Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Ronald Mason | Cruel realities of American football

Published:Sunday | April 2, 2017 | 4:00 AM

American football, as distinctly different from the game of soccer, is a major sport in North America. The structure of the game is well defined in the USA. It starts its first organisational methodology at Pop Warner level at age seven, then steps up to being played through high school and the college and university level before you are elevated to the NFL.

I have been a fan of this game since I first became exposed to it many decades ago. Currently, I enjoy the games on Sundays from August through to January and the Super Bowl that culminates in late January/early February. I have experienced the fans' thrill of victory and the agony of defeat through my seasonal tickets with the Atlanta Falcons.

It is with this background and the fact that I had clients, family members and friends who have played at the highest levels that I claim the right to offer opinion on the latest proposal to introduce flag football to high schools in Jamaica.

Jamaican American Athletic Development Incorporated, in association with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, has a proposal to spend more than J$100 million to introduce flag football to Jamaican high schools.

Flag football is a poor cousin to the game for which one gets drafted and paid big money. Nobody has ever earned high levels from playing flag football, which replaces crunching tackles with removal of a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier to effect a down.

True football is characterised by violence. Injuries occur during football games and practice because of the combination of high speed and full physical body contact. You are unlikely to play an NFL game if you cannot run a standing-start 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds. The fastest draft prospect at the combine in 2017 was timed at 4.22 seconds. You must have a 40-inch or more vertical jump and a 10-foot broad jump from a stationary position. Combine all these attributes in applying a hit on somebody equally endowed at full-speed and you get mass injuries.

In 2007, more than 920,000 athletes under age 18 were treated in emergency rooms, doctors' offices and health centres, etc., for football-related injuries (US Consumer Product Safety Commission). The NFL must now have independent, unaffiliated neurological consultants on the sidelines at ALL NFL games. You don't have neurological consultants on the sidelines at any flag football games. To offer the Ministry of Education that nurses would be available is laughable.

 

NO PROPER SCREENING

 

We have no proper screening before somebody is allowed to step on a football fields. Irregular heartbeats, structural damage in the knees or hips, and turf toes are prevalent cfrom football, but rarely identified in Jamaican sports at the high school level. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is usually fatal.

In November 2016, examinations were conducted on the brains of 94 deceased former NFL players and CTE was present in 90. All these devastating permanent deadly physical maladies were traced to repeated high-speed hits to the heads of players. Football players like Junior Seau, former top linebacker of the San Diego Chargers, committed suicide. The average running back in the NFL has a career that lasts, on average, four years because of injuries. At age 30, an NFL player is generally old and dispensable.

Paralysis is frequent at the college and pro levels. Broken bones, particularly the fingers, the shoulders, and ankles, are common occurrences. Mike Golic of ESPN fame who played on the defensive line has had seven surgeries on the right shoulder and three on the left.

If you play on the line of scrimmage offence or defence, broken fingers are the norm for every game. Anthony Munoz can turn five of his fingers in every direction because of the frequency with which they have been broken over his career. He is also in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Twenty thousand retired NFL players filed suit seeking redress for their permanent injuries. The NFL Players Commission Inquiry Litigation is in the process of distributing US$1 billion to the 20,000 players. The litigation found there is currently no reliable way to diagnose CTE. Degeneration of brain tissue and deposits of TAU and other proteins in the brain can be seen only upon inspection after death.

The Government of Jamaica has no football field at any high school that is suitable for American football. To impose a game this technical to learn and master on substantially degraded physical facilities is an act of cruelty and wanton disregard for the youth of this country. To hold out the promise that they can rise to Level 1 of the 2,000 jobs available in American football is to practise deception of the highest order.

I am sure the plans of those promoting Jamaican American Athletic Development Inc proposal are born of honourable intent but I would beseech all those associated therewith to think long and hard. I would suggest to the parents and guardians of those who would seek to become involved to get good legal advice and prepare for litigation. Barack Obama has said in no uncertain manner that if he had a son, he would not be allowed to be a player in the NFL.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.