The NFL is under fire nationwide. Social issues and domestic violence problems aside, injuries this season have taken a toll on players and viewers alike.
Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier lies on the field after an apparent injury in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
The popularity the sport proudly enjoyed through a media boom in the late ‘90s has dried up, with concussion studies and the overall violence of the league diminishing participation and viewership over the past few seasons. Last Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals was another reminder of how physical and dangerous football can be. Live viewers stopped in their tracks as Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier lay on the turf screaming for medical attention after a run-of-the-mill tackle rendered him paralyzed on the ground and unable to move his legs. Shazier suffered a spinal contusion and doctors have been reluctant to release further information, but it sounds as if his condition will improve. Shazier’s injury was scary, and a reminder of why youth participation has dwindled across the county. Will his injury scare more viewers away from football? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this important question.
Riley: As the proud parent of an active seven-year-old who plays tackle football, it was frightening to see. Thoughts of removing my child from the sport quickly surfaced and this incident will weigh heavily into my decision on whether he’ll play next fall. Viewers cannot handle seeing an injury like that, where a normal hit suddenly becomes life-changing. Shazier may struggle to walk again, let alone play football. The NFL is powerless to do anything about those type of occurrences—and that’s what makes them even more concerning.
Green: The NFL has always had freaky occurrences that have left players permanently injured, but has not always had the type of media exposure that constantly replays what we just saw a week ago. Injuries, concussions and even the risk of paralysis comes with playing a collision sport like football. Players willingly sign up for football as adults. It’s different for youth participants, because parents are the ones making the choice. Participation might be down across the country, but football’s popularity has never been greater. Fantasy football and prolific gambling continue to keep football afloat, and as long as those components remain, then football will survive.
Riley: It wasn’t just Shazier’s injury. That Steelers/Bengals game left a few players concussed and one player without the ability to move his legs. Health concerns are a serious problem for the league, and games like that do nothing for that image. I’ve been a football die-hard since my teenage years in the mid ‘90s, but as a fully grown adult with children of my own, I just cannot wholeheartedly commit to seeing my son play football without some reservations in the back of my mind. And I’m pretty positive I’m not the only parent that feels this way. We’re all desperately hoping that Shazier recovers fully. The NFL is desperately hoping as well.
Green: I agree that Shazier’s future will have a great impact on the NFL going forward, but I don’t believe it will stop the kids who really want to play football from playing. These are interesting times for football in America. Parents are frightened—and rightfully so—but kids are so impressed with the Odell Beckhams and Tom Bradys of the NFL that they’ll continue to play and try to emulate their heroes. In a sense, society used to place football above life; it became religion for people on Sundays throughout the season. The passion and obsession might not be the same, but the love of the game remains despite what happens on the field.