“Just know you’re not alone.”

NFL Brains CTE.jpeg

Superbowl Sunday: #52 and my New England Patriots are on the field. Again. And here's what I see and what I'm reading today:

I see brains, like the colorful slices you see above. Images of the brains of football players – men in the prime of life with their brains destroyed and the lives of those who love them ruined by the game that they loved to play – set aside brains like yours and mine. 

I think of my friend Frank Gifford who played the game long before we had the capacity to look inside of brains in the way we can now and label his brain at death as CTE, an acronym that's made parents fearful of allowing their children to play this game. Frank gave me my start in sports media – more bluntly stated he gave me my life in journalism!

I read a wife's words this morning about the gentle man she married, the one who played a brutal sport and in his 40s turned into a man she doesn't know. She seeks comfort in talking with wives whose husbands played football and now are lost to them, too: "Just know you're not alone." She vividly describes her husband's transformation and responds to those who say that knowing about CTE won't stop them from watching grown men bang their heads in football games. It's their decision to do what they do, she hears people say – yet when her husband played, he didn't know.

Who these men have become is not who they are, and I write that with conviction. The symptoms they display are beyond their control and occur through no fault of their own. These men chose football, but they didn’t choose brain damage.
— Emily Kelly, wife of Rob Kelly, football player

I absorb Joe Drape's words as he writes of "The American Dilemma" in the same newspaper on the same day as Emily Kelly does. Drape tells us why so Americans who now know of football's gruesome injuries continue tuning in and celebrating what some call America's version of the Roman gladiators.

I have no problem watching the N.F.L. — these are grown men making grown men’s decisions,” said Schwarz, whose investigative articles from 2007 to 2011 compelled new safety rules for players of all ages. “After being kept in the dark for so many years by their employers, they now know they could wind up brain-damaged. Fine. They’re professional daredevils. It wasn’t immoral to watch Evel Knievel. We watch stuntmen in movies.
— Joe Drape, writing in The New York Times

I cringe when I read in that same newspaper on the same day about how more girls now play tackle football – More Girls Are Playing Football. Is That Progress?

We can thank a constellation of cultural forces for women’s involvement in football today, from Title IX to the women’s movement, to strong female athletes who have persisted in pursuing their athletic dreams despite a lack of broader cultural support.
— Valerie Palmer-Mehta, a professor of communication at Oakland University whose work focuses on women and rhetoric, who contends the change is evidence of larger cultural shifts.

I'm a huge proponent of girls having every opportunity that boys do – and that includes playing sports, of course, and having their sports be paid attention to. Yet I'd like to see equality played out in football not by increasing the number and gender of youngsters who tackle each other at young ages but by eliminating tackles from the game. 


As my generation of young women found out in the 1970s, when the only role models we had were the men doing the jobs we wanted to do, men don't always possess the only wisdom about how something should be done. Now that brain scans are schooling us in disastrous consequences of following their men's ways on a football field, let's us, as parents and women, campaign to institute flag football for all youngsters – boys and girls – through high school.

Just because the boys do it doesn't mean girls who want to play football should follow their example. Let's find a better way.

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