In his latest essay for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes about one of the greatest dangers football players face: long-term brain damage from all the impact. It’s a grim, worthwhile read.
Gladwell doesn’t discuss the element that most disturbs me: the role of coaches in perpetuating the “programm[ing],” as one former NFL player calls it, that keeps players putting the team above their own well-being.
Gladwell looks to the testimony of Kyle Turley, who played in the NFL for nearly a decade, to show how players with recent head, neck, or spine injuries decide to put themselves back in harm’s way “on behalf of the team.”
I understand that players get caught up in the physicality and camaraderie of the game, and how those factors might contribute to their making certain dangerous choices. But how can a coach feel OK about sending recently-injured players back out onto the field? How can he hold the good of the team above the short- or long-term mental and physical health of the player?
As Phil Ochs put it:
It’s always the old to lead us to the war,
Always the young to fall.