Recently, President Obama joined the crowd, making noises about how unsafe football is for players:
I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football.
Hmmmm … Interesting approach to parenting there, a nice, good old fashioned, top-down command and control approach. Notice, how his son doesn't actually figure in to the decision: Mr. President will think long and hard before deciding whether to let his son play.
Well, makes sense, considering what we've been through since 2009.
As for safety and football … Well, I grew up playing soccer (which is considered the real football in the rest of the world) in the streets, in fields covered with rusty nails, broken glass, and sharp rocks etc, and enjoyed it thoroughly even though we rarely won and the balls we used were not even good enough for dollar stores in the U.S.
Occasionally, we'd get scraped knees and elbows, and, sometimes, someone would end up with something like a busted lip. It was by no means a "safe" activity. We had energy, we burned it somehow.
The fact everyone forgets is that football players at all levels self-select in to the sport. They are not rounded up, and sent to training camps by the authorities they way Ottomans used to round up promising Christian boys for the military, or technical occupations.
For players to choose to and be able to play, they must 1) Enjoy the game as it is; and 2) Be good at it. This is just a logical deduction based on the fact that players choose to play the game.
Banning a person with those preferences and those skills from playing football will not take away the preferences and the skills. Instead, they will just be channeled into another outlet.
Is the solution to the level of violence in the game then to make sure players' bodies are well-protected?
Economists have long known and pointed out that making vehicles safe for occupants in a crash situation would increase the tendency for drivers to drive less carefully. That is, by exogenously reducing the probability of an injury to vehicle occupants (the people whom the driver cares most about), safety regulations can have the effect of increasing the probability of accidents (and, therefore the probability of injury to others).
In fact, I used to often point out in "regulation" classes that the most effective way to reduce auto accidents would be to put an impaler in the steering wheel that is triggered in the case of a crash — the perfect anti-airbag.
All this talk about making football helmets safer for the wearer therefore seems misguided to me. After all, the less a player believes he's going to get an injury, the harder they are likely to play.
There are two alternatives: Either put all players in vats with gelatin nutrition etc and have them play games in their minds, capture the signals they generate, and project them onto a screen for others to watch.
Or, accept that there are risks associated with every activity.
Thanks Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for the inspiration for this post.