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Faceoff: Ethicality of football

Players take a knee on the field as Damar Hamlin is evacuated via ambulance after suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing mid-game. The incident has reignited conversation about the safety and legitimacy of the sport. Photo Credit: Schetm, Wikimedia Commons

By Luke Ahearn

The Buffalo Bills represent one of the premier franchises in the NFL, 2023’s American Football Conference (AFC) champions heading into the playoffs, making Damar Hamlin’s injury frontpage news for about a week. A life-threatening collision at an advanced stage of the NFL season is the worst possible kind of publicity for an organization constantly battling against growing concerns over Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the general safety of football. However, the masterminds behind the NFL have somehow spun this gross disregard for human life into a story of happy coincidence, praising the irregularity or infrequency of these kinds of incidents. In my personal opinion, regardless of the nature of this particular injury, in that it happened to be a cardiac arrest unrelated to any tackle or collision, we’re seeing an actual anti-NFL narrative for the first time which is a positive in so many ways.

The NFL is built on the backs of American industries that bring pain, suffering and inequality to vast numbers of people. A quick browse through the list of NFL franchise owners reveals a pile of oil tycoons, frackers, energy conglomerates, and hedge fund managers, exactly the kind of general corrupt generational wealth responsible for toilet-bowling the planet and our economy. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and one of the most celebrated of the NFL team owners for being in possession of his franchise the longest, doubles the Cowboys’ annual revenue stream via his stakes in the oil industry.

As our world continues to grow into a capitalist machine beyond the control of any governing body, beyond the guidance of any sound of moral compasses, the institutions that represent money, status, authority and power forget their true function in favor of the form of exploitation that guarantees the most positive profit margin. The NFL is nothing more than entertainment. It’s a sport, its function stems no further than base visual stimulus for excited fans three times a week; but in our stupor, it’s morphed into a machine run by and for those responsible for the destruction of the planet.

The immediate outcry surrounding Damar Hamlin’s injury is centered on the status of the NFL’s safety parameters. Suggestions of increased padding, maybe decreased padding, and new legislation regarding the legality of certain tackling motions and other dangerous plays, form the body of discourse surrounding Damar Hamlin. All of these suggestions are complete nonsense. The idea that football is unsafe is common sense. Any person who can see and hear the impact of 300-pound men colliding knows it isn’t safe. Hard hits and the injuries that follow are what fuel the adrenaline-based dopamine release that NFL fanatics thrive on. Changing its ruleset would change the fundamental aspects of the NFL that make it so appealing to a hyper-masculine national audience. If the NFL were to somehow limit the amount of violence in the sport they’d undoubtedly lose viewership and therefore profit, meaning human lives and the future of the planet hinge on dissolving the NFL not changing it. 

It’s simple: in order for the planet to live, organizations like the NFL need to be held accountable for their role in the continued use of fossil fuels and ultimately the destruction of our home. We don’t need to change football’s rules, we need to get rid of football. The Damar Hamlin incident has resulted in the rare occurrence where the NFL is receiving a dangerous amount of negative press.

By Rowan Baiocchi

If I did not know about football until I was 19 and someone tried to describe the sport to me, I would assume without question that I was being pranked. A sport notorious for giving its players traumatic brain damage, backed by an organization that has historically failed to address acts of domestic abuse perpetrated by their players? That’s not a real sport — that’s a game in a dystopian novel that lets the reader know things are bad! I am not, however, in the majority with this stance. For most of America, football is a treasured pastime, voraciously enjoyed and often bet upon. Fathers have been playing it since they were young, and their fathers too, and on and on. It managed to firmly worm its way into the collective consciousness of the American people. Talented players can even use the sport as a way into college, attending prestigious universities on full rides for their proficiency at the sport. Even with all its detrimental aspects, it can be easy to look only at football’s real positives. Sometimes, though, no amount of positives can outweigh a single terrible night.

On January 2, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field following a seemingly standard tackle. Paramedics were at his side within ten seconds, an ambulance was on the field within four minutes and after ten minutes he was moved to the University of Cincinnati medical center in critical condition. At 1:48 a.m. local time, the Bills reported that Hamlin had suffered cardiac arrest; his heartbeat was restored on field, thankfully in time to save him. He has recovered enough to be discharged since, but he is at the beginning of a long road to recovery. On the field that night, as EMTs lifted the unconscious Hamlin into the ambulance, players from both teams knelt, emotional and distraught. Social media caught fire with support, compassion, and sympathy.

Commotio cordis, an incredibly rare and lethal kind of traumatic effect to the heart, is the suspected cause of Hamlin’s collapse. It occurs when a blow is landed directly over the heart at a critical time during the standard cycle of a heartbeat. This was not, as you might imagine, immediately apparent that night. The tackle was entirely standard as far as the sport was concerned, which raises a larger concern among many: if a perfectly standard tackle can prove nearly fatal, is football safe enough to let our kids play it? Hamlin’s case is incredibly rare, yes, but it still happened, even with the increased protections the NFL has been forced to give its players. If padding can’t stop fatal injuries to the heart, and helmets can’t protect players from traumatic, long-lasting brain damage, why are we actively encouraging elementary and middle schoolers to play? Why are we letting high schoolers run themselves into ruin for the chance of a scholarship? Is the cultural investment worth the toll? At the end of the day, the role football serves in high schools — a way for athletic talents to get into colleges at the cost of their bodies — is one that must ultimately be done away with. No high school student, let alone a middle or elementary student, should have to run the risk of traumatic brain injury for the chance of a full ride. Still, football remains an American tradition, and as long as we take proper and extensive precautions to safeguard the health and safety of those who play it, there is no reason it can’t be an enjoyable pastime. Just, not for me.