Getting Harder To Watch

It’s now confirmed:  Junior Seau suffered what appears to have been a football-assisted suicide:

The former N.F.L. linebacker Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma when he committed suicide last spring, the National Institutes of Health said Thursday.

The findings were consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy [CTE], a degenerative brain disease widely connected to athletes who have absorbed frequent blows to the head, the N.I.H. said in a statement.

Via ESPN, here’s a quick summary of what’s becoming known about CTE and football.

CTE is a progressive disease associated with repeated head trauma. Although long known to occur in boxers, it was not discovered in football players until 2005. Researchers at Boston University recently confirmed 50 cases of CTE in former football players, including 33 who played in the NFL.

That gets at what’s most troubling, to me at least, CTE has turned up again and again in the brains of NFL dead:

Since C.T.E. was diagnosed in the brain of the former Eagles defensive back Andre Waters after his suicide in 2006, the disease has been found in nearly every former player whose brain was examined posthumously. (C.T.E. can only be diagnosed posthumously.)

Researchers at Boston University, who pioneered the study of C.T.E., have found it in 18 of the 19 brains of former N.F.L. players they have examined.

ETA: Here’s the Wikipedia summary of the symptoms and progression of the disease:

Diagnosis of CTE is frequently ascertained from patients’ medical histories, i.e. past traumatic brain injuries, and secondary symptoms, including: disorientation, confusion, vertigo, headaches, poor judgment, overt dementia, slowed muscular movements, staggered gait, impeded speech, tremors and deafness.

Individuals suffering from CTE may also progress through four stages of the disease; The first stage is characterized by its disturbances and psychotic symptoms. In the second stage of the disease the patient may exhibit erratic behavior, memory loss, and the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as difficulty with balance and gait.  The final stage is dementia as well as symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease.

I really like watching football.  I’ve dedicated a lot of Sundays to the pleasure.  I’ve got a friend down the block in my new neighborhood with whom I’ve become  much more rapidly  than I usually do with new acquaintances, a bond formed over our regular sessions in front of his TV and scotch bottle.  Last season we caught just about every Patriots game together.

Three_Persons_Viewing_the_Gladiator_by_Candlelight

This year not so much.  Partly, real life is to blame — mostly the desire to spend more time with a son on the verge of teenager-hood and the accompanying (and looming) irrelevance of Dad.  But really, I’m finding it harder and harder to recover my eagerness for the sport given this knowledge:  as I watch, say, this Sunday’s Patriots-Houston playoff, I’ll take my enjoyment from a game that — played correctly, within the rules — is doing an increment of what will add up to grievous harm for some of the people on screen, right in front of me.

A little context.  I love great writing more than I love any sport, and I’ve long thought some of the best non-fiction I’ve ever read comes in the form of A. J. Liebling’s boxing essays.  After I read Liebling — way back in the early eighties — I started watching some fights.  At its best, it’s a completely consuming spectacle, full of all that sport is supposed to provide, stories of courage, skill, smarts, human weakness, pure athletic astonishment, the lot.  But I couldn’t stick with it. This was before Muhammad Ali’s terrible decline became obvious, but it doesn’t take such a high profile case to make the point.  They coined the phrase “punch drunk” for a reason, and that reason is obvious to anyone who watches more than a bout or two.

Boxing’s raw, obvious, stripped to the skin.  The point is to render your opponent unconscious, to so rattle his (and now her) brain that he or she falls down. and body he or she falls down or just can’t keep up. (fix to reflect this on-point comment)

Football is, of course, not quite so insistent on damage; the hits are in the service of the goal of advancing or preventing the movement of the ball.   But still, stories like Seau’s make clear the risks that flow from the game:   especially at the level where everyone is so ferociously big and strong, there’s a quite possibly large fraction of players who will suffer as Seau did — not to the point of suicide, necessarily, but to some form of damage.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about this a few days ago, talking about his decision to walk away from watching the NFL, reached before this last season.  I didn’t come to his conclusion this last autumn; I didn’t give up on the game altogether.  But the moral and/or emotional logic that moved Ta-Nehisi  is getting harder and harder for me to ignore.  I’m just not sure how much longer I can keep watching.  Might not make it through the weekend.

A last note:  Here’s Tyler Seau on his father’s death (via TNC.)

“It makes me realize that he wasn’t invincible, because I always thought of him as being that guy. Like a lot of sons do when they look up to their dad. You know? You try to be like that man in your life. You try to mimic the things that he does. Play the game the way he did. Work the way he did. And, you know, now you look at it in a little bit different view.”

Tyler added: “Is it worth it? I’m not sure. But it’s not worth it for me to not have a dad. So to me it’s not worth it.”

To get unreasonably personal with you: I lost my dad to an accident when I was 10.  I learned a lot from dealing with the consequences of that event.  I can’t tell you how much I’d rather have foregone that education.  You know what I’m saying?

Image:  Joseph Wright of Derby, Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight, 1765






161 replies
  1. 1
    cathyx says:

    Ban football?

  2. 2
    JPL says:

    @cathyx: They are still boxing.
    It’s not as much fun to watch the game, that’s for sure.

  3. 3
    Tom Levenson says:

    @cathyx: Not saying that. As one of Ta-Nehisi’s commenters put it in a post TNC front paged, young men make choices that put themselves in danger in lots of settings, and have done forever. I’m not quite willing to say someone else shouldn’t do so.

    I am willing to say that I’m getting deeply uncomfortable with my part in the transaction. I haven’t stopped liking football, but it is harder for me to like myself when I watch people getting hurt for my entertainment. But I don’t think that feeling is sufficient reason for me to say ban the whole thing — not even close.

  4. 4
    Suzanne says:

    I keep hearing that the hits are not the point, that nobody wants anyone to get REALLY hurt. All evidence suggests otherwise.

  5. 5
    Bort says:

    Take away their pads. Let’s see them do those brain bouncing hits with leather helmets ala 1940’s style gear.

  6. 6
    The Bearded Blogger says:

    May I suggest… soccer?

  7. 7
    Gin & Tonic says:

    I don’t care about nor watch (American) football at any level, but just want to pick up on one of your throwaway points – the irrelevance of Dad to the impending teenage son. Take it from me, the irrelevance is temporary. Before you know it you’ll be relevant again.

  8. 8
    Violet says:

    @Suzanne: From the TNC piece linked above:

    When Ray Lewis would smash into Eddie George, I would feel an electric charge surge through me. And I loved it. I loved Ronnie Lott because he was such a big hitter.

    People living vicariously through the game. Electric charge because someone else hit yet another someone. Flag football wouldn’t draw in the crowds and eyeballs.

  9. 9
    c u n d gulag says:

    I’m goint to propose some, maybe, radical thinking.
    Or, my usualy nonsensical word-turds.

    I’m sure that a percentage of the Old Timers had these same traumatic brain injuries.

    But, I don’t remember reading a lot about suicide’s, etc, years and years ago.

    The game has gotten pass-happy in the last 30+ years.

    When running the ball was the main form of moving it forward, and passing it, secondary, the runner, and the defender, didn’t have much room to build up a head of speed before contact.

    Now, you have receiver’s running full tilt, trying to catch the ball, and defender’s, running full tilt, trying to, not only stop them, but force them to lose the ball.

    Maybe THAT has something to do with it.

    The old versions of “Ground and Pound,” with the Packers, the Dolphins, and the Steelers, didn’t cause nearly as many traumatic head injuries as today’s high-flying game does.

    Maybe, that’s attributable to better medical care and reporting.
    Or, I’m “mis-remembering.”
    But, there’s no way that Butkus hit Jim Brown as hard as Junior hit the average RB, WR, or TE.

    Something to think about.
    Them’s my $0.02 on this matter.
    Discuss.
    Criticize.
    Whatever…

  10. 10
    Mnemosyne says:

    I think it says a lot that Seau’s own son decided to pursue lacrosse rather than football even after growing up with the game.

  11. 11
    trollhattan says:

    I don’t know how reliable MRI (or other scanning tech) is in identifying damage, but if it can it seems to me the players union should insist the players be baseline-screened then routinely screened during their careers. Doesn’t help that players still fool the coaches into letting them back in and of course, some clubhouse environments encourage same. The Saints’ bounty system was especially egregious.

    Of course, prevention begins with college or even high school, but with the vast number of players it would ba a lot harder to do.

    If I had a boy I doubt I’d let him play tackle ball.

  12. 12
    eemom says:

    It’s….it’s…..the future…..I see a gazillion comment thread filled with arguments…

  13. 13
    Elizabelle says:

    Soccer, anybody?

    Maybe they’ll have to reformulate the game, without the intense tackles?

    This isn’t sustainable.

  14. 14
    c u n d gulag says:

    @c u n d gulag:
    Also too – the players now are much bigger, and much faster, than before.

    Mass + Speed = Greater Velocity Upon Impact – and, hence, more damage.

    Two Yugo’s, going 60 MPH, don’t create as much impact hitting head-on, and, hence, damage, as two semi’s doing the same thing, going 75.

  15. 15
    trollhattan says:

    @Violet:

    Some get the same feeling “listening” to Sarah Palin(tm). Or so I’ve heard.

  16. 16
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @eemom: Personal insults as well?

  17. 17
    scav says:

    @trollhattan: watching brain damage in each case, so, yeah, similar, to go with the obvious.

  18. 18
    redshirt says:

    @Elizabelle: I got at least 3 concussions in soccer over 6 years of high school/college. But then, I was a goalie, which is a rough position.

    That said, there’s plenty of concussions in other sports, and in recreational activities – consider skiing. Plenty of concussions.

    Of course everything should be done to reduce all concussions, the real effort should be put towards concussion treatments, if possible. Because you can’t really prevent concussions.

  19. 19
    Lex says:

    @c u n d gulag: That’s a plausible hypothesis, but we don’t have the data to know one way or the other.

    Malcolm Gladwell’s article on these injuries three years ago in The New Yorker might be of interest to some here — particularly what researchers were learning not just about game impact but also about “minor” impacts in practices.

  20. 20
    Suzanne says:

    @Violet: TNC is honest where most are not, with others as well as himself.

  21. 21
    superfly says:

    I saw a Texas high school championship football game on TV over the holidays. Obviously, the size and speed was different, but I also noticed they all seemed to tackle properly, head up, face forward, arms wrapped, they weren’t trying to blow each other up.

    Eventually, the pros are going to have to realize this, they just can’t keep trying to destroy the other guy, the point is to tackle the ball carrier as quickly as possible, for the least amount of yardage, not injure him as some sort of marker.

    It’s hard to believe that pros think they can still intimidate another pro, you can definitely injure them, but if they are pros, you most likely can’t intimidate him anymore.

  22. 22
    JPL says:

    I’ll watch the games this weekend and cheer for my favorite teams. Since there is a lawsuit underway, if the NFL is found liable on not warning about the risk, there will be changes.

  23. 23
    redshirt says:

    I also got at least 3 concussions in baseball over like 10 years.

    I’ve been thinking a lot today about my life, since I’ve probably racked up 12+ concussions to date. That’s crossing a threshold, yeah?

  24. 24
    trollhattan says:

    @scav:

    Heh.

    Q: What’s the difference between meth and a concussion?
    A: Lipstick.

    Bada-Boom!

  25. 25

    The NFL has to cut out the use of drugs like toradol that allow these guys to feel like they’re wearing a suit of armor. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04.....&_r=0

  26. 26
    dr. bloor says:

    @Elizabelle: There’s actually a body of literature on soccer as well. There’s a reason you’re not allowed to head the ball in the kids’ leagues.

    I have no idea what the solution is–it’s not difficult to generate pros and cons for both improving equipment and for taking it away.

    One thing is certain, though: Football falls into the Too Big to Fail class of American entertainment at the present time.

  27. 27
    Violet says:

    @Suzanne: Yep. He is.

    I find it interesting that people who think/write/pundit for a living like TNC and maybe even our own Tom Levenson–and there are probably more I’m not aware of–are making the personal decision not to watch and are writing about it. Those sorts of people can get people thinking about something because they’ve got a platform and people read them. Has it filtered into any other kind of writing/press arena yet? Have any of the sports media mentioned not watching NFL football? At some point it will.

  28. 28

    @Elizabelle: girls soccer is the #2 sport for concussions behind gool old murican football.

  29. 29
    trollhattan says:

    Am genuinely surprised we haven’t had more Darryl Stingleys in the pros.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darryl_Stingley

  30. 30
    SatanicPanic says:

    I can’t really watch it anymore. But what’s going to kill the sports is schools not wanting the liability and parents not signing permission slips. Or maybe it will just be poor kids playing for middle-class and upper-class entertainment. That could happen.

  31. 31
    trollhattan says:

    @ranchandsyrup:

    ACL injuries are quite high, too. My kid’s in yout’ soccer and will be a teen in two years, where the competition gets a lot more serious. As it is she’s sometimes out there with girls literally twice her weight.

  32. 32
    Short Bus Bully says:

    My sons won’t be playing football.

    That said, there’s a reason that I never took up hobbies like downhill skiing. I know enough about myself to know that I can’t just do something for fun, I would take on the steeper hills, go faster, and inevitably crash and injure myself.

    Not even going to start that ride.

    The folks who are playing in high school and younger right now are getting more educated about the choices they make, which is good. More will choose to play baseball and basketball because of it. The super athletes who can make that choice may not go to the NFL any more.

    The NFL owes it to their athletes to take care of them as best they can, and it seems that they are through aggressive rule changes, etc. If you’ve watched at all over the last ten years you realize that this is the case. I don’t see gross negliegence on their part.

    Ultimately the choice to play that sport is up to the individual athlete, but everyone needs to do their part to make certain that they are able to make an informed choice whether to partake.

    I’ll still watch the NFL. I still watch boxing and MMA as well. These are complex and individual choices.

  33. 33
    Crusty Dem says:

    Yeah, as a neuroscientist, it’s not a tough one. There is no diagnosis except for pathology in a deceased patient. I don’t know if this is caused by the blows to the head and concussions or the huge hits to the body causing blood pressure spikes -> shearing/damage/etc.

    As a fan, fuck, I have no idea. I still think they should switch to soft-covered helmets (hard on the inside, so it hurts to get hit in the head, soft on the outside so they’re lousy weapons), but I think they only way we’re going to stop this is by eliminating the game. Playing it “the right way” is causing hundreds of serious brain injuries every year. Size limits? I just don’t know.

  34. 34
    feral1 says:

    I have thought for a long time that football should do away with rigid shoulder pads and helmets. I think this would diminish the level of head trauma and other injuries, in a couple of ways. First, there is just less of an impact when two semi-soft objects come into contact. However, maybe the bigger effect will be from the change in player’s psychology. If you’ve played organized football, you know that the equipment is like armor. You feel invincible with that hard helmet and shoulder pads on. This makes it much more likely to hit and tackle with maximum force, often leading with your head. If players were wearing soft shoulder pads and a semi-soft helmet, I think they would naturally dial down the intensity of their hits. It would be much safer if the outer shell of the helmet was non-rigid, made out of some dense type of foam rubber or something. Same for the shoulder pads.

  35. 35
    The Bearded Blogger says:

    Yeah, any contact sport, as well as any sport that involves high speeds, etc, is likely to involve danger. But the likelyhood of life-destroying injuries is clearly much higher in football than it is in, say, baseball or soccer.

  36. 36
    Tokyokie says:

    CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is a really nasty disease. Brain cells produce too much tau protein, causing them to cease communication. The symptoms resemble those of Alzheimer’s (although it appears at a much younger age), but combined with severe depression. The disease is incurable and irreversible and appears to be 100% fatal, although sufferers tend to die from risky behaviors and/or suicide attempts associated with the depression dimension of the disease. To see someone like Seau go from the top of his game to a suicide brought on by on-field injuries in the course of a decade is extraordinarily disheartening.

    Which is part of the reason that I, too, don’t watch much NFL football these days. When I see a smart, good-looking kid like RG3 miss time as a rookie because of concussions, I shudder to think that he’s likely to wind up like Seau in the not-too-distant future, and I don’t want to have even a vicarious part in his demise.

    Which is why I keep coming back to baseball. For everybody but Donnie Moore, the game doesn’t tend to lead to suicides.

  37. 37
    dr. bloor says:

    @superfly:

    Eventually, the pros are going to have to realize this, they just can’t keep trying to destroy the other guy, the point is to tackle the ball carrier as quickly as possible, for the least amount of yardage, not injure him as some sort of marker.

    The change in the pros will take place as a result of what you saw with the kids–better coaching will socialize kids into using safer technique. The guys playing pro ball are essentially trying to undo years of instruction and socialization about how to play.

  38. 38

    @trollhattan: true that. A women’s college soccer player that hasn’t done in her knee yet is less common than those that have.

  39. 39
    Cassidy says:

    I’m gonna split some hairs re: boxing. The comclusion is still the same, but how you get there is off. The problem with boxing is not “the knockout”. It’s the 12+ rounds of hard, rapid blows to the head. Most of those guys lack the power to knock someone out [who’s trained to receive blows]; it’s not easy. The knockout really isn’t a big deal, compared to repeated blows to the head, as most of them are flash knockouts that compress the vagus nerve vs. head trauma.

  40. 40
    Face says:

    Part, if not all of your problem, is that yer a Pats fan

  41. 41

    For the past couple of years some Stanford players have been wearing mouthguards that provide telemetry data. They have also been filming practices with super slo-mo cameras. They’re learning a lot quickly. One thing that they’re learning is that the cumulative effect of “slower” hits are important.

    http://www.technologyreview.co.....l-players/

    MIT link for the good doc.

  42. 42
    MikeJ says:

    @ranchandsyrup: Also cyclists and collarbones.

  43. 43
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Tokyokie: Ryan Freel- MLB player who, probably not coincidentally had a history of concussions killed himself a few months ago. I totally agree that baseball is much less risky though.

  44. 44

    @MikeJ: heh. true enough. only a separated shoulder from my cycling days and I feel fortunate. Happen to you?

  45. 45
    Annamal says:

    This does make me wonder about Rugby and League…are Australians, South Africans and New Zealanders suffering similar kinds of on-going damage and it’s just not making the papers?

    Rugby is practically a religion in NZ so I’m suprised this hasn’t cropped up (especially since the games are played helmetless and definitely do cause concussions/spinal injuries…

  46. 46
    negative 1 says:

    I’m 35, and so anyone older than me who played without knowing the risks I feel was cheated. But kids in college now know them and still choose to play. Ditto the pros. I don’t fault anyone for walking away, but I don’t feel guilty for watching or for cheering big hits. Boxers have known the risks for years, yet folks still box.
    @ c u n d gulag – it’s steroids that make the difference. They go that fast and hit that hard because they take all kinds of (including illegal) supplements. Look at the body of an NFL linebacker, look at their almost Olympic track level 40-yard dash times, their 600 lb squat maxes, and tell me how that’s possible by eating egg whites or whatever fiction they sell to the audience. Baseball does steroids and home runs travel further, football does steroids and people hit much, much harder.

  47. 47
    kindness says:

    Wrong thread to wish my Niners well against the heathen Packers on Satuday, huh?

  48. 48
    negative 1 says:

    I’m 35, and so anyone older than me who played without knowing the risks I feel was cheated. But kids in college now know them and still choose to play. Ditto the pros. I don’t fault anyone for walking away, but I don’t feel guilty for watching or for cheering big hits. Boxers have known the risks for years, yet folks still box.
    c u n d gulag – it’s steroids that make the difference. They go that fast and hit that hard because they take all kinds of (including illegal) supplements. Look at the body of an NFL linebacker, look at their almost Olympic track level 40-yard dash times, their 600 lb squat maxes, and tell me how that’s possible by eating egg whites or whatever fiction they sell to the audience. Baseball does steroids and home runs travel further, football does steroids and people hit much, much harder.

  49. 49
    dr. bloor says:

    @Cassidy:

    This is actually a very good point and applicable to football as well. For these guys, it’s the cumulative effect of stuff that doesn’t look very dramatic–you don’t need to be diagnosed with concussion(s) to be vulnerable to CTE.

    I know there’s been some discussion to reduce the amount of contact allowed in practices at the pro level, although I don’t know where that discussion is at.

  50. 50
    aimai says:

    @Violet:

    Mirror Neurons make watching a contact sport very exciting, sure–but people find other things that aren’t so violent just as enlivening and thrilling. Its not that people couldn’t switch their viewing habits if they really grasped that they were contributing to brain death in their own heroes, its that they won’t switch because the suffering is hidden from them. Only a very small number of people are willing to watch real violence and suffering because they have empathy for the sufferer. A very large number are willing and even delighted to watch war movies because its not real and they know, or believe they know, that no one was really hurt.

    aimai

  51. 51
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Annamal: The concussive force is far less. The lack of pads makes a difference. When I was playing rugby, I saw several people separate shoulders because they came to the game from American football and had not learned how to safely tackle without pads.

  52. 52

    @Annamal: Rugby players will say that they have to focus on form tackling so as not to get hurt. NFL players aren’t as disciplined because they don’t have to be when they’re on post-surgery pain meds and wearing pads and a helmet.

    @kindness: I’m not a forty-whiners fan but I’m rooting for Kap!

  53. 53
    cathyx says:

    A separated shoulder or a broken bone doesn’t usually shorten the length of your life like brain injuries do.

  54. 54
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Cassidy: Yup. See change to the text above.

  55. 55
    Roger Moore says:

    @The Bearded Blogger:

    May I suggest… soccer?

    Yeah, because nobody is bouncing things off their head in soccer. No possibility of traumatic brain injury there. No siree.

  56. 56
    steve says:

    As someone who lives in a Gators-obsessed area, I actually can’t wait to see UF, FSU, and the NCAA announce the cancellations of the football programs. I see that happening in the next decade as lawsuits force insurance companies to refuse the schools’ coverage.

    I think there will be rioting. These people in N. Fla are armed, violent, low-IQ, and obsessed with college football.

  57. 57
    👽 Martin says:

    @cathyx: We could change football. Invest in developing equipment to minimize head trauma. Change the rules, as they did with helmet-helmet contact, to minimize injuries. And it’s possible that’s all that needed to change – but we won’t know that for some time.

    Fuck, you have flag football at the most extreme end as to what’s possible. Surely there’s a middle ground – and that middle ground can be tried out at different levels. You could change the rules a little for the NFL, more for the NCAA, even more for high school, more yet for Pony.

    For students that stop playing ball after HS, their chance of injury would be immensely lower. For those that go onto the NFL, they won’t have an additional 8 years or more of that kind of damage, so possibly they could take a bit more damage in the Pros without permanent effect.

    Like the gun control debate, there’s a massive middle ground we can explore without either banning or doing nothing.

  58. 58
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”

    -Mark Twain

  59. 59
    Tokyokie says:

    @trollhattan: Unfortunately, a definitive diagnosis of CTE can only be done post-mortem at this time. Perhaps a test can be devised that can identify when brain cells start overproducing tau protein, but even then, I’m not sure what could be done about halting the disease’s progression.

  60. 60
    negative 1 says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I played rugby in college and was knocked out cold, twice. I hit people as hard as I could in an attempt to gain an advantage. Contact sports will result in head trauma. Pretending otherwise isn’t that realistic.

  61. 61
    Jamey says:

    I’m not arguing against the basic concept of causality, Tom, but I’m a bit puzzled by the phrase, “Suffered a football-assisted suicide.” What do you mean? (Sorry if I seem semantical or even obtuse.)

    “Committed suicide while suffering from a football-related degenerative brain condition” I can understand. But suicide is something committed, not “suffered.” If you want to accuse the NFL or the game of football for leading to Junior Seau’s injuries, that seems like a fair judgment. But the way you put it points to something deeper than cause-and-effect relationship between injury and the actions of the injured.

    Did the NFL deliberately spike reports of brain injuries? Not a stretch, but diagnosis and preventative measures have become a lot more sophisticated in the last 15 years. So, at most, the NFL is guilty of not being as forward-thinking as we now know we would have liked them to be. Seau was never treated for a concussion, though I’m sure he got his bell rung every game. Again, this is partially the result of awareness, e.g., like the dangers of lead paint before it was taken off the market in the 1970s. We knew Joe Thiesmann;s career was over when LT snapped his leg. But is it possible to predict the sort of injuries suffered by Seau and others?

    Either way, I am definitely re-evaluating my role in equation. If football, like cigarettes, is lethal when used as directed, then we are on the cusp of a broader examination of our humanity. It may not be enough for fans to rationalize brain trauma as the price kids pay for the chance at earning millions of dollars.

  62. 62
    Suzanne says:

    I suppose now is not the time to lament what anxious masculinity hath wrought.

  63. 63
    👽 Martin says:

    @Roger Moore: Heading a soccer ball is not that bad as compared to banging your head into the ground from a fall, even in a helmet. But you could ban heading the ball from the game and not significantly change the game.

  64. 64
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @negative 1: I remember people like you.

  65. 65
    MikeJ says:

    @ranchandsyrup: Oddly, no collarbone. A wrist and a minor concussion (even with helmet).

  66. 66
    Tokyokie says:

    @SatanicPanic: I read about Freel’s suicide, but I wasn’t aware of his history of concussions.

  67. 67
    Darkrose says:

    @Tokyokie: I do think that at some point, a catcher will get run over and killed instead of being out for the season. Only then will that rule be changed.

  68. 68
    trollhattan says:

    @ranchandsyrup:

    My toll: two DC separations, one cracked humorous, one cracked sacrum. Can’t tally the square inches (feet?) of road rash.

  69. 69
    SatanicPanic says:

    @👽 Martin: I’ve read people suggesting banning heading, but soccer fans seem to think this would totally change the nature of the game. I don’t get it, but then I’m not a soccer fan. Maybe our resident soccer blogger could answer that question.

  70. 70
    Jamey says:

    @👽 Martin: Other than totally take the vertical element out of it… Imagine the Olympic women’s tourney results without Abby Wambach’s last-minute headers.

  71. 71
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Suzanne: Go ahead. It is inevitable that someone will.

  72. 72
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Jamey: Well, (a) the phrase is a play on “physician assisted suicide” — and while that’s far from a perfect analogy, I try by using the term to focus people’s attention on the social and medical context in which the suicide was (I would argue) both committed and suffered. Seau pulled the trigger; the circumstances that led him to do so appear to have been strongly shaped by a disease he suffered as a (likely) consequence of playing football.

  73. 73

    @MikeJ: not bad, all in all. I’m sure the wrist hurt like hell.
    @trollhattan: ouchie. just thinking about road rash gives me the willies.

  74. 74
    T Bombadil says:

    Once further research comes in, I do wonder about the discussion to be had about spending public money on public school football. I played and coached at the high school level. The hits aren’t as hard, but then, they don’t have to be as adolescent brains are not fully developed. Money may well be a factor in how this unfolds as it could be very difficult to have a doctor at every practice to immediately evaluate player…..and maybe even more expensive if a doc is not available and every significant hit means an ER visit.

    Just some thoughts. There will be some fun times ahead.

  75. 75
    Suzanne says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Or how our culture conflates real heroism with what happens in a game.

    I am home sick today. I’m really not up to it.

  76. 76
    Tokyokie says:

    @Darkrose: I think a batter is more likely to be killed by an inside pitch (a la Ray Chapman in 1920) than a catcher will be killed by a runner trying to score.

  77. 77
    trollhattan says:

    @Tokyokie:

    I was afraid of that, but didn’t know whether perhaps scan anomolies might show up as proxies for certain types of damage. Laymen (me) probably can’t appreciate either the complexity or mechanisms of the damage occurring.

  78. 78
    Jamey says:

    @Tom Levenson: Got it, thanks. The relationship between Seau’s injuries and his suicide is pretty clear to me, what I still cannot wrap my head around (even with a helmet) is how complicit the NFL is in suppressing evidence. I don’t mean to get all Alex-Jonsey here, but what did they know and when did they know it.

    Some crank (my dad) thought the optics were strange when Pete Rozelle (a PR flack) stepped down and anointed a lawyer (Paul Tagliabue) as his successor. I thought it had more to do with labor relations, but my dad even in back then thought that liability some day would become an issue. Hey, even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn…

  79. 79
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Suzanne:

    Or how our culture conflates real heroism with what happens in a game.

    Better.

  80. 80
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Tokyokie: Or a coach (or pitcher, perhaps) by a batted ball.

  81. 81

    @SatanicPanic: I’m no Randinho but it would matter to teams that play a certain style more than others. Old timey direct play (still somewhat popular in England) needs a big target man to head in goals and to head down long balls to his onrushing teammates. The Barcelona or tiki-taka teams wouldn’t be as disadvantaged because they focus on keeping the ball on the ground, maintaining possession, etc.

  82. 82
    Roger Moore says:

    @superfly:

    Eventually, the pros are going to have to realize this, they just can’t keep trying to destroy the other guy, the point is to tackle the ball carrier as quickly as possible, for the least amount of yardage, not injure him as some sort of marker.

    Two points:

    1) Listen to the announcers talk about some of the runners. One of the big points they make is that they’re too big and strong to arm tackle. The reason defenders are trying to put a big hit on them is because it’s the only reliable way of tackling them.

    2) There’s also an issue about wanting to dislodge the ball, which a really hard hit can do. I think this is also responsible for some of the worries about hitting with the helmet, since hitting the ball with a helmet will very often jar it loose. I’m not sure what you can do about that.

  83. 83
    trollhattan says:

    @ranchandsyrup:

    Yeah, hate it and I don’t heal like I once did. [kicks back in chair with imaginary beer] Worst one I’ve had was a skid&slide after hitting wet leaves in a corner on a cold day. Was fully clothed and my skin burned through the fabric–you oould see the weave in the burns.

    Lots and lots of silvadene.

  84. 84
    👽 Martin says:

    @Jamey: You could also limit headers only to balls on goal or throw-ins. Those tend to be short distance (corner kicks the longest) and not terribly hard and you’re usually deflecting at an angle trying to preserve a decent amount of its forward speed, as opposed to those concussion inducing return headers off of a goal kick where you’re sending it straight back from 50 meters out.

    I don’t think that would change in any meaningful way at all.

  85. 85

    @trollhattan: I hate those types of falls. You go into the corner, trust the line/speed and wham, on the ground in a flash. Awful.

  86. 86
    WaterGirl says:

    @Violet: Dave Zirin has written some great stuff about this. I am not a huge sports fan, but his is one of the blogs I read religiously. Someone recommended him on Booman, I think, and he’s really terrific. If you don’t know about him already, his tagline reads Where sports and politics collide.

  87. 87
  88. 88
    mclaren says:

    American football is a brain-damage festival. For the players…and it seems to induce brain damage in the fans too.

    America would be 1000% better off if it banned this atrocity entirely.

  89. 89
    👽 Martin says:

    @Roger Moore: Don’t do anything about those things. The end result is you get higher scoring games, but both teams benefit equally. It’d change the composition of teams a bit, but so what. Suicide is doing that now one player at a time. I’d think we want to do it on a voluntary basis.

  90. 90
    Violet says:

    @WaterGirl: I recognize that tagline. I must have followed a link there once or twice. Thanks for the info.

  91. 91
    SatanicPanic says:

    @ranchandsyrup: Thanks, that clarifies what they value about headers for me

  92. 92
    khead says:

    Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about this a few days ago, talking about his decision to walk away from watching the NFL, reached before this last season. I didn’t come to his conclusion this last autumn; I didn’t give up on the game altogether. But the moral and/or emotional logic that moved Ta-Nehisi is getting harder and harder for me to ignore. I’m just not sure how much longer I can keep watching. Might not make it through the weekend

    If you need an excuse to watch and/or enjoy the NFL, feel free to join the rest of America and try straight up sports betting or its lamer version – fantasy football.

  93. 93
    Roger Moore says:

    @Darkrose:

    I do think that at some point, a catcher will get run over and killed instead of being out for the season.

    Full body collisions at the plate are fairly rare, certainly not an everyday event the way violent tackles are in football. And the catcher has a lot more protection than the runner does, which tends to reduce the severity of the hits. I’d still like to see umpires treat deliberately blowing up the catcher to try to dislodge the ball more seriously than they currently do, but it’s not a huge issue. I’d guess that the average catcher suffers more brain trauma from balls being fouled off his mask and helmet than he does from collisions at the plate.

  94. 94
    Breezeblock says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve ALWAYS watched NFL football, probably 40+ years worth. I started slowing down by cutting Monday Night, when I could not even watch the first half, needing sleep for work. This year, after Junior and reading TNC, and all, I quit cold turkey. I may have watched a total of 10 minutes all season.

    And now, I don’t miss it at all. I will probably watch the Stupid Bowel, since friends have a big party and all, but I’m done with the NFL.

  95. 95
    👽 Martin says:

    @Jamey: I’m not saying that specific plays won’t happen with a rule change, but is a game without a midfield header goal a bad game? Hell no. So we’d just wind up with every game being such a game. BFD.

    Is football really a much worse game with no helmet-helmet contact? I know some people believe so, but I think that’s generally bullshit – we’re always going to have people that (very literally) want to see a player die on the field. We don’t need to cater to them. Everyone here seems to get just as excited about games now as they did before the ban.

    And the other rationale for the tiered rules I mention above is that we can put a lot more money into equipment to minimize injuries. I see no reason why an NFL helmet couldn’t cost $25,000. F1 helmets cost that much and are usually custom molded for the drivers head – they can’t trade helmets. (NFL helmets appear to cost about $250). There’s sure as fuck enough money in the game to afford it. But colleges, and certainly high schools can’t afford that – so they have to dial the game back a bit to compensate for the level of equipment they can afford. But I have to think that much better helmets are possible for the top tiers of the game.

  96. 96
    👽 Martin says:

    A standard NFL helmet weighs about 3.5 lbs. That’s about 25% heavier than a F1 helmet which also contains a 2-way radio and full face and chin protection. Lighter helmets add less weight to your head which means lower g forces on impacts.

    This is easy shit that the NFL just isn’t doing.

  97. 97
    Roger Moore says:

    @👽 Martin:
    I think the biggest thing to do is to try to force changes to the playing style that will make the game more of a distance event and less a series of sprints. That would force the players to focus more on endurance and less on raw speed and strength, which would cut down on the severity of collisions. I’m thinking about things like shorter time between downs, less freedom to make substitutions, and maybe even requiring a few players to play both ways. I think you’d see a very different style of play, and of player, if teams were basically forced to play no-huddle offense the majority of the game.

  98. 98

    @SatanicPanic: I think Martin’s recommendation of limiting headers to corners and crosses is a good one. It could be problematic to enforcemen, but so is the offside rule in soccer.

  99. 99
    Bostondreams says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    It’s not the big hits that are the problem, really. It’s the thousands of little hits that add up.

  100. 100
    Joel says:

    @Bort: I do actually think this would help. If football was played more like rugby (no pads, no high tackles) the game would be infinitely safer.

    I don’t know how the popularity would hold up, probably reasonably well.

  101. 101
    Violet says:

    @Roger Moore: American football players used to have to play both offense and defense, like rugby players still do today. Return to that and it will change the game. Much more endurance required. More all-around skills.

  102. 102
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @Annamal: Omnes and others have said this but rugby is different in a lot of ways. First there’s the fact that without the crazy padding you can really hurt yourself if you tackle wrong, plus without the helmet you don’t feel quite so invincible.

    The other thing is that the dudes in charge are constantly making rule changes – some are to improve the spectator aspect (like getting rid of the ping-pong kicking that ruined the 2007 world cup), but a lot of them are for safety – they change the ways you can ruck, maul and scrum and how you’re allowed to tackled and hold onto other players and these rules are (mostly) enforced. Also, if refs don’t catch something during a match (e.g. infamous South African eye gouging) video evidence can be used to punish a player or team post hoc.

    That being said, rugby (and to be clear I mean Union not League, because League doesn’t have the same sort of contact) is in a period of flux. Rugby (union, again, not league) has only been professionalised for a couple of decades and with professionalisation comes bigger and bigger players. Watching matches between, eg, England and Canada it’s shocking how much bigger the English players are than the (still quite large in a normally proportioned kind of way) Canadians. I’m sure (100%) that in 15 years rugby players who played pro are going to start showing signs of CTE. They are so big that even without armor the hits are too hard.

    It’s also obvious that the emphasis on size is hurting the quality of the game – they spend too much time scrabbling on the ground and not enough running in tries, but they also have lost huge precision in ball handling. Last world cup the BBC did this great thing where they gave players 60 seconds to hit a target with as many balls as they could. The current and recent professional men hit the target about 9 or 10 times, the captain of the English women’s team hit is about 13 or 14 and a retired rugby player from the 80s/early 90s hit it every throw and ran out of balls.

    My opinion: I think they need to start putting in weight limits like they do in rowing or boxing. Getting the players bigger is ruining the sport

    Tl;dr: rugby is safer because rules. Giant players make everything worse.

  103. 103
    J. Michael Neal says:

    @Bostondreams:

    It’s not the big hits that are the problem, really. It’s the thousands of little hits that add up.

    This. A disproportionate number of the players that are ending up in the pathology lab with CTE were linemen. There are plenty of things to hate about the big hits, but those don’t appear to be the greatest culprit.

    Linemen bang heads on almost every play. Not hard relative to a safety launching himself into a receiver, but constantly. It doesn’t create a spectacle because they aren’t getting carted off the field on a backboard but the damage is there.

    Solutions looking at the big hits aren’t going to solve the problem. This is a part of why pointing to the lack of armor in rugby misses the point; that game has plenty of play that looks a lot like line play in football and it’s probably doing the same thing.

  104. 104
    Jamey says:

    @👽 Martin: Of course, I was kidding — it was a ridiculous play and not at all an indication of what we stand to lose if headers were regulated like upper body contact.

    Good call on F-1. This is a great example of how a sport can led to making a sincere commitment to safety without sacrificing mass appeal. Imagine what would happen if Tom Brady or Aaron Rogers, or even Ray Lewis (ugh!) would put their weight behind safety activism like Jackie Stewart did nearly a half-century ago. Nagahap’n.

    http://www.formula1.com/teams_....._fame/127/

  105. 105
    👽 Martin says:

    @Roger Moore: Why not make all players play offense and defense? Fuck the American League! FTFY!

    But yeah, I think your idea is the general rub of it. Go from 40 seconds to 25 seconds between plays. Those fat asses in he game will never make it to the end with a third more plays to run. Didn’t NCAA use a 25 second clock a while ago?

    There’s lots of ways to solve problem that don’t require going directly at it. This is one of those situations.

  106. 106
    Kip the Wonder Rat says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: exactly my experience.

  107. 107
    Jamey says:

    @Violet: More opportunity to retaliate for dirty plays in person. If guys like Bill Romonoski played two-way ball, he would have been pole-axed after the first time he attempted to go in low on a QB.

  108. 108
    Ruckus says:

    I can’t tell you how much I’d rather have foregone that education. You know what I’m saying?

    Yes.

    On your bigger point about sports that have lasting and sometimes deadly injuries, I worked in professional sports for 3 decades. At one point I told my boss that if we didn’t find a way to stop/reduce the level of injuries and the few deaths, I would have to quit. I was tired of seeing young men never get older. BTW we worked every day towards the goal of fewer injuries and deaths, it just wasn’t enough.
    I don’t have any answers other than to say if we made life totally safe, would it be worth living?

  109. 109
    Kip the Wonder Rat says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: again, exactly my experience.

  110. 110
    redshirt says:

    @Bostondreams: While it’s true the little hits do add up, major concussions are also incredibly destructive, with major symptoms lasting over a week. These single events cause untold damage to any brain.

  111. 111
    Violet says:

    @TheMightyTrowel: That ping-pong kicking game was such a bore in the 2007 World Cup, wasn’t it? Yawn.

  112. 112
    karen says:

    I’m in San Diego and this tragedy hit hard. Junior played for us (Chargers) and lived with us. He was community oriented, and not in the phony NFL-y way. He meant it. I’ve been following CTE for a few years because it interests me. And then last year, I suffered a concussion. The after-affects, short term, were astonishingly awful. I was called by my work that night (I was a computer programmer) and the person I talked to, and had talked to many times before, was frightened for me because I was talking gibberish. He wasn’t sure if I was drunk or crazy. The short-term (months) affects were so frightening to me (memory loss, confusion, change in diet and anxiety) that I retired. I was of retirement age, but I hadn’t planned on leaving at that time. I was head programmer, the ‘big brain’ of the office, but didn’t trust myself. I asked my Dr to give me a dementia test. Really. I retired, I’m okay, but I still have some memory problems that I didn’t have before, nevermind my age. Concussions are a serious business.

  113. 113
    Roger Moore says:

    @Jamey:
    I’m not sure how much you can translate from auto racing to other sports. The organizers of a racing series have a lot more power to control the physical details of the cars in it than the organizers of a pro sports league have to control the physiques of the players. And make no mistake that the key feature to the increased injury risk in football is the players getting bigger, stronger, and faster. All the protective gear in the world can’t make getting hit by a contemporary football player safe.

  114. 114
    Violet says:

    @Jamey: Yep. That’s one of the things that happens in rugby. If a player does something to another player on the pitch, they can pay for it on the pitch. I don’t think the structure of American football allows for that in the same way.

    I have watched quite a bit of rugby, and although I’m not all that much of a fan (family member is the big fan), I do appreciate that the rugby players have to be fit. When I then watch an American football game it seems so sloooooow.

  115. 115
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @Violet: This is all I think about when I think about the ping-pong kicking.

  116. 116
    JGabriel says:

    @negative 1:

    I’m 35, and so anyone older than me who played without knowing the risks I feel was cheated. But kids in college now know them and still choose to play. Ditto the pros.

    Do they know the risks, though? It’s not even a risk, really. Risk implies a good chance that you won’t get CTE. In the case of pro football, it seems like it’s almost a dead certainty that you’ll suffer CTE. As Tom Levenson notes at top, quoting NYT:

    Since C.T.E. was diagnosed in the brain of the former Eagles defensive back Andre Waters after his suicide in 2006, the disease has been found in nearly every former player whose brain was examined posthumously. (C.T.E. can only be diagnosed posthumously.)

    Researchers at Boston University, who pioneered the study of C.T.E., have found it in 18 of the 19 brains of former N.F.L. players they have examined.

    If you tell me that my chances are 18 to 1 that I’ll suffer a degenerative brain disease by pursuing a certain career, I’m pretty sure I’d look at other options.

    .

  117. 117
    Gopher2b says:

    Not to go all guns all the time but its worth
    mentioning that he killed himself with a gun after an unsuccessful attempt where he drove off a cliff.

  118. 118
    Ruckus says:

    @👽 Martin:
    My motorcycle helmet costs $750. And it is an off the shelf model. The same co has one out now that is about $3000 and is amazing. I say the same thing about any helmet:
    If you have a cheap head, wear a cheap helmet. Otherwise…
    Of course more money doesn’t necessarily make a better helmet but if the NFL(there does seem to be a lot of money there, no?) only requires a helmet that costs $250, I’ll bet there is better to be built.

  119. 119
    Violet says:

    @TheMightyTrowel: Oh, that’s hilarious. I hadn’t seen that. Boris is funny. I loved how he got caught on that zip line this summer.

  120. 120
    Roger Moore says:

    @👽 Martin:

    But yeah, I think your idea is the general rub of it. Go from 40 seconds to 25 seconds between plays. Those fat asses in he game will never make it to the end with a third more plays to run. Didn’t NCAA use a 25 second clock a while ago?

    I would probably go with something like:

    1) Play clock is 15 seconds from the ball being placed.
    2) Substitutions are allowed only on change of possession, injury, timeout, and after a score.
    3) On an injury, only the injured player may be substituted. The other team is allowed to substitute one of their players if they choose.
    4) The number of timeouts will be increased to around 6 or 8 per half.

  121. 121
    👽 Martin says:

    @Jamey: Jackie had some impact – particularly with putting barriers around circuits so drivers were no longer plowing into trees and shit (seat belts weren’t even mandatory then – imagine doing 170 at the Nordschleife without a seat belt), but he had to fight every inch and was hated by the sport for it. It was the 1994 Imola weekend that ultimately made safety a top priority by everyone in the sport. Everyone stopped complaining about safety after this:

    Rubens Barrichello: knocked unconscious in qualifying, broken nose and injured arm – lucky to be alive in a horrible crash

    Roland Ratzenberger: also in qualifying, crashed, basal skull fracture, died soon after arriving at the hospital.

    9 spectators injured in a crash at the start of the race as car parts flew into the stands.

    Ayrton Senna: 2 laps into the race, crashed, died at the scene.

    4 mechanics were injured later in the race when a cars wheel came off leaving the pits, striking them. 2 went to the hospital.

    That was all in 2 days – 2 dead, 14 injured in 5 different incidents. Everything changed. Still is changing, much for the better. F1 had no pit stop speed limits prior to this point – you could roar down pit lane at 200MPH. That was changed due to that last accident where the mechanics were injured – had Michele Alboreto been driving more slowly, the wheel wouldn’t have come off with the kind of rotational velocity that it did.

    NFL is having a similar moment. Time to change. The players and officials need to embrace change. The fans will follow.

  122. 122
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @Violet: Boris actually terrifies me – he’s a super ideological tory who wraps it up in this really canny bumbling funny-man persona. He’s effectively neutralised himself from all the nastiness in the uk govt right now by being Mayor of London and thus peripheral but he’s also keeping a very high profile so he can storm back into parliament once Cameron is ousted. I think he’ll be PM and I think he’ll be worse than the current Cameron/Osborne wankers because people think he’s funny, they think he’s incompetent, they think he likes people like them and none of those are true.

  123. 123
    Violet says:

    @TheMightyTrowel: Yeah, he plays bumbling very well. It’s his brand. He’s actually smart as a whip. I agree, he’s angling to be PM and very well may get there.

    I am not British, so I can’t vote in the UK, so I have the benefit of being somewhat removed from the situation. I just enjoy watching him. He is quick-witted and funny. I can enjoy that bit, even while hoping he doesn’t get to be PM.

  124. 124
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Cassidy:

    The problem with boxing is not “the knockout”. It’s the 12+ rounds of hard, rapid blows to the head.

    So maybe, in addition to the “no hitting below the belt” rule (or, as I like to call it, Honoré de Balzac), there should be an “no hitting above the collarbone” rule.

  125. 125
    👽 Martin says:

    @Ruckus:

    Of course more money doesn’t necessarily make a better helmet

    But we know it does in this case. F1 takes a laser scan of the driver’s head and the helmet conforms specifically to that driver. The helmets are carbon fiber and other materials. There is incredible safety checks of the helmet (they’re European, yo).

    I should note that Sid Watkins, who recently passed away deserves a HUGE amount of credit for the safety changes in the sport. He started as race doctor in 1978 – the first one. He demanded that F1 provide a medical car, a helicopter, and a medical team at every race rather than rely on the track to do these things (which they never would – $$) He was there when Senna died. He stayed on until 2005 and was involved with the F1 safety institute until he passed away a few months ago.

    But the attitude in F1 has changed to “If it just takes money to solve the problem, solve it.” It’s not like there are that many drivers and that many circuits. You only need 2 dozen $25,000 helmets. The NFL only needs 2,000 helmets. Even at $25K each, that’s $50M. That’s nothing to the NFL.

  126. 126
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    This comment comes in the I-May-Be-Hallucinating-But department … But when I was scrolling through the BJ threads at work earlier today (and unable to comment because AT WORK), I would have sworn there was something about Sunday in the thread title.

    So am I hallucinating?

  127. 127
    J. Michael Neal says:

    @JGabriel:

    Risk implies a good chance that you won’t get CTE. In the case of pro football, it seems like it’s almost a dead certainty that you’ll suffer CTE.

    We don’t know this and it’s almost certainly not true. The brains examined have been anything but a random sample. So far they have been exclusively of players that committed suicide or showed signs of dementia and severe depression. We’ll only have some idea of the prevalence of CTE in football players once they have started examining the brains of players who have volunteered during their playing days to have them studied. Even then there are sampling issues.

    All we can say now is that football players are clearly suffering CTE at a rate well above that of the general population. Even using the entire population of NFL players as the denominator we would know that to be true, because it isn’t a very common condition in younger and middle aged people.

    There are a lot of former NFL players who don’t show any symptoms of CTE. Their bodies are usually busted up in one way or another, but they aren’t suicidal. They don’t have Parkinson’s like symptoms. And so on. We have no idea what the percentage of players suffering from brain damage is.

  128. 128
    Spike says:

    I’m heading that way too, Tom. My boxing fandom died with Duk-Koo Kim back in 82, and it’s getting harder for me to watch football without pondering the possibility of a similar tragedy.

  129. 129
    Mnemosyne says:

    @JGabriel:
    @J. Michael Neal:

    My guess would be that it’s going to turn out to be quite position-specific. Defensive backs and other positions where they have a lot of abrupt head contact will end up showing a high rate of CTE. Players in other positions where they’re less likely to receive a head injury will almost certainly have lower rates (though not zero, because even quarterbacks, running backs, etc. still get concussions and microconcussions).

  130. 130
    Roger Moore says:

    @👽 Martin:

    The NFL only needs 2,000 helmets. Even at $25K each, that’s $50M. That’s nothing to the NFL.

    That shouldn’t be anything to the NFL, but remember that they were trying to stick it to the referees for less than that. The NFL won’t spend real money on player safety until they’re forced to by lawsuit, labor action, or the like.

  131. 131
    Roger Moore says:

    @Mnemosyne:
    My understanding is that the worst tend to be linemen, who get their heads snapped back on just about every play. The best will presumably be punters and kickers, with quarterbacks being the best among players who are actually on the field a lot.

  132. 132
    The Bobs says:

    Tom,

    I lost my dad when I was 23. I had little contact with him for the 6 years prior to college (where you are)and the military. I sure could have used him later when I was learning how to operate in the working world and dealing with relationships. You will be there for him.

    I never got to have an adult relationship with my dad. I think you will find it to be the best of all.

  133. 133
    mainmati says:

    @c u n d gulag: American football grew out of Rugby football, which has a lot of tackling and running and kicking and laterals but, while they get a lot of bruises not so much terminal brain injuries. And no armour. So let’s go back to an American version of the original.

  134. 134
    👽 Martin says:

    @J. Michael Neal:

    We don’t know this and it’s almost certainly not true. The brains examined have been anything but a random sample. So far they have been exclusively of players that committed suicide or showed signs of dementia and severe depression. We’ll only have some idea of the prevalence of CTE in football players once they have started examining the brains of players who have volunteered during their playing days to have them studied. Even then there are sampling issues.

    This isn’t entirely accurate. They’ve been looking for CTE across a much broader sample of the public – including non-athletes and combat veterans. They’ve found CTE in boxers, in hockey players, and pro wrestlers. They’ve found it in older contact sport athletes that died of natural causes. It’s becoming quite conclusive that head impact is a cause of it. We don’t know how many NFL players are going to suffer from CTE, but it already appears to be vastly more common among contact sport athletes than any other population.

  135. 135
    👽 Martin says:

    @Roger Moore:

    That shouldn’t be anything to the NFL, but remember that they were trying to stick it to the referees for less than that.

    None of the referees killed their girlfriend and then committed suicide in front of the GM and coach.

    Seriously, in this country, death of people we care about is the only universal motivator for change that we have. We cannot collectively empathize with potential deaths – or deaths of strangers. I guarantee that the Chiefs have a different attitude toward CTE and safety today than they did 2 months ago. The refs weren’t beloved by anyone. The players are.

  136. 136
    General Stuck says:

    I played high school football, and except for the games, I hated it like the plague. But was a fast runner, and with two toes longer than my big toe, could run sideways as well. But every season, I would quit before summer 2 a day practices started, and let others talk me into not quitting about the time games started. Two concussions, probable, and two second halves in two separate games that are a blank to this day. Though in my case, it just made me smarterer.

    Fucking game for savages. Give me the dignified and genteel boys of summer/

  137. 137
    WaterGirl says:

    @karen: I’m really sorry that happened to you. Though I probably shouldn’t use the past tense, because your whole life changed based on that one event. I appreciate your sharing your story.

  138. 138
    WaterGirl says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I don’t think so. Notice the “on sunday” in the URL

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2.....-on-sunday

  139. 139
    Cassidy says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I don’t think that’s realistic. I think the only way to make boxing and MMA brain healthy is to 1) wear headgear and 2) have less rounds in boxing. These guys are tough. They’ll take a 12 round beating. In MMA you find a lot less head trauma due to the multiple disciplines and the higher percentage of flash knockouts. The MMA guys with brain damage are the ones from before the sport got big and were traveling around from show to show and kickboxing and everything else. Today’s MMA athletes get a lot of joint injuries from over training (and steroid abuse), but not so much brain injuries. That being said, it isn’t uncommon to have orbital fractures and that’s almost as bad in the long run. The other difference is the gloves. Boxing gloves do a great job of protecting the hands so that they can deliver forceful blows over the 12+ rounds, as opposed to MMA 4 oz gloves. It is common for a fighter to have a broken hand by the end of the first round.

    All that being said, there is no way to make combat sports brain safe. Even wrestling and grappling can have concussions.

    ETA: I compare MMA to boxing because of the differences in injury level. MMA has 3 or 5 5 minute rounds. A lot of that is spent clinching and grappling, with brief exchanges of hand/foot/knee combos tot he head and body as opposed to boxing wher they will stand close for protracted periods with longer hand exchanges to the heads and more accurate striking.

  140. 140
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @WaterGirl: Thanks! Didn’t think to look at the top of the page. I wonder what it meant, and why it was changed.

  141. 141
    Jamey says:

    @Roger Moore: You’re probably right, but I’m interested in knowing whether the game now is really statistically more dangerous. Not to go off like an apologist, but I want to find evidence that what we’re seeing now is a real increase in football injuries, rather than an anecdotal or perceived, due to awareness and increases in the sophistication with which injuries are diagnosed and reported.

    This may be a facile comparison, but what FIA and F-1 did to upgrade Armco barriers and piles of tires is not all that far off from what the NFL and other leagues did to upgrade playing field surfaces (from Astroturf). And just like F-1 adjusted grid placements and changed start rules, the NFL has stiffened rules protecting the most vulnerable players (QBs and receivers more than 5 yds off the LoS). So, while F-1 is autocratic, while the NFL is bureaucratic, there’s still a lot the NFL can do–especially if public interest in the league is in jeopardy.

    The nature of football won’t change, but now we’re having the dialog about what can be altered to make the game safer. The Jackie Stewart analogy I made earlier was directed at players’ roles in gaining awareness for the NFL’s need to make safety a higher priority. And if none of this works, POTUS can again threaten to bring the whole mess to a halt…

  142. 142
    Elie says:

    I am late on this string, but had to write this. While I still watch football, and enjoy it some, something left my enjoyment when Dave Duerson — safety for the Chicago Bears ’85 Superbowl champions, committed suicide last year. He shot himself through the heart, so he could preserve his brain to document what he knew that he had. He had been a great, hard hitting player who was a great guy off the field until his personality and cognitive/mental state changed due to this condition. Somehow, it spoke volumes to me that he had the discipline to plan his suicide so that something good could possibly come of it. Broke my heart, it did….

    Rest in peace, Dave….You did a good thing in the midst of your suffering…

  143. 143
    Tripod says:

    Re soccer: Taylor Twellman’s story is pretty bleak. After a career with multiple concussions:

    He said he got himself ready for his final game, on June 7, 2009, by taking four Vicodin, three Excedrin and “shotgunning a Budweiser”

  144. 144
    Tripod says:

    The always excellent Grant Wahl notes the three most frequent neuro injury sports are football, hockey and soccer.

    Former (MLS) All-Star Josh Gros retired at 25 in 2007 after being diagnosed with seven concussions that year alone. The Marine Corps cited Gros’s head injuries in refusing to readmit him

  145. 145
    General Stuck says:

    And then there is the tragic recent suicide of Ryan Freel, former Cincy Reds outfielder

    Freel played for the Reds from 2003 to 2008, and during one three-year stretch had 110 stolen bases. He was paid $11.55 million in his career, which ended prematurely because of a succession of injuries that plagued him after 2006.

    He was hit in the head with a pickoff throw in 2009, an injury that put him on the disabled list. Two years earlier he went on the disabled list for five weeks with head and neck injuries after colliding in the outfield with Norris Hopper. He said at the time that he’d had “probably nine or 10” concussions in his life.

    Even baseball can kill you young.

  146. 146
    WaterGirl says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Sunday is a big day for football. My guess is that Tom originally wrote “on Sunday” then decided to remove the day of the week since football is also on Mondays, and sometimes Thursdays. Just my guess, of course,

  147. 147
    luc says:

    Obviously, football has a great tradition, fan base and all.
    To me as foreigner it always seemed to be an awfully designed game. These immense weights of the players (which generate these huge impacts) are only possible because the game involves very little running for most actors. Compare football to rugby, gaelic football, hurling, or other tough ballgames. Football further features an absurd degree of specialization (the kicker doing nothing else the entire game, special teams??, the split into offensive and defensive lines,….), giant teams, which again enables players to reach dramatic sizes and weights – with most of them looking the opposite of healthy and likely not being healthy.

  148. 148
    Death Panel Truck says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    there’s no way that Butkus hit Jim Brown as hard

    Butkus was a rookie in 1965; Brown was playing his final season. Doubt they faced each other much.

  149. 149
    superfly says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I wasn’t saying defenders should only arm tackle, I was pointing out that the high school kids were tackling properly, they way I, and most likely, everyone else were taught to do, head up, face forward, shoulder into the players body, wrapping up.

    Hard hits will always happen so long as big, fast men play football, but (for example) James Harrison didn’t have to blow up Mohammed Massaquoi the way he did in 2010 , he could have tackled him or tried to play the ball, instead, he chose to blow him up, he chose to try to injure a fellow profession, that was his primary goal with that hit, Harrison makes no bones about that.

    I’m not trying to demonize Harrison, I’m pointing out that at some point, that type of play, the decision to blow up another player, and the attitude that fosters it, needs to be removed from the game, or it will literally destroy itself as these player get faster and bigger and stronger.

    If you would have seen the high school game, you would have seen a hard hitting, fast, physical football game (this was the Texas state championship, these guys could play), but without the defense out there trying to make SportCenter highlight reel by decapitating anyone, and just trying to tackle the ball carrier as quickly as possible.

    If the NFL and NCAA and high schools want to change the game over time, I think they can, but it will be a slow change, and will have to take place over a whole generation of football players, don’t know that it will happen though.

  150. 150
    Mark Kind says:

    The object of football is to immobilize one, two, or 11 opponents every time the ball is placed in play. It’s 11 times more brutal than boxing.

  151. 151
    brantl says:

    I can’t stand boxing or football anymore, it’s like if soccer required you kick people in the head.

  152. 152
    Dirk says:

    Well speaking as a South African, I think the amount of contact is also important.

    In rugby, the only person who is allowed to be tackled, brought down is the player with the ball. From what I’ve seen about football is that there is constant collisions.

    Additionally, in rugby there is also a prohibition on high tackles. If you tackle someone around the shoulder areas you are going to get a yellow card, and if you keep doing it you are going to be cited for dangerous play and sent off, and perhaps banned from the next couple of matches

  153. 153
    sherparick says:

    I do find myself uncomfortable with both football and boxing, and have drifted away from watching them as I age. But it is not just a football problem as many other sports, particularly soccer, hockey, and even baseball have significant risk for repetitive head injuries which causes CET. http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/soccer.html

    I also ski and have for now close to 40 years. I suspect that before I started wearing a helmet about 10 years ago I at least 10 mildly concussive episodes skiing. Also, I played rugby and soccer and I remember at least five concussions from those sports. I loved playing all those sports and the friendships formed through them.

    I can’t think of any sport ultimately more lethal than alpine mountain climbing. There are just not that many old climbers. Yet people still do it. Should it be banned? And what is the moral calculus for me when I vicariously enjoy these adventures on the pages of Outside and I encouraging and obtaining a thrill from the deaths and suffering of others?

    The biggest problem is that we underplayed the risk football and the other big entertainment sports and the there is a different moral calculus between the activities pursued by primarily for the sports itself (amateurs or where the professional remuneration is small and all goes to pretty much pursuing the sport such as mountain climbing) and the mass entertaiment sports that make the owners and the media corporations rich like American Football or soccer outside America (Manchester United is still the most valuable sports franchise in the world and prior to recent economic downtrn, Real Madrid was right behind it.)

    I think you have to be uncomfortable about this stuff. In 1994 I watched live as Ulrike Maier fell and pretty much snapped her head off on the Garmisch downhill. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrike_Maier I did not watch ski racing for a while, but now can’t get enough of watching Lindsay Vonn.

  154. 154
    Dana in Philly says:

    I think the NFL should have a two-strikes rule. First concussion, warnings are issued to both concussor and concussee. Second concussion, both concussor and concussee are dismissed from the league — on different grounds. Concussor is dismissed because he is having difficulty doing his job w/o damaging other players. Concussee is dismissed because further activity in the league on the playing field creates a risk that he will be seriously injured.

    Have a rule like this, and the playing style would quickly change.

    Waddaya you fans think?

  155. 155
    Cassidy says:

    The biggest problem is that we underplayed the risk football and the other big entertainment sports and the there is a different moral calculus between the activities pursued by primarily for the sports itself (amateurs or where the professional remuneration is small and all goes to pretty much pursuing the sport such as mountain climbing) and the mass entertaiment sports that make the owners and the media corporations rich like American Football or soccer outside America (Manchester United is still the most valuable sports franchise in the world and prior to recent economic downtrn, Real Madrid was right behind it.)

    I think this is off. The biggest problem is that we have significant income disparity and high risk, contact sports is the only these kids know for sure to move up in life.

  156. 156

    @Tom Levenson:

    I am willing to say that I’m getting deeply uncomfortable with my part in the transaction. I haven’t stopped liking football, but it is harder for me to like myself when I watch people getting hurt for my entertainment. But I don’t think that feeling is sufficient reason for me to say ban the whole thing — not even close.

    I’m in pretty much the same place. I’ve been reading TNC on the subject of football and CTE for awhile now. I had given up watching football too, before this season, but over Thanksgiving and at a party a few weeks later, I was at places where the Redskins were on TV, and got sucked back in, enough to deliberately watch the Dallas season-ender and the playoff game against the Seahawks.

    But watching RGIII go down…that did it. Between the CTE business and having watched such a painful moment, I just don’t think I’m coming back.

    But well before this, my wife and I had been talking about our son, now 5, and we have been in agreement for some time that he will not play tackle football. As more becomes known, I can only see this sentiment growing, though it may take awhile. But somewhere around 20-25 years from now, it’s going to be tough for Ivy League colleges and the like to put together football teams, because too many of the parents of those young men will have made the same decision as my wife and I have. Once they abandon football, it will gradually work its way down the ladder.

    I don’t know how far it will progress by the time I check out, somewhere around midcentury, but I suspect that I’ll live long enough to see pro and college football noticeably declining in popularity, and having a real stigma associated with them. I think my son will live long enough to see football be where boxing is now.

  157. 157
    brantl says:

    @Tom Levenson: @Tom Levenson: Sorry, but that’s just sophistry.

  158. 158
    brantl says:

    @Tom Levenson: @Tom Levenson: Sorry, but that’s just sophistry.

  159. 159
    Deb T says:

    What are the statistics on hockey players? You don’t hear much about their concussions and injuries (besides missing teeth). Maybe it’s not covered as well by the media or are there less injuries?

  160. 160
    Jonathan says:

    @Mnemosyne: I played lacrosse… the hits are real, and I suffered a concussion or two. Not as violent as the NFL, for sure, but not the sport I’d choose to stay away from head trauma.

  161. 161
    patrick says:

    well, for a start, they could mandate the pro-cap (see mark kelso formerly of the buffalo bills) and I like the idea of soft shell helmets and pads–reducing the pads might reduce how hard people hit…

    also, back in the day, the guys weren’t nearly as big…Art Shell was one of the biggest offensive tackles, and while tall at 6’5″, his playing weight was 265. lynn swann as a WR was 5’11” and 180 lbs, Mike Ditka as a TE was 6’3″ 228lbs, & alan paige as a defensive tackle at 6’4″ 245lbs….

    now you have offensive tackles like Phil Loadholdt of the Vikings who are 345lbs, WR’s like Calvin Johnson who’s 6’5″ and 235lbs, Rob Gronkowski who’s 6’6″ and 265 lbs, and defensive tackles like Kevin Williams of the vikes who is 6’5″ and 311lbs, or ndamukong suh, who’s 6’4″ and 304 lbs….F=M*A, and both the mass and acceleration have gone up….

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