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Concussion problem has yet to scare away incoming rookies


American Football Field Yard Lines

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Recent medical discoveries regarding the long-term health risks arising from concussions have created, with the help of a Congressional hearing and the threat of lawsuits, an unprecedented sensitivity to the subject at the NFL level. But as more and more former players claim via the courts system that the league concealed information regarding concussion risks, those who now have at their disposal everything they ever could or should know about the hazards aren’t putting down their helmets and walking away from the game.

Beginning Thursday, the NFL will determine the initial employment destinations of 253 eager applicants. After that, at least 300 more who aren’t drafted will sign free-agent contracts.

None will say, “No thanks. I’m not interested in playing pro football. I’m concerned about concussions.”

There are several reasons for this. First, plenty of men in their early 20s still inhabit that bubble of invincibility/immortality that, among other things, makes their car insurance rates way too high. To them, the long-term future consists of the next month on the calendar. Thoughts of health problems when they are “old” (i.e., 40) don’t creep into their consciousness.

Second, by the time football players have made it through the filter that separates high school and college football and are poised to pass through the even thicker wheat/chaff divide between college and pro, they have already made peace with the risks. They’re football players, and football players sometimes get hurt. (Yes, this cuts against the invincibility dynamic; but at that age the players who have been injured believe they can regenerate like Wolverine.)

Third, we remain a nation of risk-takers. Many lines of work involve physicals risks equal to or greater than the risks of playing pro football, from firefighter to police officer to soldier to coal miner. We also take plenty of risks when not getting paid, from sky diving to rock climbing to motorcycle riding to going for a jog on a road inhabited by large steel contraptions that roll by at high rates of speed.

The risk arising from pro football is, unlike many other riskier activities, offset by the compensation and the fame and the lifestyle. Though, in time, parents may keep their children from playing youth football and, possibly, high school football, that will hardly choke off the supply of men 18 years of age and older who will willingly accept scholarships to play college football, the best of whom inevitably will be invited to play pro football. And they will accept.

So while some in the media are enthralled with the prospect of predicting the demise of pro football due to the concussion problem, there will always be an eager supply of physically elite men who embrace the risk as part of the territory that goes with being a pro athlete.

Starting with the 253 who will be drafted this week, and continuing with the hundreds of others who will clamor for a shot at making a roster after they don’t hear their names called from Thursday though Saturday.