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Schwartz: Are We Not Entertained?

January 27, 2016

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

When Tyler Sash intercepted Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins on Oct. 30, 2010, and lateraled the ball to Micah Hyde, his brain probably had already begun to accumulate trauma that led to his death five years later.

When one year earlier Sash intercepted Indiana’s Ben Chappell for an 86-yard touchdown, his brain had already suffered one – maybe two – football-related concussions, according to his older brother.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Sash, the former Iowa Hawkeye who died last September at age 27, was found to have C.T.E. comparable to former NFL linebacker Junior Seau. Seau committed suicide at age 43. (C.T.E. is a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive brain trauma that leads to memory loss, depression, impaired judgment, and other symptoms.)

This isn’t a “War on Football” column. I don’t think football should be abolished. That would be a slippery slope. Hockey and soccer deal with concussions, too.  Hell, baseball has become a game defined generationally by its substances as much as its players. Ban one sport, you might as well ban them all.

The question Sash brings to mind isn’t about football. It’s about you and me.

The question is, how much violence and long-term suffering in others are you willing to accept to be entertained? How many lives are you OK ending for the sake of a fun weekend? Are football players’ scholarships and salaries enough to compensate for their brain damage?

Is football that important to you?

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Because, honestly, it is to me. It must be. I went to the Rose Bowl. I’ll watch the Super Bowl. I’ve read “League of Denial” and read about former NFL player Ted Johnson, but you can bet we’ll renew our Hawkeye season tickets this fall. (Seriously, click on that Ted Johnson link.)

If I cared more about football players than football, I’d crusade against the game. But I don’t, and I hate myself a little for it. I cheer for the Hawkeyes. I cheer for the Oakland Raiders. Half the time I don’t even know which jersey number belongs to which player; just win and make me happy.

Yes, I’m grateful youth coaches are emphasizing “heads up” football, but it isn’t enough. Is anything enough, short of turning tackle football into flag football?

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No. Not only is violence a part of football, it’s a celebrated part of football. A hockey fight happens while the clock is stopped. It can be regulated. Football collisions happen a dozen times each play, while the clock runs. It’s not just the “targeting” hits we’ve heard so much about, either. Have you seen what linemen do to each other on every play?

Football is violent. You either accept that or you don’t. Which brings us back to the original question: How much violence and long-term suffering in others are you willing to accept to be entertained?

There are two wrong answers to this question: 1) Challenge the science. Don’t be that idiot. 2) Argue that it’s insensitive to use Sash’s name in this argument. It’s key we keep his memory alive. To block him out of this conversation would be to disrespect how hard he played.

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Besides, are your memories of the games Sash won for Iowa as sweet today as they were before he died? If so, then maybe this is all worth it.

What about the players still on the team who may die young? You cool with that, too?

Apparently, I am. I hope they all live long, happy lives, obviously. But if I really, truly cared about their well-being, I’d stop watching and encourage others to do the same.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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