On July 30th. Nick Buoniconti, the hall of fame football player died at the age of 78 of complications from dementia. He and his family are convinced that it was CTE, developed as a result of his football career. This would mean that he joined a growing list of former football players that have suffered and died from this disease. In essence football killed Nick Buoniconti.
This hit me particularly hard as Nick Buoniconti was a star when I was growing up and, in those years, when I followed sports, particularly football, religiously. While I was not a huge fan of Mr. Buoniconti’s team, the Miami Dolphins, I certainly understood how great a player he was. Also, he had a long post playing career in the public spotlight, including 23 years on HBOs Inside the NFL. By all accounts he was a stand-up guy, who gave everything he had to any endeavor he pursued. It was not just his own health that suffered as his son Mark Buoniconti was paralyzed in a college football game and remains in a wheelchair to this day. In response Nick Buoniconti founded and raised over $500 million for The Miami Project to combat and cure paralysis. By all measures, a life well lived. So, while football gave this man much, it extracted an awful price.
If football killed this man, and many others, then all those who play a part in this business have a share in the responsibility. Now I don’t want to oversell this perspective as nobody who is a football fan intentionally wants these tragedies to occur. Most of the time football fans are ignorant of what is going on, although that should be getting harder to do. However, intentional or not, it is incumbent on thoughtful people to examine the consequences of their actions.
Upon reflection, civilized people should be appalled by the consequences of football, especially the NFL. There is a growing body of evidence that links playing football to CTE. While this link is not conclusive, every new piece of evidence strengthens the link between football and this awful disease. Not only is CTE an ever-present possibility for those playing this sport, there is a frightful price to pay for playing professional football, even if you do not develop CTE. Many football players end up with ailments that severely curtail their ability to perform basic tasks of daily living. They cannot dress, feed or move without assistance.
The idea that all who are involved in an enterprise are in some fashion responsible for the consequences came to me most sharply in the Bob Dylan song Who Killed Davey Moore. Davey Moore was a real boxer who was killed in the ring. Dylan moves through all those who are involved in this spectacle; the fans, the sportswriters, the gamblers, the referee, the other boxer and damns them all for being a part of this. This song drove home the need to turn away from such a barbaric sport. I have never been a fan since. As the evidence mounts, football is taking on the same long-term characteristics as boxing, with the same moral responsibility to turn away from it.
As fans, we are the consumers of the sport. Whether we attend the games personally or whether we are the eyeballs that drive the advertising and TV revenue or whether we are gamblers, fantasy footballers, casual viewers or diehard enthusiasts, we are what makes the sport possible. The question we have to ask ourselves as morally responsible people is: what price for our entertainment? How much is our enjoyment of this sport worth to us morally? Are we willing to see men broken and battered, mentally incapacitated and dead at far too young an age just so we can spend Sunday afternoons on the couch reveling in the action? I pray that upon reflection the answer is no, we are not willing to ask people to endure this suffering just to entertain us.
This is not an indictment of sports generally. There is nothing wrong with being entertained by athletic competition. However, there are alternatives. Basketball, soccer, baseball just to name a few. We need not ask people to sacrifice so much just for our pleasure. The idea that we would do so is perverse. Now, I know some will suggest I am overstating the case. After all it’s not like it was back in ancient Rome, where gladiators died for the enjoyment of the masses. In response, however, I would ask; since when did Imperial Rome become the standard of behavior for a modern civilized society?
Now, far be it for me as an anarcho-capitalist, to suggest that we outlaw this sport. If people wish to voluntarily risk this outcome, then they should have the legal right to do so. However, as Christians, we should never accept the lowest acceptable standard as our standard. We are called to a higher standard. We should forthrightly stand against the carnage that this sport generates and seek competitive athletic enjoyment elsewhere. The market surely works and if enough people turn away from this, then the sport will go away. There is already evidence that more and more parents are turning away from allowing their children to participate in football. So goes the ratings, so goes the sport, we can make a difference. Even if the sport continues without our participation, we will have made a concrete statement of our beliefs and values. This in the end is the essence of witness.
Praise Be to God