Punting Football

That cover shot is the Princeton Football team of 1885.

I used to LOVE football. My high school didn’t have it, and I probably would have have been that good at it. I did dislocate my shoulder playing pickup though once. At college there were two ways to meet ladies, one was to play football and the other was to play guitar.

Thus, my other gig is as a guitar player.

I have eaten the gross weight of a small house in nachos and drank one of the Great Lakes (you pick) in beer watching games in bars. I had a 49er jacket, but my real team is the Bills. But now, I’m out. I still love the game as a game, but in the context of an organized enterprise, I can’t support it anymore

Here is the argument for football. It’s fantastic.

Here is the argument against.

  1. The violence. And I love boxing. But in boxing, you are committing sanctioned violence on someone who is focused on doing the same thing to you. In football, some of you are totally focused on committing violence on some others of you who are focused on doing something else. I think, and this is just for me, that in simpler times that was a different thing. Life is really, really short, and I think my Sunday afternoons should be spent with my daughter or writing a song rather than watching Aaron Rogers go down.
  2. The economics. Forget the corruption. Although, don’t. Forget the players’ contract (an apartment rental lease laughs at NFL players’ contracts). Although, don’t. Forget the ratio of gross income to the money spent on medical care and injury prevention. Although, don’t.
  3. The racism. The Jon Gruden thing. You don’t get to the level of NFL coach and Monday Night commentator and THEN become racist and homophobic. And you aren’t racist and homophobic and that successful unless you are IN an environment that is racist and homophobic.
  4. Head trauma in teens. We could, and should, pretty much stop right there.

Look, I get the fact that these are grown men making their own decisions (I am a grown man making my own decision). And if that circumstance had no pre-existing conditions, fine. But it does. Statistics around NFL players who never attended college are scarce. In fact, you have to go way farther into Google than I am willing to do to find more than 5 active players who never went to college. And how do you get to play football in college? You excel at it in high school. I have a teenager. I know what a prefrontal cortex does and does not do at that age. One thing it does not do is accurately assess risk (I have not met a teenager who does not have the same risk tolerance as Elon Musk). Now factor in poverty and the dream of a better life – what teenager would not take a shot? At a career that in all likelihood you will never make a living at? Here is the offer: bang your head against other heads for a few years and maybe you get into college so that you can bang your head against other heads for an infinitesmal chance that you can have a career banging your head against other heads.

And we make that path easy!

How does this relate to Ivy? Football was one of the central points of social focus at Ivy League Universities in the day. Schools with some of the best thinkers. And the fashion – the fur coats, the pennants. The coaches. Come on.

But with an opportunity to have an historical perspective, these best thinkers should consider rethinking.

22 Comments on "Punting Football"

  1. Rugby is the English version of American football, any Ivy wouldn’t be Ivy without striped rugby shirts worn in the fall.

    Also, let’s not forget Ralph Lauren’s short-lived Rugby line.

    This season Uncle Ralph is featuring lots of waxed cotton jackets (think Barbour) worn with Ivy caps (which I wrote about):


  2. whiskeydent | October 16, 2023 at 4:41 pm |

    I know something about football’s sudden, brutal violence and it’s lifelong, crippling pain.

    Every time I move my neck too quickly or stretch my left shoulder too far the jolt of pain reminds me that I played high school football in Texas.

    When I see a guy hauled off on a gurney, I am reminded of when I came to on a field with flashing lights around me that I later discovered came from an ambulance dispatched for me.

    And every so often, I remember the scream of the kid I was blocking as his leg snapped in two.

    Yet, the collisions I endured way back when would be considered love taps today. On every down, 300-pounders crash into each other while defenders going 20 miles per hour run into ball-carriers going the same speed. You don’t have to be a physicist to figure out how damaging those repeated collisions can be. And then consider that they’re happening in high school games.

    Football needs to change or die before too many more young men die from it.

  3. Football is no fun anymore. I gave up football (and television) ten years ago, and I miss neither. Sandlot football was fun, and dangerous, but that was forty-five years ago. We played hard.

    I can imagine that during the heyday, Ivy League football was what football is supposed to be.

  4. William Giles | October 16, 2023 at 6:08 pm |

    Yes, it is a violent game and players take risk playing it, but man! is it fun, especially in the fourth quarter with everything on the line. Putting together a drive, with team mates, against those determined to stop you, and succeeding, is a rush hardly found any where else.

    • whiskeydent | October 18, 2023 at 2:27 pm |

      There might be some things we can do immediately to minimize brain and spine injuries without losing the “rush” of the game.

      1. Require all players to wear a “guardian” helmet in practice and in games. These helmets protect the wearer and the opposing player from the long-term effects of repeated collisions (https://tinyurl.com/5f6c5856).

      2. Ban using the head to deliver a blow and enforce rugby-style tackling rules. With the hard shells, helmets are currently used more as weapons than as a means of protection.

      3. Require immediate examinations for concussions and neck injuries for both players anytime there is high-speed helmet-to-helmet contact.

      4. Change the helmet-to-helmet rule to penalize the initiator. Too often, helmets collide when a ball carrier ducks his head just before contact and the tackler has no chance to duck his head in response.

      5. In the NFL, ban hits on players lying on the ground. Injuring the guy on the ground is the only reason for these hits.

      6. Require examinations of all in-coming college players for spinal stenosis, which makes the player vulnerable to paralyzing injuries on the field or loss of mobility later in life. Similarly, check the new college and NFL rookies for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of their collisions in high school. At minimum, these players should be able to make informed decisions about their futures.

  5. MacMcConnell | October 17, 2023 at 8:47 am |

    What sport does one not get injured?
    Ivy Football? Was more violent and dangerous than todays. No helmets, then helmets with no faceguards for just the linemen, every play was a run. The forward pass wasn’t invented till 1906. Gee, I wonder why ambulances at football game became a tradition.
    I played for 12 years prior to 1975, the rules were far more dangerous than now. Rule changes have been dramatic since I played in college. When I played head to head hits were legal, as were head slaps, forearm shivers, blocking below the waist, clotheslining, offencive linemen could not use their hands and defence could pretty much beat the shit out of recievers as long as the ball wasn’t in the air. Think about it, could Dick Butkus play today without being ejected and he played by the rules of his day.
    The equipment is far superior today than when even I played. Most injuries are leg injuries and alot of those aren’t from hits, but they don’t get the press of head injuries. Many changes in the rules are to the favor hiher scoring games, fans love that. Many rule changes are for safety because players are large and faster than in the past. Although sometimes the plays looks more like basketball than football.

    whiskeydent, I learned to play organized tackle football in San Antonio, Texas HS football in a different animal. My HS freshman year in Kansas City I was a nose guard/middle linebacker. During two a days my coach took me aside and asked me where had I learn those moves. I said, “Texas football”. Later he had me coaching my defensive team mates.
    I love football. HS was a blast, college was fun, but they treated like a business.

    • John Burton | October 18, 2023 at 2:07 pm |

      I think you are missing the point. There is risk of injury in everything. So you cannot make the argument that one gets injured in every sport. We have, wisely, made seat belts a thing because while there are still car crashes we have established that there is a level of unacceptable risk. I am trying to think about the last time I saw a tennis player being carted off court in a stretcher… hang on… wait for it… maybe never? Or the last basketball player with head trauma. Hang on again… wait for it… nope. The argument that football is more safe today than it was then is also the subject of debate. But let’s assume you are right (you aren’t) that it is safer today – if I handed you a pill that was “less poisonous” would you take it? Loving football is very different that thinking that it should be supported as is.

    • whiskeydent | October 18, 2023 at 4:39 pm |

      Despite the chronic pain, I still love football too. I gave up on pro ball because of the brutality and sameness of the teams about 15 years ago, but I still root for my Horns like some kind of barking mad beast on Saturdays.

      However, I think we have to realize that the players have changed and they are suffering injuries coaches didn’t care about and doctors didn’t know about until just the past decade.

      Since you lived down the road in San Antonio and I know UT history, lets look at the evolution of Texas Longhorn offensive linemen, specifically the largest starting offensive linemen (almost all tackles) over time.

      1969 — Bob McKay, 6’6″, 245 lbs (Note: few of the players on this national champion team lifted weights because Darrell Royal didn’t like them)
      1977 — David Studdard, 6’4″, 255 lbs (Note: opened holes for Earl Campbell at UT and protected John Elway’s backside for, I think, 14 years)
      1991 — Blake Brockermeyer, 6’6″, 272 lbs (Note: consensus All-American)
      2005 — Justin Blalock, 6’4″, 329 lbs (Note: obliterated a USC blitzer and opened the door for Vince’s game-winning TD)
      2023 — DJ Campbell, 6’3″, 343 lbs (Note: the only guard on the list and just a sophomore and there’s a back-up tackle that’s 6’7″, 360 lbs)

      The players are obviously much bigger than back in the hey day. But thanks to sophisticated training programs, these players are also stronger, faster and more athletic. Think about the collisions of these powerful bodies. Now think about how their skulls are no harder and their spinal cords are no thicker. And then wonder how much the helmets have really changed (not much) in the last 20 years.

      Something had to give. Something is giving. Thousands of players are suffering from CTE because of all the hits.

      BTW, Earl Campbell has not walked — much less run — for about 20 years because of chronic neuropathy. Earl only learned recently that his congenitally narrow spinal column (spinal stenosis) is the source of the neuropathy. It could have been worse. He has movement above his waist.

      PS — Spinal stenosis is definitely not Ivy, so I’ll stop belaboring this subject now.

      In 1993, the biggest starting offensive linemen

  6. I played football for many years. I’ll begin with JB’s #4: this is a real thing and you’d be shocked (or maybe you wouldn’t) at the degree to which coaches and parents conspire (yes, I went there) to downplay the number of head injuries, as well as lasting effects. I would say that I can’t believe a civilized people (culture) allows something like football, but I am a Calvinist, which means I remain convinced of original sin, which means I know that the combination of avarice-and-violence is too much for many humans to resist. Cain v. Abel and such. I could on– but won’t.

    #3 — yes. But since racism, subtle and ubiquitous and almost always related to the human instinct toward tribalism (how was it Pink Floyd put it? “Us…and them…”), this conversation is complex, multi-layered, and ongoing. The problem isn’t easily solved, since we are humans and therefore given to all sorts of sectarianism(s) and outright unfairness.

    #2– Yes. And there’s a much broader dialogue about the state of global capitalism. I’m not a dreamy utopian about human nature (see above), which means I join others in calling for a consistent reining in of the wild mustangs. In case you missed it, I’m using a horse metaphor to advocate for more regulation and progressive taxation. FDR is dead; long live The New Deal.

    #1 — Yes, of course, the violence (see above), but by these standards other sports, less barbaric and merciless and frankly bestial (watch 300 lb. center plow into a 300 lb. nose tackle– we, as a species, are better than this) are implicated. Like, say, lacrosse. Referees fail and/or refuse to call the penalties they see (clearly), which results in brutish clashes that render… well, have you seen the players later in life?

    “We are Rome.” Hmmm. In plenty of ways, we are worse.

  7. Agree on all these points, and to add one more: the NFL doesn’t invest in player development, unlike (to a degree) MLB and the NHL with Triple-A baseball or AHL hockey (or even the NBA D-League), and essentially gets a “minor league” for free the NCAA FBS pipeline (despite Name-Image-Likeness), so not only is it more violent than in prior years, it’s profiteering in an environment that doesn’t bother to invest, and hoping people just won’t notice (not very Ivy, is it?). (I will try to avoid the well-worn line about committee meetings and violence.) I know it’s a time-honored legacy, and it’s certainly possible to play football without putting your life on the line (see: most Ivy League or D-III games), but it’s become extremely hard to watch now at any level, even if the fan cultures can be irresistible (watching the Packers on their 2011 SB run in Wisconsin was intense). There are other professional sports that can give you a similar rush, but where you’re not perpetually bombarded with glorified violence – I might nominate hockey or soccer for the football nut (baseball is too poetic).

  8. Apparently we agree about much more than white OCBDs.

  9. Apparently, white OCBDs are not the only thing we agree about.

  10. When I refer to heyday Ivy League football being what football was intended to be, I mean things like extracurricular/amateur activity, school spirit, loyalty to one’s Alma Mater, friendly rivalry, teamwork, sportsmanship, camaraderie, recreation, physical fitness, etc., as opposed to pre-“professional” training, steroids/speed/OxyContin cocktails, recruiting, advertising, administration, “scholarship” money, degrees in P.E., State tax funding, stadium financing, gambling, exorbitant ticket prices, scalping, corporate suites, money laundering, etc.

  11. William Giles | October 19, 2023 at 10:26 pm |

    The comments against are well thought out, but as a former player I have this to say: I enjoyed the game and I would do it again and ,also, if one is afraid of getting hurt they should not play.

    • whiskeydent | October 20, 2023 at 9:42 am |

      Fear works both ways in this debate. Why do you fear telling these kids what they’re getting into and protecting them from long-term head and spinal injuries? We need the courage to change the game.

      There will always be severe knee, shoulder and ankle injuries in football. There will always be broken bones and deep bruises that take months to heal. But I think we have to separate the head, if you will, from the rest of the body. Expecting a 16-year-old to envision a dead brain or dead legs at 50 is a lot to ask.

    • John Burton | October 23, 2023 at 2:21 pm |

      THE OPPOSITE. If you are NOT afraid of getting hurt, you should not play the game.

  12. MacMcConnell | October 20, 2023 at 11:12 am |

    Football funds sports at universities. There wouldn’t be womens’ sports without it.
    Football was always about money for universities when it became popular. The SEC just did it better. The money trail goes directly to the office of university presidents, same goes for the student loan problem. The grift is strong.
    What university doesn’t prepare ““professionals”. We have even been bless with an article by a sports management prof.
    Let’s pretend no one at an Ivy school ever took drugs or had drinking problems or had bad ethics. We won’t talk about anti semitism or women or anti asian problems.
    Only Ivy in their heyday had ” extracurricular/amateur activity, school spirit, loyalty to one’s Alma Mater, friendly rivalry, teamwork, sportsmanship, camaraderie, recreation, physical fitness, etc.”. That last one might need PE degrees. Have you ever met a University of Kansas fan or a KC Chiefs fan . You might want to get out of the house and go to a game and tailgate. You might meet a Ivy Leaguer.
    Football is the least of this nation’s problems. Don’t like it, don’t watch it. I don’t like black knit ties, I don’t buy them. I don’t like Thai food, I don’t buy it. Is this a great country or what.
    William Giles, I agree.

    • John Burton | October 23, 2023 at 2:20 pm |

      Once again, there is a disassociation to your arguments. Making money off a bad thing to fund a good thing does not make the bad thing good. Of course all universities prepare professionals, but for safer professions with a higher probability of success. How many out of work doctors do you know? No one is saying the fans aren’t great, so I can stay home? Finally, we are not trying to rank the nation’s problems from least to greatest, we are highlighting one of them. Finally finally, the idea that if you don’t like it, don’t patronize it. That makes sense as long as what I don’t like isn’t harming people. Don’t like the war in Israel? Just don’t watch the news. That’s just a giant disconnect. Finally finally finally – a point we agree on, there is grift. Off of the backs and necks (sometimes broken) of children and young adults who do not participate in the profit. Why on earth would you want to support that?

  13. MacMcConnell | October 23, 2023 at 5:01 pm |

    I don’t thing sports are a bad thing. You might look at some injury stats on all sports, you might be suprised. All sports are funded by universities, government schools corps and non-profits.
    I’ve seen the other side of sports. Guys from less fortunate begins getting a chance at earning an education. The vast majority of college football player play at small or medium size universities, you will never see then on TV.
    “Little league” sports in any sport do not participate in profits, nor do HS players.
    I got my degree. My uncle got a Engineering degree. My nephew got his degree and does gene research. I’ve have a frat brother with a Harvard law degree. I have a friend who played DIV I Got his degree and went on to get a MBA and a law degree. The KC Chiefs had a lineman with a MD. They all played youth, HS and university football.
    The Colonel taught me to be a gentleman by example, but one thing he said stuck with me,”The world is a dangerous place, but don’t be afraid to enjoy it.”

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