The NFL season starts on September 5 and you can be sure that soon all of the talk about brain injuries will focus on football; how do we make the game safer for the athletes, but still keep it the game that fans love (and will pay to watch)? Then there’ll be talk about the culture of the game and how it’s taught and coached at the youth level. Those questions, and other iterations of those themes, will be explored in the U.S. – definitely watch FRONTLINE: “League of Denial” – and maybe a bit in Canada, but the discussion won’t really get going in Canada until the NHL starts again. So from September to April (maybe June), national/international focus on brain injury is sifted through the major sports screen. In those 8-10 months, it’s sports, and virtually sports alone, that drive the discussion on brain injury. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that people are talking about it, but if brain injury seems to only happen to pro athletes with the very best in medical services to help them recover and the most pressing issue is how soon they can get back on the field or ice , then instead of increasing awareness of a serious injury, these discussions lessen the seriousness and the effect of these injuries to most people who are not privy to those medical services and who will likely need more than a few days or weeks to recover.
In my last post, 10 years ago in Victoria…, I talked about my brain injury from which I’m still recovering, even after a decade. I am not alone, nor am I in the most difficult situation. I am, in fact, very lucky. There are so many people who have been brain injured, just that millimetre to the right or left, or above or below, whose recovery will be indiscernible to most people. There are also those, who have worked tremendously hard, and have made it back to where they feel that they can go back to work or school/university, just maybe not at their previous capabilities. There are countless effects of a brain injury, and just because it didn’t happen on the field or on the rink, doesn’t make it any less (or more) difficult. That’s why I like the reporting I’ve seen by FRONTLINE and ESPN (although, it seems investigative reporting at ESPN has taken a hit of its own). They’ve shown how brain injuries to many former pro athletes have effected their lives since they played.
This awareness, along with my own personal experience, is why I’m not anticipating this NFL season with the same level of excitement and zeal as I have previously. My favourite team has always been the San Francisco 49ers and they continue to be. It looks like, and I hope, they’ll have another great season! That said, much of my fanaticism is missing. Big hits don’t enthuse me as much as they used to. While I want the 49ers to win, the game played and covered by the media, doesn’t captivate me as it once did. I feel like a bit of a sucker because the reason I’ll continue to watch (and play fantasy football) this year is nostalgia. The 49ers are arguably, the best team in the league this year and after a lull in the quality of their team in the 2000′s, they’re back where they should be – football-wise. So I’ll watch. I don’t know what that says about me, but unless there are some very important changes made in the way the game is played, I’ll probably stop watching soon.