Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Smart Football

My friend Michelle is the quintessential football fan. She loves the game. Loves the action, the hitting, and the strategy. I’ve seen her scream at the television, jump up from her desk and run around the office, flailing her hands in the air. I’ve seen her close her eyes and cover her face during a big play. Like she’s watching a scary movie. She told me she turned the Jaguars game off the other night, she was so disgusted. But the only time she cheered was when Chris Weinke was sacked. Not because it was a good Jaguars defensive play mind you, but because Weinke went to FSU. Michelle is a Gator fan, if you didn’t know that already.

Football, both college and professional, needs fans like Michelle. People with a passion for the game who don’t play it. I wonder how the recent spate of deaths on the practice field will affect those peoples’ loyalty to the game.

When Korey Stringer died on the Viking’s practice field, pushing himself past the point of no return, it opened the door for many questions regarding the football mentality. Do the players and coaches expect too much from each other? From themselves? Do the fans buy into that mentality? You’re a wimp if you give up. Push through it, try harder, get up and finish.

I’m old enough to have played football in an era when water was for sissies. Coaches denied us any rest, any break and no water was provided. It was supposed to make you stronger. Tougher in the fourth quarter.

So what happened?

How come players are dropping now with all of the advancements in exercise physiology and off-season training when before we were ignorant of the risks?

There are several theories, all of which I think play a part in the risk factors. Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden thinks lifestyle has something to do with it.

“Kids are in air conditioning all the time now. They’re in the dorms, watching television, playing video games, going to the library and even in the weight room, all in air conditioning,” says the chief Seminole. “Then they go out in the heat and can’t take it. I give ‘em four breaks in practice now and that’s the way I’ll coach from now on.”

Bowden is right about the acclimation factor. The Jaguars’ studies show that it takes an athlete five days to begin the process of getting used to the heat.

“We see it all the time,” says Jacksonville Head Coach Tom Coughlin, “the first five days are critical. After that, they (the players) start to settle in.”

Nutrition also is a factor. On the professional level, exactly what the players eat and drink is monitored at every meal. They’re caloric intake, the amount of fluids they lose and replace is measured for each athlete. It’s less specific as you go down the ladder of organized football. High school players eat what they want, and fast food is usually the training table of choice. Not exactly the nutritional preparation for three-a-days in the hot sun.

Supplements are part of the hidden culture of the game, and a contributing factor to the unknown. Players will try just about anything to get an edge. Supplements are not classified as food, and therefore not regulated. Some can help a player through a tough weightlifting session, but the side effects are a mystery. Some guys sweat more some sweat less. Thermogenic supplements raise an athlete’s metabolism and his heart beats at an immeasurable rate. Some faster than others. Some are fine others are unsafe. Nobody really knows. I’ve taken supplements as an adult and have seen the results in just an everyday workout routine. Imagine a young competitive athlete looking for an edge.

Problem is, nobody really knows.

As fans, we tend to view football players in a different light than other athletes. We see them as gladiators, warriors, somehow in a different class. That’s why guys want to be players, to join that elite class. There’s nothing wrong with a desire for achievement. In fact, ambition is an essential part of the path to greatness. We just need a better model in the future. One exercise induced, heat related death is too many. Stricter testing, better screening and smarter training techniques are in order.

Everybody should enjoy football.

Nobody should have to die for it.