Watching the Super Bowl Last Year Was Unethical. This Year It Is Indefensible.

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Next year, it will be close to criminal.

The American public can no longer plead ignorance when it comes to supporting, financing and enabling the cynical exercise in human carnage for cash that is known as professional football. Since the last Super Bowl was played, “Concussion” visited the movie theaters, putting in dramatic form the undeniable facts exposed in the documentary “League of Denial.” Both “Concussion’s” director and its star, Will Smith, have stated in interviews that they don’t think they can enjoy watching football any more.Reaching this conclusion should not require the experience of making a movie  about the facts of the deadly concussion epidemic that the NFL blithely promotes, nor months of bringing to life a script describing how players have been misled and lied to in order to keep them sacrificing their bodies, minds and future to the greedy maw of a billion dollar. It should only require logic, humanity, decency, and bit of sacrifice.

In just the last several days, the casualty list of NFL stars found to have damaged their brains has lengthened significantly.

Former Oakland Raiders star quarterback Ken Stabler’s brain was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, the concussion-triggered brain disease. A day after that announcement, the late Colts star quarterback Earl Morrall’s brain was found to be similarly damaged.  Stories were published around the same time about former Minnesota Viking linebacker Fred McNeil, who died in November and was also suffering from CTE. He had become a lawyer after his playing days, but began losing his memory and ability to concentrate. He had violent mood swings, and by his mid 40s, had lost his career, his job, his family, and his home. Former NY Giants star and famous broadcaster Frank Gifford died last year: he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy too.

On September 8, former Giants safety Tyler Sash was found dead at age 27 of an accidental overdose of pain medications at his Iowa home.  The results of an autopsy announced at the end of January showed that Sash already had advanced CTE. So did the brain of a 25-year-old former college football player whose brain was discussed in a February article in “Neurology Today.” From the case study:

The case, reported in the January 4 online issue of JAMA Neurology, involved a young man whose cognitive, mood, and behavioral symptoms progressively worsened following a history of 10 concussions incurred while playing football from age 6 till his junior year in college.

The patient completed a neurocognitive battery of tests prior to his death (due to an unrelated cardiac infection) at age 25. Although those tests revealed multiple deficits, and his symptoms steadily worsened for three years after he stopped playing, a consensus panel of clinicians blinded to his pathology report was unable to reach a primary diagnosis of CTE.

“Although CTE was considered,” the report stated, “the lack of delay in symptom onset, his young age, and his family history of depression reasoned against CTE as the primary diagnosis. Consensus members thought that neuropsychological performance, while impaired, did not discriminate postconcussive syndrome or major depression from CTE.”

That pathology report, however, was conclusive for a diagnosis of CTE, based on mild ventricular dilation, hippocampal atrophy, and pathological lesions of hyperphosphorylated tau consisting of neurofibrillary tangles, neurites, and astrocytes around small blood vessels found at the sulcal depths of the frontal and temporal lobes.

It’s not just the NFL that is crippling young men. It’s college football too. Continue reading

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

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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?

Watching The Super Bowl Is Unethical. You Know That, Right?

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I was going to call this post “Ten Reasons Why Watching The Super Bowl Is Unethical,” then “TOP Ten Reasons Why Watching The Super Bowl Is Unethical.” Ethical people should only need one good reason though, and while you can rationalize it away to slave your conscience and to avoid having to renege on that RSVP to tomorrow’s Super Bowl party, it is there, undeniable, and ugly.

So you don’t even have to argue that the fact that the most successful NFL team for more than a decade is also the one repeatedly caught cheating is irrelevant because “everybody does it,” or that the large number of felons, thugs and spouse abusers the teams employ (one ex-player—why, a Patriots’ ex player, in fact!—just went on trial for murder) doesn’t matter because the players aren’t really role models, or that the fact that the NFL corrupts and warps our universities by turning them into football’s minor leagues is overstated because such scandals as the University of North Carolina conspiring to let athletes take imaginary courses aren’t really the NFL’s fault. All you have to do is accept the fact that when you support the NFL, it’s TV ratings and the companies that profit from them, you are not merely killing people, you are cheering while you do it.

Disgusting.

What the hell’s the matter with you?

Yesterday I rewatched the 2013 PBS Frontline documentary, “League of Denial.” (That’s the link to the video; the transcript is here.) It was more horrifying the second time, especially in view of how the NFL has managed to stonewall, tap-dance and delay its way through another season without seriously admitting the extent of its head injury problem. One could even argue that the Ray Rice fiasco and other scandals helped the NFL by deflecting attention away from its biggest ethical deficit. Today, CNN, which is duly promoting the Super Bowl all weekend, reported on Roger Goodell’s “state of the NFL” press conference. It didn’t mention the concussion issue at all, just spousal abuse. It’s working, Roger!

As thoroughly and irrefutable shown by the documentary and the book it was based on, football causes dementia and death. The earlier you start playing it, the worse the effects are. The NFL has systematically waged a public relations war of denial and deception, taking carefully calculated half-measures that will not address the problem, relying on America’s love of the game to allow the industry to continue making billions by paying young men to maim themselves. In hearings before Congress, U.S. representatives compared the NFL to cigarette manufacturers denying that cigarettes were addictive and that they caused health problems. The comparison is fair, but once the truth was known about tobacco, the non-smoking public quickly realized that it shouldn’t be cheering lung cancer on. Cigarette ads on TV were banned; programs that children watched were pressured to avoid showing characters smoking. But then, nobody gets a visceral rush watching human beings slowly kill themselves by puffing away: is that the difference? As long as you get a kick out of the process of athletes turning themselves into future drug addicts, depressives, neglectful fathers, abusive husbands, drooling imbeciles and suicides, it’s okay to keep watching and cheering?

Keep telling yourself that. It’s intellectually lazy and ethical abdication, and that’s all it is. Watching the Super Bowl can’t be wrong because so many people do it, right? You know, since you’re here, what’s the matter with that argument.

You can also try the argument that the players are accepting the risk, so it’s OK for you to encourage them, in fact help pay them to liquify their brains for your amusement. That would be employing three more rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms Hit Parade: Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: NFL Football Fans

FOOTBALL FANSIn response to a question in a newly released CNN poll, a majority of football fans responded that the fact that the NFL intentionally withheld from its players evidence that repeated  concussions were inevitable despite the supposed protection provided by equipment, and that this would lead in many cases to devastating premature cognitive damage to players which would leave them disabled, depressed, violent, demented and/or suicidal until their early deaths didn’t trouble them at all, as long as they got their weekly Sunday football fix.

All right, that’s unfair. The results actually just showed that only 36% of respondents think that the NFL’s handling of the concussion issue has caused them to view the pro football league less favorably. No, on second thought, it’s not unfair at all.

I’m sure the NFL honchos who are determined to keep their billion dollar profit machine purring away, powered by the game’s consumption of the minds and bodies of young men lured by a short-term bonanza of fame and bucks, are whooping it up in their park Avenue suites. Yup, they did it! They have successfully converted much of America into crass, blood-thirsty sadists who are only different in degree from the Romans who cheered on Nero’s various bloodsports. Continue reading