Is there really a “war on football”?

It’s hard for me to ever read Danny Kanell’s tweets. I made the joke on Reddit about how I feel like I’ve gotten more brain damage reading Kanell’s tweets than I did actually playing football for over a decade. But it’s time to get a little more serious about what Kanell and others are saying now about the supposed “war” on football.

After reading Jason Whitlock’s thoughts on the “war on football”, it got me thinking a little more about this “attack” on the sport I grew up loving and playing, and continue to love to this day.

At it’s core, there is a very serious discussion going on about football and it’s safety. I agree with all of the concerns over concussions and football, and I don’t think enough is done on the sidelines to help concussions, especially in high school where resources are limited. A colleague and I were talking about how bizarre it was that a kid actually admitted he had a concussion in a high school press conference after a game this past week, and how he went back in a couple of plays later after feeling woozy. Needless to say that discussion in the press conference got shut down quickly to save face for the coach, school and governing organization.

I don’t think so much there is a war on football in the mainstream media as there is a war on the NFL. It seems like many people use this concussion issue as another way to attack Roger Goodell, and it’s not actually about the safety of football players.

I feel like Bennet Omalu is 100% justified in wanting kids to sit out of high-impact sports like football until they are 18. I don’t necessarily agree with sitting out that long, but I certainly understand why he says it.

One of the biggest problems with the “war on football” and Omalu’s column is that people jumped on the New York Times for allowing it to run. Kanell jumping on them and calling out the “liberal” media was what really sent me over the edge.

First off, I hate when people start using political terms to describe the media. We all have our opinions on news organizations like Fox News, MSNBC and others, but I feel like as long as we continue to label everything, we aren’t ever going to get anywhere.

Second, I have always felt like the media, specifically large media companies like the Times, are the only way for people to have a voice. If Omalu wants to say something, what better place to do it than the New York Times? The problem isn’t with Omalu’s piece, the problem will come if the New York Times doesn’t let the NFL (or any football related organization) respond with a piece of their own. That time hasn’t come yet, and I doubt the NFL will feel the need to jump into a column writing war with concussion doctors.

I don’t feel like there is a “war on football” as much as people like Kanell and Whitlock are causing a war themselves. It’s not like there hasn’t been concern for concussions and CTE for years now and this is nothing new. The media has covered both sides, and now that this is a serious issue, and there is a major movie coming out about it, they are going to cover it more.

I completely disagree with Whitlock’s assertion that, at it’s core, the media prefers baseball over football. The reason football is so much bigger is because of the media. ESPN covers the NFL more than anything, and college football is right behind it, for a reason. I feel like most sports media organizations are the same way. I know I live in football heavy country in Alabama, so I’m around it more than anything else which might sway my opinion, but football isn’t the biggest thing in the country despite the media, it’s because of it.

On the other side, I will agree that the media, which loves covering the X’s and O’s of football, is after Roger Goodell’s head, and the concussion issue is only more fuel for the fire. After the domestic violence issues over the last few years, plus other in-game issues like deflate-gate, people have wanted him gone, so any other reason to add to the list only helps.

But I think it’s important to separate what is a “war on Roger Goodell and the NFL” and what is a “war on the actual sport of football”. Although the movie hasn’t come out yet, it feels like the buzz around Omalu’s work and opinions should be viewed as a war on the NFL and the lack of education and reasoning in the sport more than a war on the sport itself.

There are injury concerns in every sport. The problem with the NFL seems to be that many times they try to act like nothing is wrong. Don’t attack the game which has so many positives to it, so many that they outweigh the negatives, attack the fact that the NFL (and other organizations) aren’t doing enough to help matters.

It all comes back to the high school player I mentioned earlier who went back into the game after feeling woozy, or the Brady Hoke and Shane Morris incident, or any of the numerous times that players begin to have symptoms and they are ignored. That is what should be looked at here. It’s not about the sport itself, it’s about being knowledgable on what to do when something happens in this sport. It’s about forcing rules into place that protect the players and holding those that risk the lives of the players responsible.

I look at it like this – how many plays go by on any given Friday night in high school or Saturday in college or Sunday in the NFL? The number is too high to count. Yet only a few of those plays make all the difference in the world. It’s knowing how to react when those plays happen and when players do get hurt. That’s where the discussion should be.

I can’t help but feel that the “war on football” overall may be different if there was more discussion on fixing the problems at hand instead of slinging mud at each other. Because concussion and other injury protocols are ignored time and time again, people are going after the game itself because it’s easier. Let’s have a discussion on the real issues. The “war” is only happening because people like Kanell and Whitlock get so defensive whenever something gets brought up that is a negative in their sport.

Look Danny and Jason, I get it. I was a football player for over a decade myself, so I understand taking offense to people calling out the sport you love. But you can’t use your large media platforms to add fuel to the fire. There is only a media “war” going on because people like you get so offended by the other side.

The real issue is not the game of football. The real issue is educating people on football, it’s protocols, and fixing the issues that exist in the game – and there are plenty of issues still. Stop attacking everyone else who is a detractor, and let’s get together and educate the world so that the game we love continues to flourish for a long time to come.

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Jon Lunceford is a sports media broadcaster and digital professional. Jon is a graduate of the University of Alabama school of journalism, and played football at Birmingham-Southern College. He has also won two AHSAA Football State Championships while at Homewood High School and was a two-time World Cyber Games Team USA representative. He currently hosts Primetime on WJOX 94.5 and runs the high school athletics site JoxPreps.