Culbreath: We’ve officially made it. Football seasonWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, baseball was fun, and the World Cup was neat, but it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Football time has arrived. High school and college this week, and the pros start next week. And I don’t think anybody is happier to see football on the field than those who work in it.
See, the sport of football as a whole had a … not so great offseason. More concussion discussion, lawsuits, the Power Five vs. the Group of Five, crimes, punishments that don’t fit those crimes, controversies over team names — and that’s not even touching the kind of drama that normally surrounds a football team. ESPN literally spent a segment talking about the showering habits of Michael Sam, the openly gay player for St. Louis, as if that were going to figure into the Rams win/loss column. (Hint: the Rams are terrible, and I think Sam Bradford is secretly happy that his shoulder is jacked up again.)
And every year, the headlines seem to get a little louder: Have we reached peak football? Has the sport gotten too fat? Are moms going to keep their kids out because they’re worried about head injuries? IS SOCCER FINALLY POISED TO TAKE OVER?
(Answers: Maybe, ohh yes, the data says yes, probably not.)
A lead-up like that sounds like I’m about to denounce those questions and say “FORGET IT, LET’S PLAY SOME FOOTBAWW.” But I’m not. There are legitimate questions that need to be handled by America’s Favorite Sport, and the sooner we deal with them, the better.
College football has been facing down the question of paying players for too long, and the Ed O’Bannon trial finally forced the sport to act. Gone are the video games that used players likenesses, but put money in the pockets of the NCAA. The teams in the Power Five conferences have now gathered enough mettle that they can begin to discuss stipends for players. These are all changes that were going to be happening sooner or later, so at least now they’re happening. They’re not all for the better; a lot of people are upset about not picking up NCAA Football this year for their Playstation 4. But the longer you thought about it, the more you understood “Yeah, there’s no reason that money shouldn’t be going to the players.”
So getting into the weeds on these other topics needs to be a priority, even if the season is about to start. The NFL and NCAA have been trying to address head injuries, but it’s going to take a herculean effort to get people to stop targeting the head. Equipment isn’t going to help; you could wear a steel box around your head, but the damage is done when your brain hits your skull, not the other way around. Meanwhile, the two leagues attempt at limiting their liability to the players who played the game before they gave a damn about concussions is a bit laughable in light of all they’re trying to do now to minimize it. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
I don’t think the end is near for football as America’s Most Favored Sport, but they have to address some things, both on and off the field, to keep it in our good graces. The Jedi hand-wave that is opening weekend can’t be an excuse to forget the things the league needs to address. You know your problems, fix them.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director for Newsradio 1370 WSPD.