What football has is a serious PR problem

What football has is a serious PR problem

I suppose we could blame Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel for exposing the problem and turning football into the Boogeyman.

The HBO program definitely scared the bejesus out of parents around the country a few years ago, and that led to a decline in the play of football from coast to coast.

Gumbel and his crew, though, were just doing some good, long-overdue journalism when they reported on the problem with brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players.

The show should be applauded for bringing to the forefront what should have been as obvious as cigarettes. Head injuries are a bad thing, and playing football can and does cause a ton of head injuries.

After Gumbel first reported on the research work at Boston University, football took notice.

From Little Guy through college, players, coaches and doctors are helping make football safer, though the sport will never be considered a truly safe one.

Even the NFL, which has long lied and covered up the dangers of the sport, seems to be coming around.

Football, though, really isn’t the Boogeyman. The sport just has a serious public relations problem that is a real threat to the future of the sport that was once threatening to pass — if not fly past — baseball as our national pastime.

That was never more evident than last week when we posted our weekly Little Guy Football roundup on ButteSports.com.

The report included a picture of a fifth-grade boy diving to try to catch a pass in the end zone.

One person saw the picture on Facebook, and compared the shot — a fine piece of photo journalism if I do say so myself — to a picture of a child covered in coal dust.

Yes, he compared Little Guy Football to the horrors of child labor.

Granted, the guy commenting on the photo is in great need of a good, long hug, and he is, by my estimation, way, way off base on this one.

While he is taking his belief to a new level, this guy is not alone in his view of the hazards of playing football, and that is a major problem for the sport.

While it is certainly understandable for a parent to not want a child to play football, the kids playing at Copper Mountain Park every Thursday evening and Saturday morning in the fall seem to be there on their own free will.

Some might indeed be pushed by overbearing fathers, but I’d say about 99 percent — if not more — are there because they are having fun.

Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about my son playing football for the first time this season, too. Bryant Gumbel scared the bejesus out of me.

Oh, I knew the league educated the coaches about the proper way to teach kids to tackle without using their head. I knew the league took concussions seriously, but I worried about the knucklehead factor when it came to the coaches.

What if my boy had a tough-guy coach who figured football was meant to be played and practiced like it was when Swede Dahlberg led the Butte High Bulldogs in the 1930s?

Those fears, I quickly learned, were a bit exaggerated. The most serious injury I saw all season was that one boy had his hand stepped on during a game. The boy was forced out of the game, and his hand swelled up pretty good. That was on Saturday, though, and the boy was all better by the time his team played in the Jamboree on Wednesday.

Yes, playing football is dangerous. But, you know what, a lot of things are dangerous. Playing on the playground is dangerous.

Actually, with one full tackle football season behind us, my boy has suffered 100 percent more concussions on the school playground than he did on the football season.

Every sport is dangerous. Did you know that the Butte High girls’ soccer team alone saw 10 players suffer a concussion this season?

That is more head injuries than either of the two varsity football teams suffered in town — probably combined.

The most obvious concussion I ever witnessed was in a girls’ basketball game. After a couple of girls collided, one girl went to the floor. She got up, took a couple of wobbly steps, and then hit the deck again.

That girl had to be carried off the court, and her season was over.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t let your daughter play basketball? Well, maybe. That is up to you.

Concussions are also a problem in baseball, where it is common place for players to get hit in the head with balls that are thrown or hit very fast. Young pitchers have been killed by balls hit back at them.

Should you keep your youngsters from playing baseball or softball?

Look, I’m more overprotective than the average dad, but even I understand we have to let our kids be kids, and playing sports is part of that. We can’t wrap them all in bubble wrap.

Concussions happen on and off the football field. The key is making sure you get the proper care for a concussion. A concussion on top of a concussion can be deadly.

Although there is still a lot of work to be done, the awareness of concussions is at an all-time high.

While the dangers of football are probably greater than in other sports, the benefits of playing football — or any sport — far outweigh the risks in my opinion.

Football is the ultimate team sport. As former Montana Tech coach Bob Green used to say, playing football means you buy into being part of something bigger than yourself.

Being part of a team — even one that doesn’t win — helps build a better person. It leads to better grades, and it leads to success later in life.

The reunion of former Montana Tech players last week during Homecoming exemplifies that point. Look how many of those guys were successful in large part to playing football.

Former Montana Tech quarterback Eric Jacobsen helped save the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 when he took the lead in plugging the under-water oil leak. He might not be an engineer, and he probably would not have the necessary leadership skills to solve such a major problem without the great sport of football.

Just think about it for a minute.

If Bryant Gumbel would have scared the bejesus out of Jake’s parents in the 1980s, the Gulf would be inhabitable by now.

— Bill Foley, who would be a be a highly-successful engineer if he didn’t quit playing football after his freshman year in high school, writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74

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