There's a lot of violence in football. That's not a news flash, and yet I am remarkably oblivious to it. I guess I'm so busy keeping track of what yard-line the ball happens to be on and trying to see what number the ball-carrier is wearing ... I'm so busy mentally compiling the box score that I often forget the character of the game.
And of course, there are occasional vicious hits, the ones that draw gasps from the crowd and cheers from teammates. Of course, I can't not notice. But for me, that's just part of the spectacle. For me, that's not the main draw. For me, the contest is the draw. My eyes are on the ball, and my attention is no more riveted than it would be in a basketball game.
I know that concussions are an occupational hazard for football players. I saw El Camino Real quarterback Ryan Meier get hit by--I think it was Julian Evans who he ran into, full speed, at the end of his 17-yard run in the second quarter on Friday night, with his team driving across the field, at the time leading Taft 7-6. Meier popped right back up, and his coach shouted more instructions to him, but somebody standing nearby me on the El Camino sideline noticed right away. I think it might have been the on-field medic, and I think it might have been his job to notice, but he told the coach right then, "Make sure he's okay."
I wouldn't have been surprised if Evans had been concussed, too--it wasn't a one-sided hit. Two players, both moving fast, running smack into each other at the end of a run. It was just one of those plays. But for Meier, it would mean leaving the game at halftime, missing the second half, and missing next week's game as well. (El Camino wound up losing the game, 28-21.)
Meanwhile, for Meier's parents, it might have meant waking him up every couple of hours that night to make sure he remembered his address and phone number. That is, according to an article by a former Kansas City Chiefs lineman published at Deadspin, the ritual for parents of concussed players. The ex-lineman (now a 61-year-old dean at Oregon State University) has a neutral attitude about violence in football, understanding at once its dangers and its appeal.
On the one hand, he's not an alarmist:
"As I've suggested, I don't believe that I am seriously at risk," he writes. "I sometimes find myself walking downstairs, only to discover that I've forgotten why I was going, but so do my friends who never played football. We laugh about these "brain farts" as we laugh about our prostate exams and sigmoidoscopies, the routine indignities of getting old. Not the early signs of dementia."
He's not an alarmist, but he's read the articles about ex-NFL players suffering chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and he was particularly "jolted" by a University of North Carolina study that attached sensors to football helmets--and showed the average college lineman suffers 31 blows to the head per day during training camp.
"If I can presume for a moment to speak for conscientious parents in general, we know that we cannot protect our kids from every possible danger, nor do we want to keep them from all risk-taking or prevent them from becoming self-sufficient," Oriard writes. "But we do want to protect them from foolish, unnecessary and excessive risks. Will it one day make as much sense to keep your son away from football as it does to strap your toddler into a car seat? For now, the degree and magnitude of the risks from youth football are still uncertain. But the more we learn from researchers, the riskier it seems."
I was directed to Oriard by this Sunday article in the San Francisco Chronicle, which goes so far as to say that football as a sport is getting increasingly scary for the athletes who play it. I'll let Ray Ratto from the Chronicle sum up Oriard:
"(Oriard) is a reasonable person who sees football's benefits as well as its dangers," Ratto writes. "He has no axes to grind about his NFL pension, as he didn't play enough to get one. He wants us all to wrestle with this as he is wrestling with it, and he wants us not to dismiss it as merely some knee-jerk, anti-fun reaction to a couple of academic papers. He wants us to take our brains, and those of our children seriously, and that means asking bedrock questions about our national sport and our roles in it."
I'm a reasonable person, too, and so I will wrestle with this question, and I'll hope that the people I care about wrestle with it as well. After reading some of Oriard out loud to my fiancé, I asked her if, when we have kids, we're going to let them play football. She said no. Now I'm sure if our kid's a brilliant little athlete, we might have to revisit this issue. But I can appreciate, reading all this, why my own mom didn't want me playing football in high school, and I can appreciate her relief for my late growth spurt, which kept me from being a factor in eighth grade flag football, ensuring that there wouldn't be even the slightest bit of peer pressure for me to play tackle in high school.
So let's keep asking the right questions. And get healty, Ryan Meier. You played a great first half.
Oaks Christian 59, Oak Park 0
Bishop Amat 27, Loyola 24 ... Okay, Loyola is just the hard-luck team of the season. Did they play their best game of the year against ... Chaminade? If they'd played that well the week before, wouldn't they have beaten Valencia? If they played that well the week after, I have to think they'd have beaten St. Francis. And then they come this close to beating Bishop Amat, possibly one of the best 10 teams in all of SoCal.
Westlake 38, Royal 0
Valencia 56, Hart 7 ... did Valencia play its worst game of the season when I saw the Vikings barely escape Thousand Oaks?6
Notre Dame 23, Crespi 21 ... On a last-second 51-yard field goal! I guess Crespi's a hard-luck team, too.
St. Francis 34, St. Paul 7
Newbury Park 38, Agoura 10
Alemany 48, Chaminade 21
Harvard-Westlake 38, Verbum Dei 0 (Thursday game)
Saugus 42, Golden Valley 26
Moorpark 28, Thousand Oaks 21 (OT) ... re: Valencia above, maybe Thousand Oaks is just pretty darn good. Stretching undefeated Moorpark to OT = moral victory.
New calpreps rankings. I have no idea how Serra-Gardena (50-point winner last week over a crappy conference rival) leap-frogged Oaks Christian (60-point winner last week over a crappy conference rival. Oh well.)
8. Oaks Christian
34. St. Francis
44. Newbury Park
108. El Camino Real
140. Thousand Oaks
224. Crescenta Valley
Re: the rankings of all the local city section teams ... who really cares. But here are their results, from the print section of the Daily News. Above results are also from the print DN, supplemented by this page.
Birmingham 50, Chatsworth 23
Cleveland 43, Granada Hills 28
Arleta 42, Grant 6
Canoga Park 33, Van Nuys 12
Poly 47, North Hollywood 6
Kennedy 19, Sylmar 17
Reseda 30, Monroe 15
San Fernando 27, Panorama 7