Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Football’s heads up | VailDaily.com
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Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Football’s heads up

Jack R. Van Ens
Vail, CO, Colorado

A cable TV magazine hypes the National Football League, describing the sport as “skull-crushing.” Fans tune in to see players collide. Such violent hits may knock out them out, causing concussions.

The more bone-crunching the tackles, the more fans cheer.

Along with pro wrestling and hockey, reports sportswriter Gene Wang on The Washington Post’s website (2008), “Violent collisions are perhaps the NFL’s greatest appeal. Football fans love nothing more than a fierce hit, whether it’s defensive back on wide receiver, linebacker on running back or defensive lineman on quarterback.”



Ask former Denver Bronco star running back Terrell Davis what his body feels like after prematurely retiring in 2002 because of injuries.

“Face it. Running backs,” Davis candidly confesses, “we don’t last that long. It’s a lot of pounding. Now? I’ve got bone-on-bone in my knee. My neck hurts. My back hurts. Like I said, horrible. But I wouldn’t change anything that happened. Not a thing. That’s just the way it is for a running back.”



Sounds as if this wounded gridiron warrior treats his injuries, surgical scars and aches as the NFL’s version of Purple Hearts earned on the field of battle.

Davis walks gimpy kneed, like many gridiron veterans.

Football players tend to dismiss serious head injuries or shattered knees as the price they pay for doing business on the gridiron. They refer to injuries from slaps to the heads and helmet on helmet collisions as “dings.”



A special teams player for the Seattle Seahawks, Sean Morey, rushes downfield on kickoff and punt returns. The battle plan is simple: Smear the ball carrier. Retire opposing runners to the sidelines on stretchers.

Morey plays on what the NFL calls a “suicide squad.” You give up your body by hitting the runner so hard that his bell is rung.

Too many of these jarring hits cause nausea, double vision and dementia, each a symptom that repeated concussions have taken their toll.

“The game doesn’t have to change a whole lot, but it does have to change so that players aren’t in the doghouse for reporting a head injury,” Morey tells us. “The mentality of most coaches is that they (themselves) played through countless concussions. And a lot of them are fine, but others suffer with degenerative brain disease, cognitive impairment and depression. We’d like to help stop that.”

Is the NFL doing enough to change a football culture in which team owners, players and fans accept concussions as part of the game?

Skip Rozen, The Wall Street Journal’s sports writer, in an article “Hitless or Witless?” (Aug. 4, 2010, p. D5) tells why the concussion bell doesn’t stop clanging in the NFL: “Survival and other motivations, including loyalty to teammates who also play hurt, keep athletes on the field when they should be in a therapeutic hot tub.

It is the attitude on which careers are built, a warrior ethic that has come to characterize pro football. The axiom that ‘you can’t make the club in the tub’ is taken as gospel.”

Trying to tone down violence in football isn’t a new challenge. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. called a White House conference on needless violence in football.

The president realized busted noses and sore knees were part of the physical risks inherent within the game. What bothered him were needless head and neck injuries that had killed dozens of players in a season.

Roosevelt threw a tight spiral of a goal for the conference.

He aimed to rule out what he dubbed “mucker play” — late hits, chop blocks at the knees and forearms to the heads of quarterbacks.

Charles Eliot, Harvard’s president, suggested football’s dirty tactics defied being bleached. Why not have Harvard drop football?

Eliot sounded like some of my boyhood preachers who frowned on Christian youth playing football. These clergy pitted godliness against football.

How? Genesis 1 teaches that creator God made each of us precious. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness …'” (Genesis 1:26).

Knocking opponents senseless on the football field defaces this image, the preachers declared. And it’s a sin to wreck what God creates.

What these clergy missed seeing was the beauty football brings to life.

Amazing athletes catch passes and make runs that thrill us.

Fans admire a precise game plan well executed.

The game affords a diversion when national news stirs anxiety.

Still, does our society too easily endorse a skull-crushing sport?

Has a national amnesia set in which leads us to forget concerns President Theodore Roosevelt voiced over a century ago?

The Rev. Dr. A cable TV magazine hypes the National Football League, describing the sport as “skull-crushing.” Fans tune in to see players collide. Such violent hits may knock out them out, causing concussions.

The more bone-crunching the tackles, the more fans cheer.

Along with pro wrestling and hockey, reports sportswriter Gene Wang on The Washington Post’s website (2008), “Violent collisions are perhaps the NFL’s greatest appeal. Football fans love nothing more than a fierce hit, whether it’s defensive back on wide receiver, linebacker on running back or defensive lineman on quarterback.”

Ask former Denver Bronco star running back Terrell Davis what his body feels like after prematurely retiring in 2002 because of injuries.

“Face it. Running backs,” Davis candidly confesses, “we don’t last that long. It’s a lot of pounding. Now? I’ve got bone-on-bone in my knee. My neck hurts. My back hurts. Like I said, horrible. But I wouldn’t change anything that happened. Not a thing. That’s just the way it is for a running back.”

Sounds as if this wounded gridiron warrior treats his injuries, surgical scars and aches as the NFL’s version of Purple Hearts earned on the field of battle.

Davis walks gimpy kneed, like many gridiron veterans.

Football players tend to dismiss serious head injuries or shattered knees as the price they pay for doing business on the gridiron. They refer to injuries from slaps to the heads and helmet on helmet collisions as “dings.”

A special teams player for the Seattle Seahawks, Sean Morey, rushes downfield on kickoff and punt returns. The battle plan is simple: Smear the ball carrier. Retire opposing runners to the sidelines on stretchers.

Morey plays on what the NFL calls a “suicide squad.” You give up your body by hitting the runner so hard that his bell is rung.

Too many of these jarring hits cause nausea, double vision and dementia, each a symptom that repeated concussions have taken their toll.

“The game doesn’t have to change a whole lot, but it does have to change so that players aren’t in the doghouse for reporting a head injury,” Morey tells us. “The mentality of most coaches is that they (themselves) played through countless concussions. And a lot of them are fine, but others suffer with degenerative brain disease, cognitive impairment and depression. We’d like to help stop that.”

Is the NFL doing enough to change a football culture in which team owners, players and fans accept concussions as part of the game?

Skip Rozen, The Wall Street Journal’s sports writer, in an article “Hitless or Witless?” (Aug. 4, 2010, p. D5) tells why the concussion bell doesn’t stop clanging in the NFL: “Survival and other motivations, including loyalty to teammates who also play hurt, keep athletes on the field when they should be in a therapeutic hot tub.

It is the attitude on which careers are built, a warrior ethic that has come to characterize pro football. The axiom that ‘you can’t make the club in the tub’ is taken as gospel.”

Trying to tone down violence in football isn’t a new challenge. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. called a White House conference on needless violence in football.

The president realized busted noses and sore knees were part of the physical risks inherent within the game. What bothered him were needless head and neck injuries that had killed dozens of players in a season.

Roosevelt threw a tight spiral of a goal for the conference.

He aimed to rule out what he dubbed “mucker play” — late hits, chop blocks at the knees and forearms to the heads of quarterbacks.

Charles Eliot, Harvard’s president, suggested football’s dirty tactics defied being bleached. Why not have Harvard drop football?

Eliot sounded like some of my boyhood preachers who frowned on Christian youth playing football. These clergy pitted godliness against football.

How? Genesis 1 teaches that creator God made each of us precious. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness …'” (Genesis 1:26).

Knocking opponents senseless on the football field defaces this image, the preachers declared. And it’s a sin to wreck what God creates.

What these clergy missed seeing was the beauty football brings to life.

Amazing athletes catch passes and make runs that thrill us.

Fans admire a precise game plan well executed.

The game affords a diversion when national news stirs anxiety.

Still, does our society too easily endorse a skull-crushing sport?

Has a national amnesia set in which leads us to forget concerns President Theodore Roosevelt voiced over a century ago?

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95. is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.


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