Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Is It Time to Get Rid of Football?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Is It Time to Get Rid of Football?

Article excerpt

Of course my father wanted me to play football. He played in the coal mine league in western Pennsylvania, and in high school before that, and would have gone on to college to play football except he had to keep working to help support the family.

I would do anything that I could to try to make him happy, so when the time came at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Elementary School in Altoona, Pa., in the late 1950s, there I was in line for the football team.

The problem with the Catholic schools in that era was that they really had no sugar daddies to bankroll sports stuff, so we got by with very old, moldy equipment with straps that snapped and snaps that wouldn't hold and jerseys that smelled like someone else.

So I brought my gear home and put it on and waited for dad to get home from work. He smiled and said, "Show me how you get into your stance on the line."

I was going to be an offensive center, just like he was an offensive center.

I got down in a three-point stance and looked as tough as I could.

"Where's your chin strap?" he asked.

"They didn't have any but they said it didn't matter," I told him.

"Oh, yeah?" he said.

That was a clue about what was going to happen.

"On three," he said.

"Hut, hut, three ."

I almost fainted.

He grabbed the protective bar on the front of my helmet, pushed it up so violently that it ripped the skin where my ears attached to my head, jerked my head back and pushed me flat on my backside, with a violent thump.

I wept like a baby. It really hurt.

"Don't play without a chin strap," he said.

Then he left.

Fast-forward to a nursing home in Hollidaysburg, Pa., a while back, where my father was flat on his back in the same bed he had been flat on his back in for a long time. There is no light in his eyes when he sees me. There is no recognition. It has been that way for quite some time.

Dementia, I was told.

Then he died.

I have not watched football in decades and probably never will again. With the latest news from the National Football League about brain damage and long-term costs for football players, I am haunted by the ghostly image of my father, dying in that bed. …

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