One hundred percent of NFL players suffer injuries while playing football. It’s understandable when you consider, for example, receiver and defender covering 40 yards in less than 4 ½ seconds, colliding with each other, and coming to a sudden stop within one or two tenths of a second. Sally Jenkins, Washington Post Sportswriter, paints the above scenario and compares it to running full speed into a wall mirror. The short-term results can be torn ligaments and tendons, even broken bones, not to mention cuts and bruises. Long-term a player is looking at arthritis, joint pain, and reduced mobility.
Particularly serious is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by repeated blows to the head. Ninety-nine percent (in one study) of NFL players examined for CTE showed signs of this degenerative brain disease, which can cause memory loss, depression, and aggressive behavior. Suicide is not uncommon, taking the lives of celebrated players like Aaron Hernandez and Junior Seau. And, of course, there is Damar Hamlin’s recent cardiac arrest during a Monday Night Football game. A normal, unremarkable tackle stopped Hamlin’s heart.
So, there’s no doubt that professional football is violent and dangerous, but it’s also wildly popular and profitable. With our testimony of non-violence, can Friends conscientiously approve of football, or should we work toward its replacement by less problematic sports? Realizing full well that many Friends will disagree with me, I’d argue that Quakers can be NFL fans. How is this possible?
My argument relies on the element of skill in football. While violence does occur during a game, that violence is incidental, i.e., not the purpose of the game. Football’s purpose is to demonstrate athletic and mental skills. The athletic skill could be the ability of a defensive lineman to “shed” the block of his offensive counterpart. It could be a receiver’s ability to suddenly change his pass route while running near full speed. It could be the quarterback’s ability to accurately throw a long pass or quick-release a shorter throw.
And there is the mental dimension. As the quarterback stands behind the line of scrimmage, he must survey the position of the opposing players and decide whether the called play will work or whether he should change the play with an “audible.” Cornerbacks must decide which receivers they will “cover.” Linemen may have to decide who they’ll block or what technique they’ll use. So, in my opinion, football is a skills-oriented sport that satisfies a basic human need: to demonstrate prowess under the stress of athletic competition.
Boxing is quite another matter. Certainly, it requires skill, but the purpose of boxing is to physically hurt or injure an opponent. Violence is not incidental in boxing. The goal is to physically disable your opponent, perhaps through cuts and bruises to the face and body, preferably through a concussion that renders your opponent semi- or completely unconscious. Serious injuries are common in the ring; deaths do occur from time to time. It’s difficult, then, to imagine a Friend disregarding the principle of non-violence and taking pleasure in boxing. On the other hand, I can see Philadelphia Quakers rooting for their Eagles or a Texas Friend hoping that this year will see the Cowboys win a Superbowl.
~ Richard Russell
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