By Jay Young
When you come right down to it, the world of sports reporting is ruled by trends.
We've all watched on excitedly at the countless criminal scandals, performance enhancing drugs in baseball, bankrupt NBA players, and on down the list.... these are the chapter headlines that label sports history.
What will we look back on in a few years and remember about this time?
Well as we speak, the world of professional sports is being consumed by a resurgent topic: head injuries. Concern over concussions in the NFL has come to a boiling point in recent years and months, and now the NHL has been drawn into the middle of the safety fray.
Several weeks ago more than 200 players from the league joined in a massive lawsuit seeking damages for head injuries sustained on the ice. And you can bet that this is not something that will be easily swept under the rug.
The looming shadow of the problem has already grown too great to ignore. It is an affair that involves people's livelihoods, their families, their legacies, and their happiness.
The issue is irredeemably charged with emotion.
The event that sticks in my mind for consequential head injuries is the unexpected death of Pro-Bowl linebacker Junior Seau in 2012.
After spending 19 seasons in the NFL, Seau took his own life at the age of 43 amid swarms of controversy.
Something known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was cited in Seau's autopsy, a specific type of degenerative brain damage likely caused by years of concussive hits on the field.
The disease is characterized by fits of depression, memory loss, problems with cognition and a host of other tragic symptoms.
Ever since the official investigation of the suicide, the NFL has come under unending media scrutiny and now drastic rule changes and lawsuits have changed the face of pro football. Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it his personal vendetta to stop concussions from happening on the field, whatever the cost.
So far that cost has been around $765 million, which was paid out to thousands of ex-players and their families at the conclusion of a front-page lawsuit this August.
But the controversy amongst NHL players has taken on a different tone. Dare I say a more reasonable one.
In addition to the players seeking compensation for their long-term injuries, there are those who remain ardently unwilling to seek legal action.
In an recent interview with the Associated Press, long-time NHL player Jeremy Roenick offered his own uncompromising opinion on the issue.
"I've always lived in the fact that I played the game of hockey knowing there was a lot of risk to be taken," he noted. "I went on the ice knowing that my health and my life could be altered in a split second, and I did it because I loved the game."
That statement has changed the way I look at head trauma in professional sports. We can muddle the issue all we like with appeals to emotion, but in reality filing a lawsuit against the NFL or NHL for concussions is unfair.
No one who makes it to the highest levels of professional competition is unaware of the dangers around them, it just is not possible.
Yes there is new scientific evidence that head-trauma has previously unknown long-term consequences, but that does not give pro athletes the right to seek damages with the benefit of hindsight.
You can't file a lawsuit against McDonalds for making you fat (not that people haven't tried of course), for the same reason you shouldn't be able to sue the NHL for head injuries.
Do you think that players from the 1970s stepped onto the ice without helmets gleefully unaware of the possibility that a mustachioed caveman brandishing a large stick might try and decapitate them?
Of course not. They understood the risks and for today's players to pretend that they don't is ridiculous.
If the logic behind these types of legal cases held any water, we would live in a world without violent sports. There would be no reason for games such as hockey or football to exist at the professional level, let alone boxing or mixed-martial arts.
We have to be candid about the sporting world that we live in. There is a reason that NFL running backs make $4 million a year carrying a little leather ball in between guys with the proportions of Norse gods - because it is dangerous.
The problem is, at the crux, a human one. People have always been terrible at understanding time on a large scale and the consequences of their actions. It's why we live in a world of rampant obesity, crippling addiction, unsustainable political systems and violent sports.
No one wants to take a moment and look a few inches in front of their own nose.
Pro athletes believe they deserve their exorbitant salaries because they can do something everyone else can't, not because they will do it. But the two facts are principally intertwined. You don't get the talent without risk, and you don't get risk without talent.
Everyone knows that big winnings come from big gambles.
There are really only two options available to solve this concussion conundrum, and the first one is not very appealing.
We can stop where we are and nerf the world some more. The NHL and the NFL can come out and say "We can't play anymore because the human costs are just too high."
That possibility does not seem very likely. A better option is to address the problem without placing blame and consider the available solutions.
Better helmets, new medical research and comprehensive understanding of sports culture are the answers to head-injuries.
Whatever money the leagues pay out in suits I can guarantee you one thing, it isn't all going to fixing the problem.
Guys such as Roenick are setting an important example for the sports world. They are respecting their own life decisions, they aren't taking the easy way out of the woods.
Believe me I understand that the problem is not, and never will be, simple. When you lay eyes on a once great player who can barely speak, you glean a different perspective on contact sports.
But revisionist complaints are not the proper way to move forward.