Gridiron football has once again been linked with tragedy. The death of a high school quarterback in New Jersey raises some now familiar questions about the safety of the U.S.’s favorite sport. We’ve been thinking about the challenges facing football as we read Jeanne-Marie Laskas’ “The People v. Football,” which first ran in GQ in 2011.
Since Laskas wrote her profile of former Vikings player Fred McNeill, the NFL has reached a $1 billion settlement with former players who sued the league for concealing their knowledge of the damage caused by the game (although these payouts have been delayed, pending appeals). In the wake of this crisis, the league has adopted stricter concussion protocols and other safety measures designed to minimize big hits and player injuries. But the questions remain. Can football be made safe, or is the game inherently dangerous? What is the future for a sport that jeopardizes the health of those who play it at any level? Do the rewards of professional sports outweigh the risks run by players?
There are broader questions raised by this issue as well, reflexive and ethical questions that fans and journalists have to confront. What’s at stake for those of us who consume and enjoy spectacles of aggression that blur into outright violence?
Do the social benefits of these sports outweigh their costs? What obligations do those of us who cover sports have to consider the social ramifications of the attention and promotion we give to this kind of entertainment?