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American Spartacus

By: Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales, Student Voices Section Editor (evazqu20@uic.edu)

In ancient Rome, the average citizen was poor, dirty, starving, and had no access to any education whatsoever.  In 2013 America, the average citizen makes a moderate amount of money, takes personal hygiene very seriously, can get a burger for a dollar, and has at least a high school education.  So what do we have in common with the ancient Romans?  Our love for carnage.

In ancient Rome, the main source of entertainment came from watching the deadly games that took place in the Colloseum.  Slaves were forced to fight against wild animals, soldiers, and each other for the sole purpose of entertaining what could be considered the Roman middle class.  Many of you have probably seen Spartacus, and even though most of that is exaggerated for dramatic effect, the slaves really did have to train hard and be in top physical condition in order to survive.  The same can be said for our modern athletes, particularly the Gladiators of our time – the football players.

Every Sunday, Monday, and now Thursday nights, Americans sit down and glue their eyes to the television screen to watch our football teams play for the honor and glory of their cities.  The difference between football players and Gladiators is that football players choose to subject their bodies to an immense amount of physical trauma over the course of their careers that averages to about six years, according NFL commissioner Roger Goddell.  These athletes play the game not just because they make a ton of money doing it, but mostly because they really love to play the game and are willing to make certain sacrifices for it.  Sometimes, though, the price they pay for the love of the game is just too high.

Last week I saw a documentary on PBS called League of Denial, which examines the recent crisis in the NFL linking degenerative brain diseases found in a number of football players to repeated trauma to the brain.  A study at Boston University on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) currently has the brains of 46 deceased players, 45 of which have shown signs of degenerative brain disease.  The age of these players has ranged from as young as eighteen to as old as sixty-five.

Americans love football.  We love to see our team score touchdowns.  But most of all, we love it when the defense crushes the offense: sacks, fumbles, recoveries, interceptions, and most importantly the big hits that leave players floored.  Our love for this sport is what drives the athletes to continue pushing themselves beyond their limits to the point where they will no longer be able to remember what they did to earn our praise when they retire.  Not only that but parents let their children and teenagers play tackle football in the hopes that their child will be the next Walter Payton, Mike Webster, or Troy Aikman.  But is it really worth it?

The effects of CTE are so disturbing that quite frankly I had a hard time finishing the documentary when I watched it.  Mike Webster, a Super Bowl winning center for the Steelers, died at age 50 poor, homeless, and with a serious case of dementia.  An 18-year-old high school player died after his fourth football related concussion, and a 21-year-old Penn State player actually killed himself and it was later seen that he also suffered from CTE.

I love football and I am a huge fan of the Chicago Bears, but I cannot see how the league has been able to deny these allegations for so long and not done a single thing to prevent the suffering of these players.  These men, these modern Spartacus and Hercules, are being destroyed for the sake of our entertainment and that is a very brutal reality.  They may love what they do, and they may do it well, but it is our jobs as fans of the sport and of the players to speak up for them and at least try to do something to prevent more CTE-related tragedies in the future.

There have already been new rules and regulations implemented to prevent trauma to the head and avoid injury, but this is one of the most intense contact sports around today and injury is something that is inevitable for all players.  So the real question is not how can we further prevent CTE, but are Americans willing to continue supporting football at the expense of over 1,695 players?  From where I’m standing, I’d say we’re pretty fine with it.

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