|a Roman gladiator looks to the royal box for the thumbs up or down|
"In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule."
This week, the first week of October, saw three high school football players die on the field of battle. One dies after a "routine" tackle, one after a "freak" play, and the other during pre-game exercises. For most high schools, this is week 6 of the tackle football season; five games have already been played. In the first five weeks, nearly every school team has seen its share of injuries- from ankle sprains and dislocated shoulders to concussions and anterior cruciate ligaments tears. The young, poor soldiers to suffer this fate will sparsely dot the sidelines this Friday night and tomorrow afternoon wearing their casts and crutches like badges of glory. But at least 3 kids won't be playing this weekend- they are dead. And yet the weekly gladiatorial contests will proceed at mini-Colosseums across the country.
"I think it was the result of a typical football play. It was just a freak accident, you know, the game involves contact, and it was the result of a freak football play."
-Steve Cohen, Superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River School District on Long Island's North Shore
What no one tends to tell high school kids before they play tackle football is that "typical football plays" can be very dangerous if there is a serious mismatch between bodies, if technique is off just a little, or if helmets collide. Making the "routine" plays in football can have disastrous long-term results. National Football League stars like Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, Mike Webster, and Jim McMahon are all examples of the game's extreme violence.
Yet the show goes on. Tackle football as an institution of the American high school hasn't been harmed nearly as much as a logical person might think. In many ways, the persistence of propping football up as the centerpiece of the school year is similar to other self-destructive American behaviors like illegal foreign wars. People will cry and bemoan the terrible consequences of invading other countries but stop short before indicting the whole system. Surely, this must be a sure sign of real insanity- the refusal to stop hurting children for no real at all.
Three kids died this week playing a dangerous game. How many more will have to suffer debilitating injuries at young ages before systems change?