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Sunday, May 19, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Not Just a Game But a Way of Life - or Death

Take a look around the sports page. Notice anything? Yeah, maybe we're a bit too focused on Football. But that's alright; there's a lot to write about. Don't forget we are a D1 school, and in schools like ours, Football is huge (or at least it's supposed to be).

Thursday, as you probably already know, the Bulls kick off their 2001 season against Rutgers University. On the professional level, the Bills start their season against New Orleans Sept. 9. In campuses and cities all over the country, excitement is building. Through these waning days of summer, America's favorite past time is awakening.

It's a funny thing, Football. It's a phenomenon that I just don't have the grasp to describe. It's one of those relatively simple things that evokes a passion in many people; people who generally wouldn't be passionate about much of anything.

The source of this excitement? I'm not sure. So I'm not going to try to describe what Football means. I'll just tell you what it is:

It's a game.

Sometimes in all the excitement, that truth is lost within us, but it is the truth. It's just a game, played by normal people - mortal people - for the sake of entertainment. It's part of our culture, our history, even our identity, and it's also true that for a lucky few it is a profession. But at the end of the day, it's still a game.

I think as a culture, we've exaggerated the scope of the game. We've distorted its true form. I can think of no better example to illustrate this than the death of the Minnesota Vikings all-pro offensive lineman Korey Stringer a month ago.

He died while in training, of heatstroke. All over America, high school, collegiate and professional players enter what's been dubbed as "Hell Week." They prepare themselves for the coming season by practicing under the hot August sun two, and sometimes three, times a day. Any football player can tell you the hardships of double or triple sessions: they're a test of endurance and stamina intended to mold the body back into peak physical condition. And, as most will tell you, they're effective.

Every summer, however, during this period there are resulting deaths. Not every player, even the healthiest, has the physical constitution to withstand such intense training.

These deaths happen all the time, but this summer they've occurred in many high-profile places. Rashid Wheeler, a strong safety for Northwestern University, died of asthma-related complications during a conditioning drill on Aug. 3, two days after Korey Stringer.

Only a week prior, Eraste Autin a freshman running back for collegiate powerhouse University of Florida collapsed after a team workout and died of heatstroke after slipping into a coma.

Training camp deaths occur on the high school level as well, the most recent being the Aug. 17 death of 15-year-old player Steven Taylor in Lulling Texas. It was the second high school football practice death in Texas alone.

The numbers seem to illustrate that these fatalities are rare cases rather than a large standard. The Associated Press reports that nationwide 14 heat-related deaths of high school players have been recorded from 1995-2000, an average of nearly three deaths per year among more than a million high school players.

How can we justify these practices if a potential result is death? Is such arduous and strenuous training necessary? After all, this is just a game we're talking about here. Yet even after these tragedies, which are the results not of the hazards of contact but simply of training drills, we consider it to be "just part of the game."

The argument is that these deaths are like a broken neck, or any other injury; they're inherent to the game. Moreover, there is risk involved in almost anything in everyday life, not just in Football.

But Football isn't everyday life. Football is a game. And it's true, players aren't dropping right and left from heat exhaustion. But, every year, some die.

There are those who say that we can't stop driving cars because of a few accidents. That's probably true. But I think we all need to take a step back for a moment, because for the players who take the field on Thursday, their concerns should be about a win or loss. ... Not about life or death. It's only a game, after all.



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