When Jahvid Best courageously leaped into the endzone in the 2nd quarter against Oregon State, I was watching in the south endzone of Memorial Stadium. When he went into the air the entire stadium let out an excited gasp. But not everybody could see the landing. As soon as he hit I immediately feared the worst. My suspicions were confirmed when Jahvid's teammates frantically signaled to paramedics to aid their inured teammates. Because of an obstructed view, most Cal fans celebrated the touchdown. The band began to play Fight for California. The cannon went off. Meanwhile, the only thought running in my head was: "Jahvid Best might have just been killed."
Let that thought linger for a second. For a brief period I was worried I had witnessed an on-field death.
Soon word filtered that his family was on the field. When multiple firefighters surrounded him I began to panic. I was near tears. My wife was convinced (correctly) that she saw Jahvid move his arms, but I wasn't able to calm myself until I managed to call my father who was watching on TV and confirmed that Jahvid had moved all of his extremities. My mind kept wandering to Kevin Everett and other similarly life and career threatening injuries that have become less and less uncommon.
Perhaps this particular injury has hit me hard because I felt like I knew Jahvid as much as you can know a star player you have no personal relationship with. I've talked to people who knew him as a kid. I've watched and watched countless classy interviews. I've seen the videos of him running up and down hills, working his ass off to help his team. Everything I've ever heard connected with Jahvid has described a bright, talented kid with greatness in his future, on the field or off. And for a long time it looked like much of that was in jeopardy.
So with these scary possibilities, it was a strange relief to find out that Jahvid 'only' has a concussion, his 2nd in as many weeks. But recently there's been lots of talk about the science of concussions and the long term impact of repeated head trauma. Malcolm Gladwell wrote the original article that helped jump start the discussion. Ray Ratto talks about it. Scott Ostler talks about it with normal sentence structure. Everybody is reevaluating the most popular, lucrative sport in America. The NFL and NCAA have desperately tried to change the rulebook to protect players, but every attempt to change a game that has a long history of stunningly brutal events seems futile. Meanwhile evidence continues to mount - players effectively disabled, early onset dementia, and other debilitating injuries that boggle the mind.
Before Saturday's game, to my discredit, I hadn't paid much attention to the issue. I didn't want to admit that a sport that takes up perhaps too much of my free time and disposable income was preying on the athletes that perform for my entertainment. This is particularly disturbing in the college ranks, when players receive no money, and most have no future in the sport. I couldn't drum up a reason to care about the rest of the Oregon St. game and I wonder if I'll care about the rest of the season. I couldn't handle the people around me in Section L who did seem to still care, or at least cared enough to yell and boo our coaches and players to the point that I moved, cravenly abandoning poor Rollonubears (That was a dick move, I'm really sorry Rollon).
So here's my question: Has this incident changed how you view football? What can be done to protect players? Is football doomed to remain a blood sport like boxing, a lucrative venture that canabalizes those that participate?