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Why Football Will Go On

In spite of bounties, lawsuits, and suicides, football will continue to be played.

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After the horrific suicide of Junior Seau, and on the heels of suspensions for New Orleans Saints players and coaches for injury bounties, and in the wake of lawsuits filed against the league by former Redskins heroes Art Monk and Mark Rypien, a debate rages on the future of professional football. Let's make one thing abundantly clear: Football will be fine.

Seau's suicide is very sad. By many accounts, he was a good man and he was certainly a hell of a football player. Statistics also show an increased suicide rate among former NFL players when compared to normal people in the workaday world. The comparison should end there.

Professional football players undoubtedly absorb a number of hits to the head, and preliminary data may link those head shots to depression, dementia, or other ailments inflicted upon the brain. If the data proves true, that is awful. But it still won't kill football.

It is important to remember that the vast majority of people who play football end up with no long-term physical impediments. For every Earl Campbell, there are 1,000 high school football jocks that look back at their time on the gridiron as the best days of their lives. Don't forget that.

Concussions and head trauma are nothing to take lightly. But we also need to consider what it means for NFL players, accustomed to stardom and all of the benefits that brings, to retire.

What happens for players when life goes from private jets, luxury hotels and adoring fans to flying coach, staying at a Marriott and little embrace from an uninterested public?

Riki Ellison played linebacker at USC and later in the NFL, just like Seau. In a heart-wrenching letter to the Los Angeles Times, he addressed as best he could what may have driven Seau to suicide. Concussions were clearly a part of it, he writes, but fading celebrity may have made an impact too.

"As I see it, his loss is the result of sustained concussions to the brain together with the inability to control depression that can easily follow after losing the stardom that comes with the achievement of extraordinary accomplishment and the kind of adrenaline one gets when competing at world-class levels," Ellison wrote.

The NFL needs to do more for retired players. That is certain. The NFL Players Association should do the same. But no matter what happens, players will still play, and fans will still watch.

Certainly, a growing segment of the population - particularly college-educated, two-parent households with young children - will make a grand gesture of forbidding their sons to play football. Like most grand gestures, this will have little impact.

News flash: Those kids don't grow up to play football anyway.

A quick look across the NFL landscape reveals players from inner-cities, rural areas, small towns and everywhere in between.

It also reveals, in some cases, children from poor backgrounds who see football as a way to achieve for their family and kids from football-playing families with such a love for the game that little could stop them from strapping on a helmet and shoulder pads.

Will the game change? Yes. Do violent hits targeting the head need to be cut out of football? Yes. Should equipment manufacturers tweak helmets so they can no longer be used as a weapon? Absolutely.

But let us dismiss the naysayers who predict football's demise.

Risks are inherent in any sport, some more than others. In Europe, a similar crowd questioned the effect of heading the ball in soccer, without any equipment shielding the head from contact. The same discussion goes on in the U.S. You know what? People are going to keep playing soccer too.

Players, coaches, and certainly the folks making money in the NFL league offices need to address head trauma in football, and they need to make changes. But within the confines of the game.

Football is a beloved institution in this country. It's not going anywhere. And if it does, it will be because of ticket prices, ugly fan behavior and a growing disparity within the labor force that will resent the riches of pro athletes.

The white noise suggesting the extinction of football comes from a crowd of apologists, a group that because of the sad stories of a few, wants to eliminate the fun, the tradition, the institution, for many.

If a have a son, and he wants to play, I will encourage him to play football.