Brett Favre is, by any reasonable estimation, one of the toughest men ever to play the great game of football. He started a record 321 consecutive games and played for 20 years, taking hit after hit. Now 48, with the last of his retirements fading in the distance, Favre has turned his attention to a crucial issue: the trauma caused by repeated concussions. And he’s got some provocative ideas on how to save young brains from suffering what he went through.
Why’s Brett Favre qualified to speak on concussions?
Well, because he’s had, by his own estimation, thousands of them. “You would never come out of the game for a concussion because nobody thought concussions were that bad,” Favre told the Daily Mail. “It was a matter of toughness. You didn’t come out of a game because you were dinged, you saw stars, or fireworks are flashing — which are all results of a concussion, as we know now. Ear ringing, kind of like the dinner bell dining — ‘time to come eat’ — that should be a wake-up call: You just suffered a severe brain injury.”
Favre recalled a scene from his younger days, when former Packers coach Mike Sherman brought in former heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier to talk to the players. Frazier apparently slurred his way through a motivational speech, and Favre and other Packers found it a lot more funny than tragic.
“I’m telling you, we laughed,” Favre said. “I was like, ‘What in the hell is he talking about?'”
Favre isn’t laughing now; in fact, he’s pushing for both state and federal measures to restrict tackle football for kids under 12.
(It’s worth noting that Favre is making his undeniably provocative comments in connection with his promotion of a drug, now in the testing phase, that could help with long-term effects of concussions. Favre is an investor in the drug’s manufacturer. Regardless of Favre’s motivations, though, the issue of concussions undeniably threatens the fabric of football itself.)
What about President Trump’s contention that football is too soft?
Last fall, in the course of making the speech that would end up consuming the entire NFL in a frenzy of debate about protesting during the national anthem, President Trump also touched on another nerve: the idea that the NFL has gone soft.
“Today, if you hit too hard, ’15 [penalty] yards, throw him out of the game,'” Trump said. “They’re ruining the game, right? They’re ruining the game. It’s hurting the game.”
It’s a red-meat issue, good for firing up crowds who want football to go back to its helmet-crushing days of yore, but Favre, who has more than enough experience getting hit, politely dismisses the president’s contention.
“The president can say what he wants,” Favre said. “It is a serious issue and it needs to be dealt with.”
What’s the future of youth football?
Participation in youth football is on the decline — down 19 percent from 2011 to 2016 for kids aged 6 to 17, according to the Aspen Institute. And while football isn’t going anywhere in the short term, there’s movement on the legislative front to restrict the ages that can tackle. Illinois, for instance, is considering the Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE, named for the former football player who committed suicide and was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The bill, which does not yet have enough support to pass, would block any child under age 12 from playing football.
Favre approves of the legislation, but believes a larger, federal solution is necessary as well.
“The state level is a start, but we have to adopt this plan and all do it together,” he said. “The body, the brain, the skull is not developed in your teens and single digits. I cringe. I see these little kids get tackled and the helmet is bigger than everything else on the kid combined. They look like they’re going to break in half.”
Favre wants his own grandchildren to switch over to a safer sport, like golf. “What are the odds of him becoming the next Brett Favre?” he said of his grandson. “What if he plays one year, gets a major concussion, and is never the same? I would feel horrible.”
At a time when the NFL remains consumed with how to deal with the noisy but ultimately performative matter of standing during the anthem, Favre’s comments are a reminder that the league has much more pressing health concerns lurking once the games actually kick off.
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