College

Thursday Thoughts: “Hard Knocks” and the game of football

Thursday Thoughts: “Hard Knocks” and the game of football

Now that the Cleveland Browns are part of our lives and we’ve invested time and energy into the first two episodes of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” it’s not hard to see the absolute conundrum of drafting a quarterback as the first-overall pick.

On one hand, Cleveland wants to ease Baker Mayfield into the role of team savior. Coach Hue Jackson has said on numerous occasions, Mayfield will not be the starter when the Browns open the season. On the other hand, we can see, even from just a few episodes, Mayfield is dynamic and magnetic. Those kind of personality traits, combined with his talent, make it seem obvious Mayfield should be the starter – sooner, not later – and that he’s clearly the future of the organization.

When a team has a No. 1 pick, the pressure for that player to perform is high. When you’re Cleveland, and don’t have the history of picking quarterbacks who have worked out (Brandon Weeden, Tim Couch), the pressure is even more intense.

Most are going to expect Mayfield to play a lot. Meanwhile, Jackson and Cleveland are undoubtedly interested in proving they made the right pick with Mayfield. Naturally, they want Mayfield to work out and play well, but they want to do it on their time. That’s the problem, though. When you have a No. 1 pick, you don’t get the luxury of time. Instead, you get the burden of expectation.

All of that is why Cleveland, regardless of whether it took Mayfield or not, should have traded the first pick. An organization like the Browns, which has a history of botching up seasons and getting in its own way, doesn’t need the pressure of a top pick. It needs the comfort of trading down, relieving itself of the pressures of a top pick, and building with multiple picks in later rounds …

… speaking of football. I don’t love the NFL or college football more than everyone else, but I do love it equally. Despite never playing on a football team, football has been part of my life since about 1980 when I began attending University of Oklahoma games. I went to journalism school with the intent of being a sportswriter and have covered everything football related from high schools to the NFL. I love it.

Football will be part of my life again – full time- when the season kicks off in a few weeks, but for the first time I’m going to be watching with a lot of fear.

After seeing and reading about the tragedy at the University of Maryland and learning more about CTE, my guess is, football in its current form, will go away in our lifetime. Already the rules have changed significantly in recent years in the NFL and the lowering of the helmet in any fashion is now a penalty heading into this season.

While there is no causation between football and CTE, there is a correlation. Not every player who suits up and puts on a helmet develops CTE, but some do, and the more often you bump your head into something, the more likely you are to develop problems. In football, the point is to knock someone down. The point is to cause a collision.

So, what’s the cost – not at the professional level – but at every level below that? NFL players have a union and are protected to some extent. Grown and able to make their own choice. At the high school and college level, players are at the mercy of their university or coach, and often times, winning is the only goal in mind. No one would ever value a win more than a life, but isn’t that what’s precisely what happens when a player dies after a workout or commits suicide? Continuing to play, knowing the people in charge were not protecting their students and athletes, is showing that winning (and money) is more valuable than a life.

At Maryland, the coaching staff and training staff had a player die on their watch. Last season, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski killed himself. CTE was found to be present in Hilinski’s brain. At Maryland, a coaching staff abused its power and ignored the well-being of one of its own players. At Washington State, we don’t know if CTE was the cause of Hilinski’s death, but his story is consistent with others who have killed themselves and then had CTE.

In each of these cases, I worry about colleges not protecting their students and what can be to avoid these situations. Eventually, high schools and colleges, too, will decide protecting their students is more valuable than the money it generates from football. It won’t be today or next year, but that decision will come in our lifetime.

 

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