(Source) The 1985 Chicago Bears embodied hard-nosed football, but three decades later their equally tough-minded Hall of Fame coach — who once famously declared, “If God had wanted man to play soccer, he wouldn’t have given us arms” — is rethinking his game plan. That’s right: Even Mike Ditka is questioning the violent nature of the sport in the wake of advancements in concussion research and his own experience with veterans plagued by health problems. In an upcoming HBO “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” feature on a Bears squad that President Barack Obama dubbed “the greatest team in NFL history,” Ditka says “the risk is worse than the reward” of playing football, telling Gumbel he would dissuade children from participating in the sport.
Thanks to a transcription from ChicagoFootball.com, here is the exchange between Ditka and Gumbel.
“If you had an 8-year-old kid now, would you tell him you want him to play football?” Ditka asks Gumbel.
When Gumbel answers that he wouldn’t, he returns to the question to Ditka. Ditka shakes his head no.
“Nope — and that’s sad,” Ditka said in the piece. “I wouldn’t. My whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”
Reinforcing Ditka’s point, former Bears defensive end Richard Dent and quarterback Jim McMahon detail their respective post-playing health conditions in the HBO feature, which is scheduled to air Tuesday. Dent outlined the team’s use of painkillers and alcohol as postgame treatment and describes himself as “damaged goods.” Meanwhile, McMahon suffers from early onset dementia and says he understands the suicide of teammate Dave Duerson, who suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Wait a second. This doesn’t seem right. I mean I totally understand people being concerned with CTE and the violent nature of football. If you don’t want your kid to play that’s your choice as a parent. And some of the stories that have been told in the past 5-10 years are pretty horrific. Guys not realizing the full effect and negative impact of football until long after the fact when it’s far too late. But the last person who can say that Playing Football is worse than the reward is Coach Ditka. The very last. I love Ditka in a “he’s like a funny grandfather that you don’t take too seriously” type of way but this is crazy. No one, not a single person in this world, has benefited more from football than Coach Ditka. He has made millions upon millions of dollars solely off the 85 Bears and his football career. So the only thing that I can say about this is he had no idea what he was saying when he said it. He must have been confused or something. A little foggy in the brain if you will. That’s it, because otherwise these statements would make Mike Ditka a hypocrite, and that’s not the Mike Ditka I know. Nope, this was all just a big misunderstanding. Glad we cleared it up.