Today marks the 50th Super Bowl championship game for the National Football League, to be played at 6:30 PM Eastern time in Santa Clara, California, between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.
As quarterbacks Ken Stabler and Brett Favre were inducted this year into the NFL Hall of Fame, we pause for a moment to reflect on another quarterback, Peyton Manning of the Broncos, for whom Super Bowl 50 could be his final professional game.
Most “football experts” predict that the Panthers will beat his Broncos, but I wish to point out that defense wins championships, and the Broncos have the top-ranked defense in the NFL this year, compared to Carolina’s, which is near the middle of the top 10—first against the pass, though, which could spell trouble for Manning.
We’ll see tonight how that goes. I turn now to another matter involving Mr Manning. He was involved in a conference championship game last year with the New England Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, in which Mr Brady was accused of asking some workers to let a little air out of some footballs so he could grip them more easily in the rain. The air pressure in the balls was later found to be below the acceptable pressure for footballs—12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch—allowed for NFL game use.
It was never proven conclusively that Mr Brady played any role in the request, but he was suspended for a few games by the NFL in a scandal that came to be known as “Deflategate.” My initial take was that the NFL was hypocritical in that it came up with a harsh punishment for balls that were a few pounds per square under regulation even as it ubiquitously condones and rewards tackling and blocking that causes brain damage.
The NFL’s attempt to make us fans look away from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) and look toward minor rule changes, including the ball inflation issue and the much-talked-about “catch” rule, is par for the course when it comes to this behemoth that protects the interest of billionaire owners while stomping on the bodies, minds, and friends of players who are trying to earn a living.
The NFL is pretty good at getting us to look away from science. Trying to get the NFL to be more honest about real science is a false hope, though, since not even the men who now shoot for the US presidency consider science their ally in the fight to make America great. But the NFL has gone to great lengths to ignore for years any report of CTE among its players, including former players who donated their brains to science in order to help us civilized people understand more clearly how poor the NFL’s rules are when it comes to tackling and blocking.
The league also ignored science in the Deflategate scandal, since the ideal gas law clearly shows how the pressure in the balls could have happened as a result of the temperature at game time. They punished Mr Brady anyway, as if they are judge, jury, and executioner.
The league’s ignorance of science in these two instances is reminiscent of companies in America’s history, including RJ Reynolds Tobacco. With tobacco advertising everywhere, the company showed nothing but contempt for science and adopted an ostrich-like response to the inescapable fact that smoking causes cancer.
Well, football, as the game is played today, causes irreversible brain damage.
This can’t be ignored forever, and I say, as a lover of this game since the days of my youth, when my father had season tickets for the Bears and would take a member of our family with him for every home game of every season, in the cold snow of the Chicago Bears parking lot for our tailgating, with bratwurst or Polish sausage charred black on a makeshift barbecue grill at 8 AM, the game must change. The rules for tackling can’t be tweaked; they must be drawn from scratch.
If this doesn’t happen, the supply side will squeeze football out of existence, as moms steer their young sons toward other sports. Even a few NFL players and coaches are saying they won’t allow their sons to play the game. We’re already seeing a decline in youth football participation, so the signs are already showing up. The NFL ignores them and presses forward with tiny tweaks instead of major revisions at its own peril.
I would hate to miss the Super Bowl or keep saying to myself, “1985, 1985, Walter Payton, Mike Ditka, Mike Singletary, 1985.” The game must change drastically, or it will go the way of smoking. And even though the NFL resembles RJ Reynolds Tobacco right now, the league, too, must change: revenue is about to take a brain-crushing hit.
Along with quarterbacks Stabler and Favre, coach Tony Dungy, linebacker Kevin Greene, receiver Marvin Harrison, linemen Orlando Pace and Dick Stanfel, and owner Eddie DeBartolo are also being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame this year.