Did You Enjoy Your Pro Football Today? Here’s What You Were Cheering For…


From “Frontline”:

Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they’ve examined and in 79 percent of all football players. The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia.

In total, the lab has found CTE in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school.

Any other non-essential industry that carried this much risk of crippling injury and death for its employees would be immediately the object of public protests, activist action, new government regulation and major fines and sanctions. Because of all the money involved and because of an ongoing effort by the NFL to deflect attention from its unconscionable business (there was more uproar over Tom Brady’s suspension than there has been over the concussion scandal), players are still getting brain-injured every Sunday, Monday and Thursday while the crowds cheer, the beer flows and the networks cash in. Parents still steer their kids into playing tackle football, and the carnage continues.

Yes, pro football is an exciting game. Too bad that keeping it exciting kills people, but it does. The game isn’t worth it.

No game is.

I wonder how long it will take for that to sink in?

20 thoughts on “Did You Enjoy Your Pro Football Today? Here’s What You Were Cheering For…

  1. In a world where living babies are routinely killed and carefully cut up for use in research, or because their mothers have other things to do, it’s not so surprising.
    Bread and circuses. Not a rationalization. A condemnation of the brutal callousness of our society.

  2. “how long it will take for that to sink in”

    Literally? Let’s see. It took modern prizefighting – a parallel interest to spectators – 334 years to die down to the level it is today. (Boxing as a sport had been outlawed, even among Roman gladiators. in 393 A.D. “for excessive brutality.”) It didn’t attract the general public again for the next thirteen centuries. If we consider that football is its closest relative as a popular bloodsport — the onlookers getting approximately the same kick out of it — and that American football went national only 85 years ago, around 1930 . . .

    . . . then, comparably, the attraction — of men destroying their brains and bodies for a few years of money (and prestige and privilege) for the mere entertainment of spectators — may not be expected to wane for another 250 years.

    • Roman and Greek boxing were even more brutal than the bare knuckle boxing that was “ameliorated” by the introduction of leather gloves and padded helmets: the boxers strapped lead strips to the outsides of their fists to add punch. Also, if the factual background material to Poul Anderson’s short story The Pugilist is to be believed, the Romans removed their boxers’ penes while leaving the testicles, so as to increase their frustrated rage while leaving their musculature and stamina unatrophied. It was a much harsher sport altogether.

      I put “ameliorated” in inverted commas as there is some evidence that it only reduced the visible gore but increased the sort of blows leading to brain injury – precisely the effect that such measures had when American football was modified from Rugby football. Also, I have recently read some reports that human hands and cheekbones co-evolved to give and receive punches more safely, particularly among adult males (I can actually recall that, as a child, my hands naturally formed fists with my thumbs tucked inside my fingers and that boxing gloves felt awkward and unnatural to wear – but now I find that my thumbs fall naturally outside my fingers when I form a fist).

  3. I watched a few documentaries that included Henry VIII in the last few months. Currently, he is thought of as a kind of monster, chopping off the heads of his wives at a whim. Early on, he was a very intelligent, athletic, well-liked kind of Renaissance man. All indications were that he loved Catherine (he was married to her for 24 years), but he needed an heir and she was past child-bearing years. He spent 7 years trying to marry Anne Boleyn, and all indications are that he loved her passionately. Something happened to Henry and his personality changed. He became more brutal, his temper ran out of control. His mood could change for no reason instantly.

    Finally, one documentary hit on the cause. He had an accident in a joust. His horse (a horse wearing armor) rolled over him, crushing him. He was unconscious for over 2 hours. He had an ulcer in his leg that never healed, making him an invalid in constant pain. In addition, his personality changed. None of the documentaries connected the incident to his later behavior. There is a traumatic brain injury, written all over the pages of history.

  4. Huge issue. Thanks for keeping it in the spotlight, Jack. It needs to be. What are youth leagues and high schools thinking? I’m convinced guys I know from high school (in the late ‘sixties) are suffering from depression and other disorders from football related brain injuries. At the time, we thought they were crazy to play football. Turns out we were right. And now they’re certifiable. Awful.

  5. Four things:
    1. I recently read (in an earlier post?) that a few (six or seven) up-and-coming young NFL stars just quit — with great careers ahead of them: they went public with their reasoning — to wit, their new knowledge of CTE and their decision that it “just wasn’t worth it.” Seen anything about this in the mainstream media? Seen these guys interviewed? Nope.
    2. A previous reply citing Roman gladiators is a potent one. We “peace-loving” Americans just love “controlled” violence, and though unlike the Romans who had gladiators fight to the death (on the spot), we — a much more “civilized” society — are perfectly willing to let ours die slowly (and with much less mercy) for our own current amusement.
    3. The money involved will keep pro football going. I give it at least 10 years before we bow to the inhumanity of it — above entertainment and the money involved. (Who can start a boycott of companies advertising on pro-football games?)
    4. I continue to see young fathers in an adjacent park tossing footballs/teaching their very young sons this game. What the hell are they thinking? How moronic can they be?

    • Playing catch or touch football is fun. It’s when the plastic helmets and plastic shoulder pads (and psychotic volunteer youth league and HS coaches) come out that it gets dangerous. I continue to believe that ultimately the helmets will come off a la rugby and the game will survive in that form.

      • Other Bill: I’ve seen both with fathers and young sons… some just tossing a football around and some with kids in helmets. My bottom line here is that there’s a very good reason for today’s young fathers to simply “play AT” another game, one that won’t likely lead to tackle football, high school injuries, etc. Good luck with your rugby scenario; that’s one solution I hadn’t heard before.

        • I’ve even seen an NFL doctor discuss it as the likely solution. Plus I recently saw an article about a small college program that has their players practice WITHOUT HELMETS during the week and then play with helmets to develop safer techniques. A weird stopgap, but still an interesting development.

    • Beth: Aside from the quasi-sexist nature of your comment, I have one major warning for you. The daughter of a friend of mine played soccer (the “safe” game) from middle school through high school. She had SIX (count ’em) concussions, several major, and is herself worried now about CTE.

      • It’s not “quasi-sexist” — there aren’t a lot of female high school or college football players. Name any without the assistance of google. As for soccer (and I’ll add field hockey and a few other sports to that list), I agree with you completely. It’s something that we will monitor very closely. Right now, they aren’t in any field sports.

        • Beth: You’re right… I was thinking of all field sports for women… Apologies on that one. Don’t keep them out of Little League, tho. Much fewer injuries, and Little League has very protective rules… I know, because my son played from T-ball through the “majors” in Little League until he “aged out,” never had an injury of any kind, and still loves the game. Also, even then (he’s 20 now) there were a growing number of girls in Little League, and I’m sure there are more now. Projection: first female in pro field sports will be baseball…

          • There is a superstar female baseball player in France who might be the first MLB player. Did I read about her here maybe? I’m getting old … can’t remember my sources.

            • Marshall will admonish us for getting off topic here, but… I think there’s a female player in the US that everyone thinks could play major league ball… the question is, of course, whether MLB will get off the dime and let women play before she’s too old to be the first!

              • Women and girls should be allowed to compete in any sport they choose. But none of them will be able to. How many guys can even cut it in college, never mind the major leagues? Answer: a microscopic few. Major league athletes are FREAKS of nature. I say, go ahead, open up sports to women, but let’s also open up women’s tennis and soccer and golf and fast pitch softball and basketball to guys and see how long the women stand a chance. Just consider how many marginal pro golfers would love to cash checks on the women’s tours. All of them.

                • A conundrum, I agree. Though the military has begun to allow the female “freaks of nature” to engage in combat, even as special ops personnel, the pro sports field — if de-gendered — would indeed be a mess. Clearly, I have to think more about this — when I have the time and/or the interest in spending my time pondering it…

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