Forest fires raise interesting question about football games

As my son was getting his back-to-school haircut last week, the barber raised a very interesting question regarding postponements and cancelations of high school football games in Montana because of smoke.

“What,” the barber asked, “do they do in Los Angeles?”

That, I said, is a great question.

What do they do in Los Angeles, where the air quality is horrendous even when there isn’t a fire in the area? Do they just not play high school football in second-largest city in the United States? Is that why the city lost two NFL teams in the 1990s?

Well, actually, they do play football in Los Angeles, even on those days when the Hollywood sign is hidden in the dense smog.

Not only do they play high school football in L.A., they clearly have a very good brand of ball since the city has produced more than its share of Pro Football Hall of Fame members.

Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Warren Moon played high school ball in the smoggy L.A. air. So did the dreamy Tom Brady and his future Hall of Fame butt chin.

They must have coughed and wheezed though they games on their way to greatness. Maybe that’s where Tom Terrific got into the habit of taking air out of footballs. He was just trying breath.

In Montana, though, we sometimes have to cancel or reschedule football games (which is nearly impossible) because of the air quality readings of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Medically, it is easily to see where that is coming from. Walking to your car isn’t very pleasant some days when the smoke is bad.

Making matters worse is the alarmingly high number of kids who battle asthma these days. My son has asthma, so I can certainly sympathize with those players.

But is smoke from forest fires worse than smog? I’m not a doctor, but I would much rather play in air polluted by forest fires than smog from millions of road-rage drives in Los Angeles.

Years ago I watched the Angels play in Anaheim, and felt sick as I watched the smog seeping into the stadium. Even though we were going to Disney Land the next day, I couldn’t wait to get out of Los Angeles to breathe clean air again.

In Montana we play high school and college football in the extreme cold all the time. We’ve all been at games when it has been 20 below zero or worse, and that is very, very bad for a person, too. It is especially bad for those special kind of tough football players who go out in such weather in short sleeves.

It’s also very bad for the inebriated fans who go shirtless during the entire game.

With the exception of when there is lightning within a 1,000 miles (another huge overreaction), football is played in the rain and snow. Football is also played in extreme heat, and when the hot games are played on artificial turf the temperature reaches unnatural levels.

Again, you don’t have to be a doctor to know it is not good for a person to play a football game when he is sweating so much he has to repeatedly change his socks.

More importantly, football players play football. In case you haven’t noticed, football is not exactly good for your health.

A player is far more likely to die or suffer a life-altering injury from playing football than he is playing football in the smoke.

Forget about all the injuries that send football players to the emergency rooms. Forget the torn ACLs and the back and shoulder injuries.

Even forget the injuries that could leave a football player as a paraplegic, or maybe worse.

Football has a tendency to cause brain injuries. We call them concussions so they don’t sound as bad, but that is exactly what a concussion is, a brain injury.

Even if those brain injuries don’t seem too bad at the time, they can have lasting effects.

Former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer suffered a brain injury, and recently he shot himself in an apparent suicide attempt. Kramer is hardly alone when it comes to former football players who tried to or successfully ended their lives after suffering brain injuries.

Junior Seau was inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, more than three years after he shot himself in the chest so scientists could study his brain.

Former Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson did the same a year earlier.

Other former NFL players have talked about lost relationships with their spouses and children because they are forever changed by damaged brains. Some players don’t know who they are any more. Others live their lives in constant pain.

The NFL gets the blame for these injuries, but you’d have to assume that their concussion problems probably began long before they put on a professional uniform. The younger the player, the worse the concussion effects will likely be.

Finally, people seem to be paying attention to the concussion problem in football and some are doing something about it. There is hope for young players just taking up the sport, and I would certainly let my son play tackle football if he wants.

I wouldn’t be crushed if he doesn’t want to play, but he certainly can if he wishes.

Despite the new technology and awareness, football will never be entirely safe. Even in the days when a defender can’t look at the quarterback without drawing a penalty flag, playing football will always come a risk of serious injury.

Playing in the smoke from a forest fire or the smog of Los Angeles will always rank very low among those risks. At least it should.

In Los Angeles, they apparently already know that.

— Bill Foley, who gets most of his column ideas from the barber shop , writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 1 comment

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1 Comment

  • Rich Borden
    September 1, 2015, 9:08 pm

    Well said Foles


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