We have some pretty basic rules when it comes to sports – if you’re hurt, you don’t play; wear a helmet when necessary, I don’t care what your friends are doing and; if the coach is a screaming, win-at-all-costs coach, we find another one. Very simple. We are parents, we have a responsibility to teach our kids. As adults, we know what hurts and when, like the time I tripped on a pothole while running and had to go to the ER because I was so banged up. I didn’t run again until I was healed. No sense in risking it, especially at my age. Unfortunately, the world at large doesn’t live by those rules – injured players play, kids get concussions and even more kids sit on the bench because the coach would rather win then let everyone learn and get experience.
So what do the NFL, Soccer and the book A Pitch for Justice have in common? Responsibility, accountability and common sense. I read A Pitch for Justice at the height of the controversy over the NFL concussion lawsuit and I found it to be something that every sports fan should read. If nothing else, it will stimulate conversation. Although the injury in the book was intentional, the book speaks from every point of view – the injured player, the family, the coaches, the organization, the player that caused the injury and the public. Not only was it incredibly interesting, it was relevant in many ways.
The book made me think about the clubhouse atmosphere, the pressures put on a professional athlete and even addressed the spending habits of some players when one found himself without the funds to pay a lawyer. He had spent his entire signing bonus buying houses and cars for himself and his family. As a young player, he spent the money as quickly as he earned it, we often see today’s professional athletes in the same predicament.
Before I read the book, I had no sympathy for professional athletes – they make plenty of money, they know the risks going in and they have no one to blame but themselves when things go awry. I felt the same way about the NFL concussion controversy. How can any person think it’s okay to be on the receiving end of many blows to their body and head? How can they not realize their will be long-term damage? The human body is not invincible. I actually found it offensive that the wives of players were on TV blaming the NFL for their husbands injuries. Weren’t their husbands the ones who chose that career path? Where was their ownership of their actions?
Luckily, I knew someone closely affiliated with the NFL and I asked them about it, let’s name them John Doe. John informed me that there is a lot of pressure to perform in sports, so much so that if you won’t play injured, there is someone else who will gladly take your place. Give them a chance, they might take your job. The coaches put a lot of pressure on the players and make them play injured, if they don’t, they may not get paid or they will be replaced. We know that. We also know that’s a chance you take in any job. Still not feeling it.
Am I being harsh? Possibly. Soccer concussions are now in the news and Jessica Tonn was suing the NCAA because she was allowed to run with a concussion. She has “accused the NCAA of inadequately educating coaches and athletes about concussions and not implementing return-to-play guidelines or procedures to detect head injuries.” She backed out a day later “Jessica doesn’t feel she can commit the time necessary to see this through.” The exact reasons for her backing out are unknown, but that she, and others like her filed suit is relevant. Where are their parents? The NCAA may have let her play, but she chose to play and her parents let her.
At what point does personal and parental responsibility come into play? I realize some medical knowledge is new, but if you get hit in the head, get dizzy and have a headache the next day, doesn’t common sense tell you something is wrong and you should listen to your body? Maybe it’s the same as going to work with the flu. You get up and go even though you know you aren’t well because you need the money, have a commitment or know the new guy wants your job. Okay, I can see that. But the flu is the flu, I know what it is and I know it will go away. I don’t know that my headache will, especially if I get hit again.
Back to the book…A Pitch for Justice lays all of this out very nicely, with one exception, the injury may or may not have been intentional. It was supposed to be, but the player claims it wasn’t, and he’s believable. This twist shows the pressure players are under to do what their coaches tell them. It also set in a motion a fascinating chain of events. The ER visit, the decision the player made to ignore medical advice, his death and the lawsuit that followed. Through the lawsuit we learn about each party involved and how we get to where we are with sports. We are sitting on the border of healthy entertainment and life jeopardizing careers, all for the sake of money.
What’s even more fascinating is what happens to one of the characters in the book and how far they will go to seek justice. The roles of the public all the way to the Commissioner of Baseball are laid out such that we are given an inside look into the machinations of professional sports and the roles we play.
As for real life, I think we all need to be more responsible when it comes to sports. Pop Warner football has seen a steady decline in membership because too many kids are getting concussions and parents don’t want to take the risks. On one hand, it’s nice to see parental engagement and responsibility. On the other, have we set the tone for a downward spiral in all impact sports? Can we find a way to keep the players safe while still enjoying the game?
Do you or your loved ones play sports? Have they played with injuries?
Buy the book, it’s a great read! By the way, this isn’t a book review nor did I receive anything for writing this. It’s just me looking for something to write about.