Dave Helling

Dave Helling: Super Bowl is highly entertaining, but it comes at a cost

Millions will watch the biggest football game of the year Sunday. Some will think about the high cost players must pay to compete.
Millions will watch the biggest football game of the year Sunday. Some will think about the high cost players must pay to compete. Los Angeles Times/TNS

Like millions of Americans Sunday, I’ll be watching the Super Bowl. I’ll be rooting for a good game, tasty chili and cornbread, a cold beer or two. At least one funny commercial would help. But like millions, I’ll be just a bit uneasy as I watch the game. The players, we now know, routinely risk serious injury — or long-term chronic disability — in order to keep us entertained.

The link between football and head trauma is clear. Every crunch, every hard tackle, every player stumbling to his feet or lying motionless on the ground is a reminder of that connection and the high price players must pay to compete.

Sure, they’re paid well. That can’t justify dementia in their early 40s, or depression, or chronic knee and back pain. I once saw retired NFL star Conrad Dobler at a local hospital. He could hardly walk. He was in his 50s.

Yet I can’t turn the game off. Does that make me complicit in deeply flawed popular entertainment? Am I a hypocrite?

The answer is yes.

It isn’t limited to football, by the way. I think most major college athletes in revenue-producing sports are grossly mistreated, providing their schools with millions in revenue while facing penalties for accepting a booster’s ham sandwich. Yet I get as excited about college basketball as the next guy.

Hypocrisy is a fundamental part of the human condition. It’s the source of some of our greatest comedies. And politics? Politics is a daily example of straight-faced hypocrisy: Sure, I voted against raising the debt ceiling last year. We’re going broke! This year? Not so much.

Yes, I’ll be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, warts and all. But I’ll think about Conrad Dobler, too — and spring training, just a couple of weeks away.

Dave Helling, dhelling@kcstar.com

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