Paying the Price of Football 30 Years Later

Football Injury by Karpati GaborAfter watching two examples of extreme unnecessary roughness that appeared to risk permanent injury to two kids at a high school football game last night, I finally decided it was time to write a post about football and what it means to public works. Because our field is still very dependent on physical labor, it probably isn't a surprise that many employees in the public works field played high school football. Although, I had never really thought about what this would mean until I got into management. Many of the things we do can, at times, require significant physical dexterity, exertion, and strength. And when you become a supervisor you try to monitor your staff to be sure their condition is up to any task they are assigned to make sure they are safe and will not be injured. This is why it's a good idea to take any issues a person is having with their back, joints, or other body parts into consideration when assigning job duties. But, of course, part of the requirement for most public works jobs is to be able to continuously and regularly perform physically demanding tasks. So it becomes a balance of the employee trying to do what they can medically to remain in shape and the employer working with them as much as possible to accommodate them when they are experiencing a problem and need to recover.

While some ailments can show up as a natural part of aging, what I started to notice was that starting mainly in their 40s, the employees who played football in high school seemed to regularly have major problems with their backs, necks, joints, or other parts of their body. Over the years I heard many conversations between guys on our staff or guys out on construction in which they attributed specific problems they had to high school football – sometimes even to specific football injuries they remembered. Based on their stories, it also seemed their pain impacted not only their ability to work, but also their personal life on a regular and on-going basis. The pain and problems it caused seemed so bad for some, I had to wonder if they ever thought it was worth it. If they could go back knowing the end result, would they choose to spend a few years as a teenager playing a game and then pay the price for 20 to 40 years with regular and constant pain and challenges in completing everyday tasks? I realize when we are teenagers, it is very difficult to understand or even care about how we will feel when we are middle aged or older. And unfortunately our country embraces football like a religion so I doubt we will ever get to the point of actively warning kids about the permanent damage they can experience. But as a mother, it is definitely something I would not want or encourage for my child. I also know of other mothers whose children have been actively and regularly asked by coaches to participate in football because of their size and build, and those other families also chose to avoid the risk.

Again, because it is almost sacrilege in the U.S. to suggest anything negative about football, I have never really discussed my observations with others in the field. Nor have I seen anything in our industry literature about it. So I'd be interested in hearing from others if they have had similar observations or if they have a completely opposite outlook on this. I also wonder if people who are in non-physically demanding jobs who played high school football also suffer in the same manner as they age. 


Losing Your Creativity

A couple weeks ago, I attended a meeting with our local business association to hear and participate in a discussion about tax increment financing districts (TIFs). Our TIF attorney made a comment at the meeting something to the effect that “infrastructure is not sexy.” At the time, I interjected my disagreement with his assessment; everyone laughed, and I really didn’t think much more about it until later.

But the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that the general public would probably agree with our TIF attorney. Why is that? There was a time when people were impressed by the achievements of engineers and public works employees. Our contributions to bettering the lives of people were welcomed and appreciated. Now what we achieve seems to be taken for granted, dismissed, ignored, or worse yet criticized. Only within the confines of our own professional groups are these achievements awarded.

But most of us are not working each day trying to win an award or mass recognition for our designs or projects. So why should this change in attitude concern the average public works person?

The critical issue here is that this change in attitude seems to be leading to a complete dismissal of our profession as one that requires creativity in order to deliver a quality product. I realize that even amongst ourselves this may not be apparent because we really do not talk about ourselves or our profession as one that relies on creativity. But each day we face problems that rarely have obvious solutions, and the way we solve them is to tap into our creative abilities to assess situations, many times “think outside of the box,” and then derive the most efficient, acceptable, and cost effective solution that works. And we do this without even thinking about how we do it.

So if we are automatically doing this, why should we be worried about how others view us and our work? Because at one time, when the general public was still awed by our achievements, we were left alone to create, solve problems, and produce. As the world has progressed, this is no longer the case – the companies and agencies for which we work have made changes to staffing and policies that are now stifling the creativity on which we rely.

We now have supervisors who are not trained in our field and don’t understand the thought processes and work environments we need in order to achieve success. With fewer employees in our divisions and groups, we are pushed to achieve more in a shorter amount of time. Politicians often do not heed advice from professionals and experts in a certain field which leads to an imposition of policies and regulations that simply do not work.

I suppose there may still be a lucky few who have not had to experience these types of changes, but from what I can see and from the conversations I have with other professionals, there does not seem to be many of the lucky ones. Instead I hear of engineers who are having to “clock in and out” in a manner similar to that of a factory worker because some accountant for some government agency has decided that the employee might spend an extra 5 minutes or so at lunch.

For myself, I don’t have that problem, but I do have coworkers who are not in the public works department who simply cannot comprehend why I would need to work uninterrupted on anything. And they are unrelenting in their criticism should I try to just shut the door or not answer the phone for any time period at all.

So what is the result of these changes? I see and hear about designs and projects that no longer are the best or most efficient or even well thought out. This obviously leads to, at the least, increased construction costs and a waste of resources, and, at the worst, failures and a potential for loss of lives.

I agree that we as a nation need to invest more in infrastructure, and I think the average citizen would agree, but more importantly, should this funding one day arrive, we need to spend it wisely by coming up with the best designs. And this is only going to happen if we invest in our own creativity despite the obstacles trying to diminish this vital ability.

Next post – Finding your creativity.