Stickers on Oklahoma and Oklahoma State Universities’ helmets that said “stop opioids” are a timely gesture that affected little lasting change.
During last Saturday’s annual Bedlam game between OU and OSU, players on both teams wore decals that read “STOP OPIOIDS” on their helmets. Earlier this year, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said 2,684 Oklahoman deaths since 2014 have been attributed to opioid use.
While the schools’ sentiments make sense, especially considering that Bedlam seems to hold over half the state’s attention each year, the message will likely fall on deaf ears. Football fans aren’t looking at helmet messages at games; they’re looking at ball movement and the scoreboard. Many attendees likely forgot the message soon after leaving the game, brushing it off as another positive publicity stunt.
Ultimately, the decals will do little for Oklahoma’s opioid epidemic. Some say it’s the thought that counts; however, with lives at stake, actions speak louder than words. What would make sense for two football teams to promote is concussion research. Perhaps hold a press-conference promoting a new, protective helmet design before the game to attract attention to another worthwhile cause that actually pertains to football players?
The opioid initiative is both important and impactful, for Oklahoma and the country as a whole. Just two weeks ago Johns Hopkins released a new report detailing 10 doctor-approved action steps to take in order to curb the epidemic in America. If anything, OSU and OU medical colleges of health could have made public statements about implementing those actions on campuses. Instead, the universities decided the best way to raise awareness was slapping a sticker on a helmet during a football game.
Alas, the effort had good intentions but fell short of the goal. Ask any fan about last week’s game and the first thing out of his mouth probably won’t be “well, those decals sure made me aware of the opioid crisis.” Still, making a public statement as a sports team could open doors for these colleges, as they are the first in the FBS (football’s biggest stage) to call attention to the crisis. What about advertising for obesity, overweight youth or the aforementioned concussions? All things that football either deals with or helps prevent simply by the nature of the sport itself.
Even better could be localized community issues. Does the town have a crime problem? Put an “x” on the helmet for each person who dies from gang violence either in the town or within a certain radius of the school. And start at the beginning of the season. That way players, coaches, fans and media alike are forced to consistently acknowledge the issue they’re purportedly trying to fight.
One can surely appreciate the efforts of OSU and OU to bring attention to a problem in the state. However, there are much more impactful ways of doing so that would make a larger difference. Aside from that, sports teams could become activists for issues related to the sports they play. Alternatively, players themselves could individually make statements about how a certain public crisis affects them personally. All would be much stronger moves in the right direction than pasting a sticker on a helmet.