Imrem: NFL is safe, even if players are not

Football players are so thrilled to be drafted into the NFL that the sport's risks don't seem to matter.

Bears first-round pick Leonard Floyd said, "I can't wait to just get up there and get around these guys and get back to football."

The message is clear: Don't worry, fans, there always will be enough football players eager to play football.

My goodness, did you see the faces on some of the chosen few? They looked like they won Powerball and passed a DreamWorks screen test all at once.

What these young men had in common was they all want to play in the NFL, and their invitations had arrived.

Family members threw arms around the draftees. Friends threw arms in the air.


"I think what the draft is all about," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the NFL Network, "is making dreams come true."

For better or worse, perhaps both, obituaries being prepared for football's demise are premature.

Heck, a story in this newspaper on Saturday centered on Texas school districts spending up to $60 million apiece to build high-school football stadiums.

They'll have no problem finding enough players to fill the fields and fans to fill the seats.

"I've been waiting all my life for this," Bears draftee Deiondre' Hall said. "I'm just thankful for the opportunity."

If young people volunteer to endanger their lives in the military, why wouldn't others volunteer to endanger their health in football?

The money is better and the victory parades gaudier.

Americans remain addicted to football even after hearing horror stories from former football players suffering from brain trauma.

Some parents are so frightened by this that their kids never will take up the game. Other kids play but quit sooner than later. Still others play and won't quit until nobody wants them anymore.

The sport will persist as long as high school girls still like football players, colleges still offer football scholarships and the NFL still is so rewarding.

Did you see all the fans enduring the rain in downtown Chicago just to be close to the draft? Did you see all the grown-ups dressed in uniform tops of their favorite players? Did you see all the folks mugging for the cameras like these were the happiest days of their lives, too?

Those people idolize football players, and being idolized is a gift that's difficult to turn down.

Oh, and then there's the money.

Fulfill an NFL rookie contract and you're on the way to a lifetime of financial security. Fulfill a second contract and you have generational wealth.

The trade-off, of course, is that football's toll can be brutal.

For decades, an NFL player lived with the possibility that broken bones, blown-out knees and other compromised body parts would turn him into an invalid before his time.

Now the fear is that brain damage will leave him unable to think straight in the real world and maybe depressed enough to commit suicide.

But whenever football players are finished playing football, younger football players will step up to replace them.

"I'm going to play wherever the coaches tell me to play," Bears draftee Cody Whitehair said, "and I'm just excited to get on the field."

Football's future is safe even if football players aren't.

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