to make the game safer, play on grass and go back to leather or some other less protective material for the helmets.

Some of my friends will think I’m joking here, or just being argumentative, but I’m totally serious. As with so many other areas and endeavors, I propose that the better way forward may be to go back. Embrace the technological advancements that bestow benefits and increased capabilities upon us, and forsake the ones that would threaten and compromise our health, well-being and humanity.

There are plenty of dissenting voices charging that football is too brutal, too dangerous, and recommending that we steer our kids away from participation. I say, the problem is not with the game, it’s with society’s inordinate focus on and promotion of physical characteristics (size, speed and strength) over skill, ability and achievement and, also, the attempt by some coaches (at the high school and collegiate levels) to turn athletes into assailants and spiritual warriors into violent thugs.

If you know the "Karate Kid" movies, then you’ll understand when I say: We need more Mr. Miyagis and fewer Cobra Kai senseis.

Suppose, for the last 25 years, in an effort to educate yourself, you’ve made a point of reading and researching and seeking out information on various health and medical conditions that you or a loved one have had to deal with...

I mean, as long as they’re getting paid, would the workers in the trenches really object that strongly to installing a windmill or solar panel versus working on an oil rig...

Ron Colone can be reached at ron.colone@gmail.com

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