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Spare us the endless articles about the lawyer-ignited concussion crisis among retired professional athletes, especially NFL football players. Mr. Contrarian here to give you the B-side of the story that hardly ever gets played. Seems there's no end to stories about retired footballers ending up with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and/or dementia. These illnesses are truly heart-breaking and we all feel for those suffering. It affects us all. But let's understand this manufactured "crisis" for what is: a money grab to reach into the deep pockets of the NFL, led by lawyers, the least needy group in society. Lawyers looking for a big commission payday. Now there’s a movie out called Concussion. Maybe they should have called it Lawyers Strike Again.
Two points: First, there’s a question whether the concussions really cause brain damage. After all, a lot of people get dementia, many who never played sports at any level, let alone professional. Aunt Mabel may never have had a concussion or touched a football in her life, but her dementia and the hardships and suffering are real. It’s that pesky correlation/causation problem again.
Second, even if there was proof that the injuries caused the brain damage, so what? You think professional athletes, especially those playing contact sports like football don’t know the risks? Of course they do. That’s part of the game. Every play is dangerous. A batter in baseball might get beaned by a fastball, and end up with a career-ending injury or dead. The pitcher could get hit in the face with a line drive back to the mound. Google Tony Conigliaro, Ray Chapman and Herb Score. Any play in football could result in a lifetime in a wheelchair. All these have happened, and much more. Race car drivers crash in violent accidents, jockeys get paralyzed when they're thrown off horses, and boxers die from a single punch. Sometimes, in a nod to a JFK line, you don't do things because they're easy; you do them because they're hard. And dangerous. So stay out of the batter’s box if you can't stand the high heat (a twist on a Harry Truman quote); don't play sports if you don't want to get injured. Pretending to not know the risks is ludicrous. Get used to it. Stuff happens. You make your choices. When and how did we become such litigious wimps? Most athletes would do it all over again, even knowing they might be inflicted later in life with dementia. To them it’s not just an acceptable risk, it’s a welcome risk. Look around: there's no shortage of applicants in sports.
The fame, fun and fortune that professional athletes experience is something most of us will never encounter, not even get close. Let’s take all the money that lawyers will be extracting from the NFL (and other professional leagues) and split it among everyone with dementia. If that’s too difficult to do, let’s give it all to scientists working on the problem. Stop this lawyer-driven nonsense. This isn’t about concussions or injuries or even sports. It’s about lawyers and money. Hold your sympathy for those who don't get six-digit signing bonuses, never played in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans, and were never idolized by anyone more than a few family members. They are the ones most deserving of our support and assistance.
Paul Herbert, author of books about a historic hotel and a former dancer in Richmond, Virginia, can be reached at: email@example.com