An American institution, it’s hard to imagine Sundays without football, but what is the cost of our entertainment? It’s more than the millions of dollars in salaries for the players, it’s the minds and bodies of those men that our society worships and watches religiously as icons of society. A career with the NFL has caused many prolific players to suffer from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to repeated blows to the head. Individuals that suffer from CTE experience dementia, memory loss, aggression and mood swings. Unfortunately, CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously with samples of the brain put under a microscope. “Boston University says it has found chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 90 of 94 brains of deceased NFL players it has examined.”

Athletes that play for the NFL put extended, intense physical demands upon their bodies over a couple decades, and after many compounded injuries and concussions, the twilight years for these individuals become shadowed by the daily pain they experience. Men in their early and mid-30’s are rendered cripples.

Willie Wood was the Green Bay Packers’ safety during the first Super Bowl on January 15, 1967, and made one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history. Wood does not remember even being in the NFL, let alone making the interception that won his team and himself prestige. “Wood, who spends most of his time in a wheelchair, has been at an assisted living center in his hometown, Washington, for the last nine years, first for physical woes — debilitating neck, hip and knee operations — and later because dementia robbed him of many cognitive functions.”

Men that have been deemed demigods of our society; men with towering heights, and bulging waves of muscles throw themselves at each other like gladiators, simply for the pleasure of viewers at home and in the stadiums. During their time in the sun, they tear ligaments, break bones, and receive skull cracking concussions, only to be sent back out on the field to do it all over again. Bob Carmichael, a former college-football player himself, is a voice against the hold that this violent sport has on our culture. He has produced an Emmy award winning PBS documentary entitled “Football in America” which asks us, “Will it continue to accept widespread and lifelong injury as part of the game?”

American-made, and good old wholesome entertainment, football for many citizens represents the fundamental ideals of our country. While there have been changes in football safety regulations to include more padding and better helmets, the truth is that players are paying with their pound of flesh for the life of a gladiator.