By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Consider ways you’d enjoy burning a week of your precious time on earth. As you peruse the menu, may I recommend spending time getting grilled by Congress on various issues under your cognizance? No…not so much? Well that’s just what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did recently. Congress, concerned as they are about all Americans, decided to give Rog a call and invite him to discuss, among other things, head injuries in professional football. See, for Goodell, there’s this pesky evidence that ex-NFL players are more susceptible to dementia and mental illness than the rest of us. Imagine that, repeatedly colliding with other massive humans puts one in harm’s way of head injury and long-term mental health challenges. In response to the evidence, Congress, being the diligent and exhaustive folks they are, wanted to ask the good Commissioner a few questions to ensure the NFL is doing everything it can to keep its gladiators, and indirectly our college and Pop Warner players, safe. Given our country’s extensive participation and interest in football – America’s true national pastime- that seems like a reasonable use of the taxpayer’s dollar, right? Well, after reading a few summaries of the hearings on the internet, I continued through to reader posts…something of an informal poll, I suppose…and found nearly unanimous opposition of Congress’ involvement. It seems, for sports fans at least, there’s no tolerance for what is perceived to be wasteful, spotlight-seeking grandstanding by elected officials into an area where they have no jurisdiction (professional sports). Well, I respectfully disagree (you probably saw that coming).
The most obvious and understandable frustration with Congressional dabbling in professional sports is there are better, more important matters needing our legislative branch’s attention. True indeed. Even with a broad historic view, the collective challenges facing our nation today have few peers. The economy has a pulse but is still under a skeptical, watchful eye. The expansion of nuclear programs to some unnerving places seems inevitable at this point. We’re at war. There’s a mind numbing health care bill snaking its way through Congress. And the globe seems to be warming so quickly that my grandkids may know Santa as a guy who relocated operations to the South Pole early in the 21st century because his former residence melted away. So yes, there are plenty complex challenges on our Government’s agenda that bump issues involving professional sports down the priority list. However, that doesn’t make weighing in on head injuries in the NFL a Congressional taboo.
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you may have noticed that athletics, and for this discussion professional sports, is kind of big deal around here (in America). Sure, fundamentally it’s just a game, but stopping at that elementary description would be to trivialize a significant aspect of American culture. America has been competing since before and since its inception: against an increasingly tyrannical mother country, against herself to end slavery and against various evolving global threats. In sports we find a wonderful connection with that feisty, competitive American spirit. And what matters to Americans ought to matter to our Government. And it does. From FDR insisting baseball continue during World War II - an acknowledgement of its importance to our country’s morale - to George W. Bush using the stage of Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch and mark some sort of a return to normalcy after 9/11, the links between sports and our Government are undeniable. Closer to home, Senators Mikulski or Cardin and Representative Hoyer would need to do little more than take a drive through Southern Maryland to see their constituents at play or pledging allegiance to their favorite NFL team via a bumper sticker or window flag. So if Congress sees fit to expand itself to root out steroid use in baseball or to decrease head injuries in football – even if it’s just through increased awareness and not legislation - then so be it. We have a Government that’s of, by and for the people; given our love of sports, that sounds like the people’s work.
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