By , January 5, 2010 1:14 am

If there’s one thing that’s as American as baseball and apple pie, it would be, ironically, football. It could even be said that it’s more popular than baseball if you look at the spectacle and money that’s made out of the Super Bowl.

Miami Dolphins Vs Pittsburgh Steelers in Miami

But football is a violent sport that can cause great physical injury to players. That was proven again when Miami Dolphins quarterback Pat White collided with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor on Sunday. Though he appeared motionless at first, he was finally talking and moving his arms and legs by the time he was taken off the field. (White was seen at in the Dolphins locker room on Monday and is reported to have suffered a “likely concussion.”)

The other quarterbacks in the game were having a rough time, too. White, a rookie quarterback, replaced starting quarterback Chad Henne who was out with an eye injury due to a hit in the first half of the game. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been knocked around in the last few years, too. He’s had four concussions since 2006. Pardon the pun, but it’s mind-boggling that so many injuries, particularly head injuries, are tolerated in football.

Some doctors are taking notice, though. Hard hits to the head are being linked to depression and dementia later in life. A “60 Minutes” report sited a study commissioned by the NFL showing that football players are 19 times more likely than the general public to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s or other memory problems before they turn 50. The report also looks at the incidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in former football players. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that causes dementia. It can only be diagnosed after death when the brain can be dissected. CTE is triggered by brain trauma early in life, but can slowly and quietly progress until dementia and other problem develop decades later. See the “60 Minutes” story here:

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The NFL is in the process of deciding if any safety changes should be made to helmets and other aspects of the game. Regardless of those changes, football will still be a violent game. There will still be 200 to 300-lb. men hitting each other at top speed. Players will twist limbs, break bones and get knocked out. Occasionally a player will suffer a serious injury. At this point, though, players and fans accept those injuries as a part of the sport.

That acceptance is interesting. Children are allowed – encouraged! – to participate in football. Little kids idolize the professional players of this violent game. It’s also seen as a “way out” of poverty, as illustrated in The Blind Side. And achieving NFL stardom – which means being able to avoid some big hits and withstand others – is a measure of success.

But does that success have a price? I really don’t have anything against football. I haven’t followed pro football in years, but I generally tune in for the Super Bowl. I just find this remarkable because it’s another example of the types and levels of violence and injury Americans will tolerate. Thousands of people die every year in the U.S. in auto accidents and from firearms, but heads would explode all over the country if there were serious limits to cars and guns.

American football can never get away from its violent and injurious roots. Only a few rules could change before it ceases to become “football” as we know it. The fans don’t seem to want it to change, anyway. Pressure from them is probably the only thing (except a law) that would significantly change the game.

Until then, the hits will keep coming.

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