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Protectors of the Pigskin

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I hope that Darryl Stingley's efforts to convince the NFL and its players to consider safety more carefully will eventually pan out ["Vicious Game," January 3], but I have my doubts that very much will be done.

For one thing, the most dangerous period of professional football is long past and actually precedes Mr. Stingley's playing days. When what is now known as professional football (and by extension the semiprofessional college teams) made its debut in the United States, the amount of injuries, maimings, and deaths was so severe that the government considered banning it until reforms were instituted that changed the sport from one that made headlines for body counts to what it is now.

Then there is the attitude that I can best express in examining the differences in the way some of our local sportswriters treated the deaths of Rashidi Wheeler, Korey Stringer, and Dale Earnhardt. When Earnhardt died in a strange, comparatively low-speed crash at Daytona, local writers like Jay Mariotti and Carol Slezak all but called for the outright ban of auto racing; the deaths of Wheeler and Stringer inspired no such outcry. Considering that auto racing is known to all its participants to be inherently dangerous, even deadly, a death is not an unusual occurrence, although no one treats those deaths as trivial matters.

However, even with the criticism given to Wheeler's university and toward the Minnesota Vikings in regard to Stringer's death, there was a palpable difference in the way these incidents were treated: Earnhardt's death was viewed, implicitly or explicitly, as a product of a bunch of careless, crazy rednecks. One writer actually called auto racing a "blood sport." No such criticism was leveled at college- or NFL-level football in the deaths of the two athletes. The game remained sacrosanct. There was an aberration; certainly the culture of football couldn't be to blame. The death of the two players was treated more as the fall of noble warriors, not of two men who didn't think enough to stop when they felt miserable. My opinion is that the NFL and college football treat safety in much the same way they treat steroid use: a scapegoat will be sacrificed every season to keep the fans from looking behind the curtain.

Michael Reese

Chicago

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