Your Ethics Alarms Super Bowl Guilt Trip

You know that by watching the Super Bowl, you’re helping to kill and cripple young men, right?

Sure you do.

You and people like you watch the Super Bowl, maybe hold parties around it, allowing the NFL to make millions of dollars selling ads and merchandise off of the most watched sporting event of the year. And, of course, the popularity of the Super Bowl makes it the year’s #1 promotion for the billion dollar mega-industry that is the National Football League, and down the line, for billion dollar corrupt big time college football, and in places like Texas and other regions warped by the “Friday Night Lights” mentality, high school football, and further down the line, youth football, where kids a young as 8 begin getting the blows to the head that will help make them confused and dysfunctional in their fifties or earlier if they play long enough…and maybe even if the don’t.

Hey, these are great nachos! Is this a microbrew? Look at that funny ad!

The film above, “Concussion Protocol,” was released this month, and shows a compilation of every reported concussion this season. Directed by Josh Begley and produced by Laura Poitras,  it is believed to be a nearly complete compilation of the NFL’s reported 281 concussions this season, the most since 2012. The NFL, which is affirmatively evil, is spinning this as a good thing, pointing out that it means that players are self-reporting their head injuries more often.

Sure. That must be it. Bravo! Problem solved. DE-Fence!

A study released in January showed that a single serious head injury creates a significant risk of dementia decades later. But concussions are not the whole problem, and maybe not even the main problem.

A study published last month in Brain, a journal of neurology, indicated that repetitive hits to the head that don’t lead to concussions, with no loss of consciousness or other symptoms that like headaches, dizziness, vision problems or confusion, still cause CTE, the brain disease that 100 former NFL players have been found to have following a postmortem diagnosis. CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative disease that causes severe neurological problems including memory loss, confusion, aggression, and dementia.

“We’ve had an inkling that subconcussive hits — the ones that don’t [show] neurological signs and symptoms — may be associated with CTE,”  Dr. Lee Goldstein, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and the lead investigator on the study told NPR. “We now have solid scientific evidence to say that is so. The concussions we see on the ballfield or the battlefield or wherever — those people are going to get attention because it’s obvious they’ve had some sort of injury. We’re really worried about the many more people who are getting hit and getting hurt — their brain is getting hurt — but are not getting help because we can’t see the evidence on the outside that their brain is actually hurt. It’s a silent injury.”

And it would make a boring film: “Non Concussion Protocol.”

Adds Chris Nowinski, who heads the Concussion Legacy Foundation: “We see the hard hits all the time, where a guy pops up and smiles and [signals] a first down, and [we think], ‘OK, that hit was fine.’ But what this study says is: No, that hit probably wasn’t fine, and that poor guy can’t feel the damage that’s happening in his brain right now.”

About 20% of known cases of CTE had no record or report of a concussion.

In case you are wondering, footballs helmets don’t prevent these head injuries. They make them worse. But they look really cool and kids love to wear them, so there’s that.

This Sunday’s Super Bowl match between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles is already shadowed by the sport’s brain damage feature. Patriots’ star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, was only cleared earlier this week for play after sustaining a concussion in the NFL Conference Championships win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 21. Of course, “Gronk” will have the IQ of a vole when he’s 60 if he lives that long, but it should be a great game. The NFL will have in place four concussion specialists around the field to make it look like it cares. This might reduce the class action damages later.

So watch the game; after all, not every player you watch is getting brain disease for your enjoyment, just 99%.  As long as you don’t kid yourself that you’re not an essential part of the cynical carnage in this business masquerading as sport that trades lives and families for fun and profit. In the alternative, you could do something else—I’m taking my family to see “The Darkest Hour”— and contribute to a fortuitous trend this season of Americans finally getting fed up with football. It’s doubtful that most of them turned the channel because of CTE; the NFL’s silly kneelers unintentionally helped the cause, and there are some other factors, but never mind: in ethics, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is still the right thing.

It’s your choice. If you do choose to cheer on the Pats and the Eagles, though, don’t pretend that you don’t know what you’re really cheering, enabling, and ensuring will keep ruining lives.

[The Ethics Alarms posts on this topic can be found here.]


Sources: Vox, NPR, WebMD, USA Today, Popular Science,


22 thoughts on “Your Ethics Alarms Super Bowl Guilt Trip

  1. To avoid partaking in the unethical spectacle of the supervw, we’ll be taking the kids to the neighborhood Dog Fight. Plus it’ll be good because my primary supplier of methphetines will be there.

    Just kidding. We’re only hanging out at the house chilling and watching movies. I think, unless their child is sick, we have friends coming over to play Spades.

  2. Agree with you or not on the general topic, if you are concerned about confirmation bias, you should be very suspicious of your 99% stat. I doubt that it comes from a representative sample. In fact, it probably comes from a biased sample. But, you might be right, they may one day find that Alan Page too suffers from CTE.

    Also, making predictions about Gronk’s medical condition 25 years out makes you sound like a global warming enthusiast. Of course, their doomsday scenarios are usually further out. But, the thought process is generally the same.


    • How could that be confirmation bias? 99% of all NFL players who have had their brains examined after death for CTE have had it. That’s a fact. . Now, there may be other reasons the results are misleading—these are NFL players whose estates have allowed the autopsies. But it’s not confirmation bias.

      • Jack – who gets an autopsy is a bias to the sample. Not everyone who dies gets one.

        And no, I’m far from pro NFL. There are so many reasons not to be. CTE, the directionless “protest” and the fact that the arguably least ethical team being in the finals. Plus I think it is a step above WWE, where I’m suspicious about the consistency of the calls directing who wins.

      • It is a technically true statitistic (from an obviously biased sample, as Matthew B suggests). Your bias against football makes you stupid in this instance. You are either unable to look at that 99% skeptically to see a flaw in the number that appears obvious, or, because the number helps confirm your belief that football is bad that you have not even thought to apply critical thinking to the number.

        That’s what I meant.


        • AH! Then you can bite me. You’re spinning. My position hasn’t changed one iota because of that study, which is was new in 2017. I don’t know if deciding that a sport that causes brain damage in a large percentage of its participants disqualification for the sport as a proper activity for civilized human beings to support can be called a “bias.” Check the posts. What’s large? Large is a sufficient % that the NFL knows it is putting its employees and the families at an unacceptable risk. If the NFL was a food or a drug it would be banned. Since my position regarding football doesn’t rely in any way on that study, your argument qualifies you as a football rationalizing chump. That’s what I mean.

          • No, you are citing a technically true study that is misleading. I think you would call that a lie.

            And, nowhere have I rationalized the NFL’s position. I hate the violence in the game. I played as a youth but would not let my children play.

            I think it is a great sport. I also think it has run into a dire .400 hitter scenario. Baseball will never have another .400 hitter again because, among other things, pitching has gotten so much better and relievers come in so much sooner. Football has seen a similar progression with more devastating results.
            Football has gotten far more dangerous because everybody is stronger and faster. All of this enhances the danger, and I am not sure that problem is solvable. Out of all the major sports, the increased athleticism is likely to be most devastating for football. Hockey, basketball and soccer all involve contact, but are less regularly violent. The speed of hockey can make for devastating injuries, and heading in soccer can be bad, but does not appear to be as repetitive. Even rugby, which can be violent, does not have the same problems, probably because they lack the forward pass and sacks are less important.

            But, in any case, I am not going to be conned by a stupid number. You said you don’t depend on particular study, but, you linked to one. If you linked to a study you knew was flawed to prove something you believe, you are not being honest.

            As for me rationalizing anything though that was an inference you made merely from the fact I disagreed with you, not because of anything I said (except for pointing out that you are relying on a study whose flaws could hopefully be identified by any 2nd semester philosophy student.

            Sure, it might be that 72% of all football players (or 60%, or 50%, or 38% (that’s still too much of a risk)) will suffer from CTE. I don’t care what the exact number is. I bet it is too high. But, don’t quote a 99% study, if you think the exact number doesn’t matter. It makes you look like you have no critical thinking skills. Bias makes you stupid.


            • It’s not flawed. It says what it says. 110 out of 111 brains of deceased NFL players examined have shown signs of CTE. That’s a big sample. The brains were not checked in advance for CTE. The result was unexpected. It indicates that strongly playing pro football causes CTE. The only people who are making the argument you are are football enablers. Your position is essentially the same as the justification tobacco used for decades to claim cigarettes didn’t cause cancer, and that those studies were “misleading.”

              Here’s the study, which concluded as carefully as possible,” In a convenience sample of deceased football players who donated their brains for research, a high proportion had neuropathological evidence of CTE, suggesting that CTE may be related to prior participation in football.” Until there is evidence to the contrary,and there isn’t, I’ll agree that my flip comment “So watch the game; after all, not every player you watch is getting brain disease for your enjoyment, just 99%” was hyperbolic. I should have just said, “a lot of them.” But since I linked to the study, no one was misled. The Times wrote:

              The set of players posthumously tested by Dr. McKee is far from a random sample of N.F.L. retirees. “There’s a tremendous selection bias,” she has cautioned, noting that many families have donated brains specifically because the former player showed symptoms of C.T.E.

              But 110 positives remain significant scientific evidence of an N.F.L. player’s risk of developing C.T.E., which can be diagnosed only after death. About 1,300 former players have died since the B.U. group began examining brains. So even if every one of the other 1,200 players had tested negative — which even the heartiest skeptics would agree could not possibly be the case — the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly higher than in the general population.

  3. I gave up watching years ago. I used to watch before money corrupted the game. Now with the CTE issue I have even more reason not to watch.

    When you live through the issues of traumatic brain injury first hand you see the long term outcomes associated with concussive injury

    When you have to take care of your son or daughter as a TBI patient for years as we have you will see how a vibrant young person is slowly transformed into increasingly dependent human being. You will watch how the seizures begin to increase in both frequency and duration. You will see the increases in medications to control the seuzures. You will see the behavioral problems associated with tge meds and the injury. YOu will see the long term effects of the meds as they create conditions for a massive stroke. Finally, you will see the nurse administer the morphine push to decrease the respiration of your brain dead child while you cry as you say your good byes; as we did.

  4. In case you are wondering, footballs helmets don’t prevent these head injuries. They make them worse. But they look really cool and kids love to wear them, so there’s that.

    The reason helmets make concussion worse is that it makes it hurt far less when someone smacks their head over and over again. It does make me a bit curious if the solution is as simple as taking the helmets away? That way, it will hurt every time they hit their heads so they will do it less.

    Tangentially, I wonder about the CTE rate in soccer? The concussion rate in soccer is even higher than football because the harder skull to skull hits are more common. But with evidence pointing towards the frequent, smaller hits repeated so many times over and over again being a better predictor of CTE vs. the concussions leads me to ask that question. If the CTE rate is lower in soccer, then it would point to the use of helmets being a key ingredient of the high rate of CTE in football.

  5. No thanks, they lost me with their hypocritical handling of the brainless protest that has kept Krappernick relevant long after he would just have been another pro athlete whose time had come and gone.

  6. We get a good seat in a nice restaurant on Super Bowl Sunday, preferably one without a television on.

    We saw “Darkest Hour” yesterday. I’m interested in your take on it.

  7. Jack, I fully agree with your sentiments, and your ineradicably rational arguments.

    The sad thing is: there is such a thing as human nature — and it revels in violence, preferably vicariously. This does not make it more palatable or justifiable. It just makes it inevitable.

    That said, I am content to see the highlights of this game [and/or content not too, frankly], preferably in slow-motion, and entirely skip the game. Because the NFL is indeed crassly commercial, and football is a brutal, gladitorial game. And it starts in high school, as you remind us. We know this. But, alas, it’s here to stay. In some form or other. It’s not different from boxing, really, or Roman gladitorial contests, or Mayan ball games. An ugly thing to contemplate, to be sure. An institutionalized form of tragedy and sacrifice, really.

    On the other hand [which is why there is some residual conflict in my mind]: Do you remember a show in the late 1960’s called AFL Highlights? With the voice of the amazing John Facienda [I think?]. What it taught me:
    Football in slow-motion is balletic, and beautiful. But in real life, quite ugly.

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