Most decisions in life, particularly in the family and team setting, derive from two basic and understandable principles: love and self-preservation. The two are not mutually exclusive. You can both love your brother or sister and find a way to live and live well. Therefore, according to a Sports Illustrated article, when “Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee examined the brains of 202 deceased football players and found that 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” we had three first thoughts.
The first thought was that this is a terrible situation, for different reasons, for the players, their families, and the National Football League. It confirms what we have known or suspected for years.
Our second thought was that this was kind of to be expected. It is, as we refer to in the legal world, an assumption of the risk. Football is a sport that requires or has the potential for contact by every player on the field during nearly every play. It is the continuous and repetitive contact and resulting head trauma that ends with CTE.
However, the situation feels like the cigarette industries claims for years that nicotine was not addictive and toxins were not harmful to your body. The problem football has is that it has ignored the concussion problem for years while failing to (1) teach its athletes that it is a good thing to avoid contact versus taking and/or giving a hit, and (2) that a full disclosure of the possibilities of injuries, specifically to the brain, were not only possible, but likely. In the case of the Boston University report, 99% likely that CTE would follow a football player into retirement. No wonder former Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis retired early. He wanted to live life and leave the game on his terms, even though he loved the game he was leaving.
Our final thought was what does this mean for baseball? For years, football and basketball have recruited the best and most profound athletes. Whether athletes in the inner cities or those from wide-open spaces, moms and dads, with the Boston University CTE report, are now more likely to encourage and even force their children to enter less-contact sport like baseball. Love and self-preservation, so to speak. We guarantee you that baseball will receive them with open arms.
The Aaron Judge’s, at 6’7” / 280 lbs., the right fielder is our prime example of the parental dilemma. Football and basketball pay more up front because there is no true minor league system in either league other than the college ranks and the G/Gatorade/D League. Players can make more money sooner, but in football, your career is on average 3.5 years long, and now there is proof according to the Boston University report that you are 99% likely to have CTE once you retire.
At Judge’s size, he is larger than New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Giancarlo Stanton, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Carlos Correa, and others are in similar size ilk. However, these players and their parents obviously did not have access to reports on CTE, but the effect on parents and their decision-making going forward will be important to follow. Moreover, unless the National Football League does something to change its course and start treating, preventing, and teaching the avoidance of CTE and other brain damage, it will continue to be seen as a or the culprit. Massive settlements will only be the beginning. How about a loss in profits when it loses its best athletes to baseball? How about a loss in television dollars when its viewership falls? Money talks, people walk.
According to Slate.com, Aaron Judge could be the face of baseball. Now imagine the likes of Tom Brady playing catcher, LeBron James roaming center field, and the next generation of children and teenagers choosing baseball because they want to live long and healthy lives after the game. Not to mention longer career prospects while playing professionally.
By the way, the CTE issues are only exasperated by the fact that baseball players make more money in baseball and their contracts are guaranteed. Baseball also has a blue collar mentality in that you have to work up to get in. Nearly all players play in the minor leagues for years before making it to The Show. That work environment instills a certain set of transferrable values into life during and after their professional sports careers.
Just ask Bo Jackson and Jeff Samardzija. Former Dodger Carl Crawford said the “Cool Factor” of football was enticing, but would you not rather make more guaranteed money and have a longer career. With Boston University’s report on CTE brain injuries, the pendulum just shifted further to protect our youngest generation, which need the most protection, to choose baseball over football.
Maybe there is something to Bryce Harper’s “Make Baseball Fun Again” hat promo and Major League Baseball’s “Make Baseball Fast Again,” which will lead to “Make Baseball Cool Again” as an enticement to the next generation of America’s and the worlds best athletes to “Make America Play Baseball Again.” The sadness of the Boston University CTE report only makes the likely outcome more likely. Our youth is trending towards baseball.