Friday, February 09, 2018

The ethics of football

Kirk Knudsen • 

I have an entirely different take on this issue. I started playing football in 7th grade, and played every year through my senior year of college (10 years total), at a Bible college in MN. I never suffered a major injury playing football nor missed time for a football injury, and have never suffered a head injury playing football or basketball (which I played for 12 years). I coached high school football for three years following college. I greatly enjoy the game. I think it would be helpful in this post to differentiate the injury status/level of various levels of football. As far as I know, most who have played football only through high school do not have anywhere near the traumatic head injury levels or long term effects professionals see The game gets exponentially bigger, faster, and stronger for each level beyond high school. The speed, strength, weight, and total time invested/involved all greatly impact the short and long-term effects of head or any other injuries.

To me it seems unfairly narrow, as well as inaccurate to say the only two reasons people would watch football are money or that people enjoy seeing each other hurt each other. There is much strategy, coaching, teamwork, planning, and athleticism to be observed. Moves and counter-moves for those who know the game make for interesting and engaging scenarios as teams seek to adjust to and stop each other from what they are trying to do. The game moves fast, generally involves much scoring, and takes a great deal of thought, team work, athleticism, and strategy to do it well, plus in any given game there are many individual match-ups to observe. Those are just a few more reasons to watch it. I know many who greatly enjoy watching football, and I've not heard one of them say they enjoy watching someone get hurt. That seems like a point to demonize those who oppose your position on this topic, which doesn't seem fair or necessary to me.

For me personally, I have learned more about leadership, coaching, team work, dealing with adversity, discipleship, relationships, conflict management, and working with others you don't like in football than in any other single venture. Those lessons have been highly valuable in my now 20+ years of vocational church ministry. That by itself suggests there are many reasons to like and participate in football. I've never been paid in any form for playing, nor benefitted monetarily. In the three years I coached, I was paid $800 for two of the seasons, averaging 20+ hours per week from August into November. I coached because it gave me (then a youth pastor) access into kids lives and into our schools doing something I knew and loved.

I have no interest in soccer. As a college player, I was 6' 6" and weighed 285. That won't work in soccer. Soccer allows for basically one kind of body type and a comparatively narrow set of skills to succeed. Football offers opportunity for athletes of many different skill sets, sizes, and athletic abilities to participate and be successful. The teamwork required allows men to work together in their respective tasks and be highly successful even if they never touch the ball or if their long-term endurance isn't a great strength (to be a great soccer player, you need to have the ball with some regularity and you need great endurance).

I think there are concerns, and you address some of them for football (which also apply to other sports too). Players are starting too young and expected to invest far too much time too early in their lives into sports. I don't think it benefits us to have elementary aged kids playing extensive game schedules in any sport. Second, more time needs to be given by schools and organizations offering football to training coaches well, instead of letting any warm-body coach. If football coaches from the junior high level up were offered more training in how to coach and teach players to avoid head injuries (and injuries in general) I think it would go a long way towards minimizing the injury problems. Finally, I think football at all levels need to continue to penalize hits to and from the head more aggressively. If players start missing game time for head hits, and unsafe play, they will decrease.

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