In the minds of some, you can't criticize the NFL without hating it. Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner found himself in the middle of that particular thought process when he opined that he might not want his children to play football in the wake of the Saints' bounty scandal, increases in concussion data over time, and the death of Junior Seau. On "The Dan Patrick Show" last week, Warner put it out there like this when asked if his sons should play the game.
"They both have the dream, like dad, to play in the NFL. That's their goal. And when you hear things like the bounties, when you know certain things having played the game, and then obviously when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and then you couple that with situations like Junior Seau — was that a ramification of all the years playing? And things that go with that. It scares me as a dad. I just wonder — I wonder what the league's going to be like. I love that the commissioner is doing a lot of things to try to clean up the game from that standpoint and improve player safety, which helps, in my mind, a lot. But it's a scary thing for me."
Seems reasonable. Warner got his bell rung a lot during his 12-year NFL career, a career that effectively ended with a hit from Saints defensive end Bobby McCray in the 2009 NFL playoffs. Warner was a defender on an interception return, and it should be noted that the McCray hit was clean per the rules, but the family discussion was clear after that play. Warner's wife Brenda said that she was done from that point forward; she wanted the husband and father more than the player, and Warner agreed.
Former fullback Merril Hoge, whose career was cut short by concussions that have affected his life after football, disagreed ... vehemently.
"I think it's irresponsible and unacceptable," Hoge said on ESPN. "He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated ... Head trauma is not the issue here — it's how head trauma is treated. The game is safer than it has ever been because we're being proactive with head trauma. That is the biggest issue."
Hoge went on to say that obesity is the most pressing health concern among children, and that in the right structure, football is less of a health risk than "sit[ting] on the couch, play[ing] XBox and eat[ing] a donut." Which is fine, if you want to assume that every kid playing football from high school on up is playing in a correct and protective system. Which seems a bit presumptuous.
Former New York Giants receiver Amani Toomer, an ex-teammate of Warner's, decided to pile on.
"I'd definitely have my son to play football. That's what the Toomer family does. We all play football. But what this reminds me of is the guy at the basketball court, who once he gets done playing takes the ball and ruins the game for everybody else. I think Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this. Everything that he's gotten in his life has come from playing football. He works at the NFL Network right now. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it's just a little disingenuous to me."
And telling anyone who's played at a Hall of Fame level, especially someone with seven kids, to keep his opinions to himself, seems disingenuous to us.
On Monday, Warner responded to his critics.
"You always get disappointed when it becomes personal because we all have opinions and differing opinions," Warner told the NFL Network. "I deal with a son who is 22 years old that deals with a traumatic brain injury, so my situation from that standpoint is even different from others. It's disappointing that you can't have an opinion, and it can't start dialogue. It's OK to differ, it's OK to disagree with my opinion, but I always hope that it can start dialogue. Everybody can share their points of view and we can combine all of that to make a better world or a better game for those that are growing up and that are going to play."
Warner also specified that, despite Toomer's insistence, he wasn't throwing football under the bus.
"I love this game, and I love what it did for me and my family. I love so many aspects about it that can teach kids and taught me and created who I am today through what I learned in this game. But at the same time, I have concerns ... I want to prolong this game, I want to preserve it for generations to come, but we have to continue to be honest and we have to continue to dialogue about those concerns, those risks and continue to work together as a group. Those that are critics of me, those that don't agree with what I say -- we have to work together as a group along with the commissioner, the NFL, leagues all the way down to those like Pop Warner and say how can we make this game safe. How can we continue to try to eliminate those concerns, or at least minimize those for parents?"
Warner is hardly the only former player, and potential football parent, with these concerns. Specifically, there is a growing concern at the high school level regarding the potential liability to schools as a result of unchecked and untreated concussions. Add in the more than 1,500 former players currently suing the NFL in a rash of class-action lawsuits, and it seems that Warner's the one on the cutting edge ... while Hoge and Toomer have their heads in the sand.