Monday, February 19, 2018

Pool: Goodbye to all that

By Frank Pool
Dec. 5, 2017 at 2 a.m.

The first football game I remember watching in its entirety was the famous Ice Bowl playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers 50 years ago this month.

As a teenager I watched and followed football intently. I remember that Hormel printed images of the helmets of each NFL team on the back of lunch meat tins. My brother and I tacked them to the wall of the bedroom our dad had made for us in a converted garage on Maple Street.

Bryan and I would listen to Lobos games on KFRO during the 1967 district-championship season. We had received an electric football game involving a vibrating metal field and molded plastic pieces. It was pretty useless and chaotic to play, but I remember using the field and players to mark the lines of scrimmage as we followed games on radio.

The band used to break into "Georgy Girl" every time we scored. We heard that song a lot back then. Though I never put on pads, I played touch football on the street and in neighborhood yards.

I followed the Longhorns and the exploits of James Street, a few years older than I was, as he led Texas' wishbone offense. We had a transistor radio going at Brookshire's on Mobberly when UT beat Arkansas in the "Game of the Century."

The Cowboys, of course, were the best pro team. I was a big fan of Craig Morton, Calvin Hill, Roger Staubach, and Bob Lilly. I remained a fan for years, though I had no TV when I went off to college.

Football is a game that demands strength and speed and strategy. It also provides fodder for small talk. "How 'bout them Cowboys?"

Sadly, I've concluded that I just can't watch the sport anymore. Not the pro game, not the college game, nor even the high school games I used to attend regularly, rooting for the athletes and enjoying the band and drill teams.

No, it's not political, nor disgust with scandals, nor even concern that football takes up far too much time and money. It's the brain injuries that have done it for me.

I've known of many guys with old football injuries, with bad knees and backs. In my late 40s I went dove hunting with a fellow who used to play on the Oklahoma offensive line. I had to help him up an arroyo because his knees were rickety, and he was about my age.

Still, those are risks people take. I'm sure when he was 21 he was admired by lots of the pretty girls whose attention was so important at that age. I don't want to eliminate all risk, aggression, and pain from sports.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) changes the game for me. Not all athletes suffer the mental and emotional impairments caused by repeated head injuries, but too many do. Men whom I admired in my youth, like Tony Dorsett and Nick Buoniconti, are literally losing their minds to the condition.

I don't see how the sport can change. I believe that a sport involving deliberate and permanent injury to others is immoral. (That goes for boxing, too.) So I've sworn off it, despite the pleasure that watching may bring.

Saying one has a moral objection is also a claim the objection isn't a matter of taste or preference, but of right and wrong.

Not everyone will agree, but I see a big difference between a bum knee and a busted brain. I'm finished, done, time out.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School.



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