You Have Two Weeks To Be Ethical And Decide Not To Watch The Super Bowl

Let me say something good about the New York Times: not all of it’s editorials are repetitious attacks on President Trump, just most of them. Last week editorial board member Alex Kinsbury persuaded his colleague to let him used the space for an opinion both ethical and irrefutable. A quick summary: Football is maiming its players, the NFL doesn’t care, and if you watch the Super Bowl and support its sponsors, you’re complicit.

But then you knew that, right? At least you know it if you’re been coming here for any length of time.

Recalling a hard hit on Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, Kinsbury writes, “As the sound of the hit faded into a commercial break, I realized with absolute certainty that I couldn’t watch football anymore. There aren’t enough yards to gain or Super Bowl rings to win that are worth the cost.”

True. What took you so long? He continues by reviewing the well-publicized data:

The first research into the link between football and traumatic brain injury was published in 2005. Since then, the science has become impossible to ignore. In 2017, The Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of the autopsies of the brains of 111 deceased former N.F.L. players, whose relatives gave their bodies up for study. The group was not a random sample, yet 110 showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a degenerative brain disease linked to concussions. Research published in November estimated that a minimum of 10 percent of all professional football players would develop C.T.E. at some point in their lives.

10% is wishful thinking, even for the  players who can still think.

Research published in The Journal of Pediatrics last month found that concussion rates for youth football players were higher than previously reported. In all, some 5 percent of all youth football players receive concussions each year, a figure that may sound low, but compounds with each additional year of play. In 2017, a study found that playing football before age 12 doubled the risk of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive functioning. It tripled the risk of elevated depression…

Technology — in the form of, say, better helmets — will not save the game. Researchers note that helmets don’t prevent all concussions and might be making the problem worse, by giving players a false sense of invincibility.

Yeah, whatever. The Super Bowl this year should be terrific!

Then I learned something new and disgusting about Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback who is also an ethics corrupter.Brady told a sports radio show last month that “Your body gets used to the hits. The brain understands the position that you are putting your body into, and my brain is wired for contact. I would say in some ways it has become callous to some of the hits.”

Maybe Tom’ brain is already melting. More likely, he is just an unscrupulous tool of his industry. Brady’s former teammate, Ted Johnson, is 45 and suffering from symptoms characteristic of early Alzheimer’s disease as a results of all those concussions his brain was “used to.” He called Tom’s  remarks “irresponsible.”

That’s an understatement.

16 thoughts on “You Have Two Weeks To Be Ethical And Decide Not To Watch The Super Bowl

  1. I’ll preface this by saying I have not watched football in over 5 years and would not have allowed my son to play had he shown any interest, lucky he did not. I lost interest as a fan for many reasons, but player safety was partially a concern, and was the main motivation behind not wanting my son to play.

    With that said, I think the studies done up to this point, including the one in JAMA, need to be read with caution. There are no case-control, let along cohort, studies I am aware of looking at the risk of CTE from playing football. Most of the data is coming from case reports and convenience samples, which can not generate causal inferences and do not have the design needed to calculate risk estimates. Again, the case report data is very troubling and causal pathways are easy to hypothesis and likely true, but again without appropriate studies I would hesitate to draw iron clad conclusions.

    Last point, this area needs further study. I presume the NFL does not want, and will fight, any effort to design and run the types of studies that would link football causally with CTE and could be used to quantify the actual risks. If they are in fact blocking this work it’s shameful. Again, I have no love for the sport and am not a fan, but I am a scientist and feel a responsibility to point out that this research is currently very limited.

    • Smokers “knew” that smoking was bad for them back in the 20’s, but there were no causal studies. Since you can’t check for CTE until someone is dead, the conclusive data will be hard to acquire. You can’t ban football based on the research so far. I can say, however, “What I do know is good enough for me.”

      • Just like moderate drinkers ‘know’ it has health benefits, or is that only wine, or maybe it’s just…. This is the problem with case reports and convenience samples, sometimes they actually are showing causal interactions, but sometimes they’re not, and we don’t actually know the truth until better studies are done. While early studies from the 20s on showed a potential link to lung cancer, it was not until the prospective cohort studies were done in the 50s that the link had strong evidence. But those earlier studies could have easily turned out to be spurious, it’s hindsight bias to say ‘Smokers “knew” that smoking was bad for them back in the 20’s’. There are plenty of examples of things people ‘knew’ which turned out to be false, e.g. low-fat diets are healthy, ulcers are caused by stress, the entire replication crisis in social sciences…

        Additionally, while there may be evidence of a link, the estimates of risk are not available at all, and are extremely important. Are we talking about a 75% chance of developing CTE or a 3% chance, does the average recreational player have different risks, what are those risk in comparison to other sports? All important questions, all require better studies, all studies I would strongly support spending public money on.

        Again, the smoking history is instructive, because well after that strong evidence was available, the tobacco companies fought it hard. I assume the NFL will do the same, and it’s shameful. I also happen to agree that the current studies raise enough serious questions to prompt me to personally question the sports safety and prohibit my kids from playing, but that’s a different risk/reward calculation than what you are proposing. You appear far more certain than I believe the data supports.

        • When I look at the studies, they can see definite damage in the brains of the football players even if they didn’t play pro. No one has tried to check the high school players, but I suspect the damage will show up there as well. I don’t need to wait for the effect of this damage on behavior to be demonstrated, it is not something anyone should be intentionally doing to themselves.

          We just don’t seem to learn. We knew boxers suffered terrible health effects later in life from being hit in the head. We added padding and medical exams and it didn’t help. I thought boxing was just done for. After each well publicized match, it seemed like the medical ruling was that the boxers needed to take 6 months or longer off to heal. Then MMA came along and I wondered how in the world this could be allowed. How long will it be before the MMA fighters start suffering the same way boxers did. Do we need to wait for the symptoms to show up in a decade or two before we stop this? It isn’t like we don’t know what is going to happen. Knocking someone out in MMA in 2015 isn’t somehow less damaging than knocking someone out boxing in 1950. It is like introducing a car with no crumple zones, no side door beams, no seatbelts, no airbags and home window glass in 2019 and justifying it by claiming it isn’t a car, it is a velocipede because I put a trailing 5th wheel on it.

          • Rome’ gladiator games are big money and exciting, aren’t they? Science and death are scary. Most fans either don’t care about the other guy from sitting on their couch, or dream of themselves/kids hitting the jackpot to be rich and arrest-proof.

            We’ve played poker or other games for almost thirty years. “Blood and Circuses” is not just an old Trek episode…

  2. I still remember watching “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” which seems just like yesterday but it aired on October 8, 2013 on Frontline. There was a lot of talk about CTE from football for a short period after that aired and the movie Concussion came out in 2015; however, it definitely has faded from public view in the last couple of years. I don’t hear much about it at all other than the mentions in your posts (which I read every day).

    I don’t have any evidence, but, I’m pretty sure the NFL took extreme measures to suppress anything related to concussions and CTE. One method, in my opinion, was to say they’ve introduced safe guards and taken the steps to remove players (for a game or two) who get a concussion or hits that may have caused a concussion.

    Again, the concussion and CTE problem associated with playing football seems to have mostly disappeared from public scrutiny.

    • I see the medical research on it from time to time. It just gets worse each time, but I guess people are willing to sacrifice the kids for football.

    • I had the cynical thought that that was the reason the kneeling protest was not brought under control when it started. It pulled attention away from a health crisis that disproportionately affects blacks. But that’s okay, their families are well rewarded, right? \sarcasm

      A lot more get hurt by CTE than cops.

  3. Yo, Tom Brady: We’re only immortal for a few years. Good luck in your later years. (He sounds like our high school coaches back in the ’60s: “Walk it off, son.”)

  4. I like the game and played it in my youth.

    Probably never good enough to get hit hard enough to get a concussion. My brother got one though and he was playing on the line, which is a little surprising for a high school game.

    Will not let my son play it.

    What Jack says about it is right (have to throw in a KABOOM! For even typing that): the safety gear gives you a sense of invincibility. I noticed that when I was 11; I could run into people and not get hurt.

    It would probably be difficult to move football in the direction of rugby, as far as protection goes, but i suspect it can’t continue as it is, even if the league makes attempts to make it safer as is. The basic physics of the game (mass x velocity) are bad enough; it is worse, if you try to lessen the impact of the basic physics of the game, because the physics stays the same.

    It is too bad, because it is an interesting game.


    • It’s counter intuitive, but getting rid of helmets and plastic pads (and becoming like rugby) is the only way to go. The plastic helmet is the cause of the problem. If people didn’t use their heads as weapons, or make them not afraid of crashing into someone with their head, the problems would be significantly lessened. But I’m fairly sure ’30s or ’40s era football wouldn’t sell many beer and pick up truck ads these days.

  5. I haven’t watched an NFL game for more than two years and very infrequently for at least ten years before that. No Super Bowl for me!
    On a non-football concussion note, NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wrote a book (“Driving to the Finish”) about his experiences with concussion, his fears of developing C.T.E., his efforts to deny and cover up the effects of concussion, his treatment and recovery, and his decision to retire from driving. I admire him for speaking out and encouraging others to confront their fears and seek treatment.

  6. I work at a movie theater in the northeast. We are open 365 days a year, including Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We will be open on the Super Bowl, but it will undoubtedly be very, very slow, as almost all the customers are people from the surrounding area, and thus they are almost all Patriots fans.

    I have volunteered to work this year. I won’t be able to watch the Super Bowl, as I wasn’t able to last year.

    But I know this isn’t some ethical stand. I volunteer to work because I can’t handle the stress of watching this game when the home team is in it. My co-workers are, by and large, Patriots fans. I’m volunteering to work so those who want to have fun watching it won’t be burdened with work. I’m doing it so THEY can engage in the arguably unethical spectacle of the Super Bowl, because I apparently care about it SO MUCH that the tension of actually watching the game would give me a heart attack.

    I said a few years ago that I’d try to lose my taste for football. It has not worked so far. There’s just no replacement activity that scratches the particular itch that football does. No other sport holds my attention at all.

    So… I won’t be watching the Super Bowl this year, either. It’s the right outcome, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

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