Open Thread: CTE MRIs

Medical science, in its attempt to spoil everything fun, has now made it possible to identify signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy via brain scans while the victims are still alive. Eric Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money:

The news that you can scan for CTE in living football players is a pretty big deal. Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it will lead to the end of football. I am skeptical. I think it might lead to the end of upper class white kids playing football. But I do not think one can overestimate how ingrained football is in American culture. I am sure that plenty of players would continue playing, even if they knew they had brain damage. And while one can argue that the government can step in and end such a violent game, that’s not going to happen. It’s possible that it could lead to shorter professional careers, some people dropping out of the game before they suffer damage, etc., but there will be hundreds of people to step in their place…

Who’s right, Coates or Loomis?

95 replies
  1. 1
    MoeizW says:

    Loomis all day!

    We must have our gladiator spectacles, as all good empires do!

  2. 2
    Suzanne says:

    Loomis. We’ll always have our Hunger Games. Anxious masculinity AHOY!

  3. 3
    Tom Levenson says:

    Coates. Liability and insurance will set a price on permanent brain damage; it will be high.

    Or rather: this kind of finding will make it more likely that very high tech will start be applied to head and neck protection (and hits) — which will help players, but price many/most high schools and colleges out of the game.

  4. 4
    JGabriel says:

    Eric Loomis:

    I am sure that plenty of players would continue playing, even if they knew they had brain damage.

    Well, yes. One would think that the more brain damaged someone becomes, the more likely they are to not care about it — until it leads to disability or incapacitation, of course.

    Anne Laurie @ Top:

    Who’s right, Coates or Loomis?

    Depends on the time frame. Loomis is right in the shorter term, Coates in the longer.

    .

  5. 5
    Yutsano says:

    @JGabriel:

    Loomis is right in the shorter term, Coates in the longer.

    Eventually tastes and cultures change and what games/sports we used to play we forsake for others. Do we play rounders anymore, for instance?

  6. 6
    J R in W Va says:

    I understand that Aussie Rules football and rugby players don’t wear any protective devices.

    Maybe if American Footballers weren’t wearing armor they wouldn’t hit so hard? Take the helmets away, and the pads, and wear sheakers, heavy shirts, and a jockstrap under your shorts, and play ball. Disarmed, kind of.

    If they prove that football as it is played now causes brain damage in most or all players, well, that would be the end of the game as it is played today, because of the legal liabilities. You aren’t allowed to injure someone, even if they are a volunteer.

  7. 7
    Linkmeister says:

    Loomis. And the first ones to quit will be the upper-class white kids, enforced by their parents. How many white boxers have you seen in the past 20 or 30 years?

  8. 8
    Cliff in NH says:

    well, you will finally see better helmets is my first guess.

  9. 9
    Tokyokie says:

    As Tom indicated, the NFL has the money and the legal means to resist legal challenges for a few years, but Pop Warner leagues and school districts do not, and rather than face the possible legal consequences, they’ll stop sponsoring games. It will take a few years for such actions to affect the pros, but if talented athletes are not coming up through the developmental ranks, the NFL product will eventually suffer greatly.

  10. 10
    Pooh says:

    @J R in W Va:

    It’s not just the lack of padding, it’s the accel/decel of the snap. Rugby scrums aren’t great but there are less of them per game and my intuition is that the much higher degree of formal structure probably trains guys to “take the hit” better.

  11. 11
    piratedan says:

    Loomis (I’m afraid) safety takes a long time to be implemented, although it would be interesting to see the Vegas odds on safety concerns ending football versus a national assault weapons ban being implemented….

  12. 12

    Being a Niners fan it’s hard for me to bail on the sport a week before the Super Bowl.

    But I foresee a time in the future when football players will look like Michelin Men.

  13. 13
    burnspbesq says:

    Football is toast. What mom is going to let little Tyler play football, when there are other games that are just as much fun and safer?

    Jake Seau, Junior’s son, is the canary in the coalmine.

    Jake plays lacrosse.

    ETA: I’ve gotten my ass handed to me on the lacrosse field more than once. Total number of concussions? Nil.

  14. 14
    Soo says:

    I think, knowing about this damage, if I had a kid I would push them toward playing a different sport. I think if enough parents do that, and this is going to be all over the news so it will be secret to no one, it will weaken the sport from the ground up. Pee-wee leagues will dry up. High-school programs will get weaker making college programs weaker… etc. It would take a while, but I think it could happen.

  15. 15
    Narcissus says:

    I predict that the corporate world and the NFL will behave as honorably as the tobacco and the energy interests did when their business model was threatened.

    Which means in thirty or forty years and after a few thousand surgeon general reports and health studies, watch out.

  16. 16
    Fair Economist says:

    Coates. Once it becomes clear that playing football causes permanent brain damage in at least a large subset of players that’s the end of high school football. Parent who allow their kids to get brain damaged are viewed as bad parents and the social stigma will kill HS football even if the financial costs and legal risks don’t. From there it will propagate up in age – kids in schools that don’t play won’t grow up to be fans. In 20-25 years all the fans remaining will be middle aged or older and then it will be an old fart sport and will become unfashionable in a hurry.

    American football will be replaced by rest-of-world football. It’s a big sport in middle school and below; boys will just keep playing it and not switch over to football.

  17. 17
    J. Michael Neal says:

    @J R in W Va: I’m willing to bet that rugby is going to find that it has a CTE problem, too, once they start looking.

  18. 18
    Joey Maloney says:

    Who’s right, Coates or Loomis?

    I’m rooting for injuries.

  19. 19
    Fair Economist says:

    @burnspbesq:

    Football is toast. What mom is going to let little Tyler play football, when there are other games that are just as much fun and safer?
    Jake Seau, Junior’s son, is the canary in the coalmine.
    Jake plays lacrosse.

    Yes indeed. I just took my 11yo son to football practice – flag; there’s no tackle in his age group around here. My son, who wants to play tackle (not gonna happen), was very upset to see multiple tackle football teams at the park that he hadn’t been able to sign up for. Except they weren’t tackle football, they were lacrosse.

  20. 20
    scav says:

    Variable, depending on context, it’s not as though helmet laws or even helmet suggestions have made a dent yet in hard core donorcycle culture. Areas where there is money at risk because of lawsuits will probably alter but there will likely be semi-organized, more or less criminally linked (betting, etc) “old style” games with probably even less regulation than now. Some will switch to different games, for others the weird ball will join the stars and bars and SS logo as rebellion chic.

  21. 21
    Peter says:

    Neither. I don’t think football will end but I strongly suspect it may have to change.

  22. 22
    srv says:

    How about brain scans for politicians?

  23. 23
    Fair Economist says:

    Helmets are probably not going to help. It’s the linebackers who are really showing up with damage, and it’s basically universal in NFL linebackers (who have a life expectancy in their 50’s). The cause is probably the block, which results in players going from full tilt run to complete stop almost instantaneously. That bangs the brain against the skull regardless of helmet padding, because there’s nothing else to stop the brain. Taking the padding away means the players can’t hit so hard and would help the CTE; but it was originally put in because players got gruesome injuries from blocking and tackling without the pads.

  24. 24
    MikeJ says:

    @Yutsano:

    Eventually tastes and cultures change and what games/sports we used to play we forsake for others

    In the 30s and 40s the two most popular sports in the US were boxing and horse racing.

    @scav:

    it’s not as though helmet laws or even helmet suggestions have made a dent yet in hard core donorcycle culture

    Story on the news today about a rep that wants to repeal the helmet law here. Which is fine with me if they’ve filled out donor cards.

  25. 25
    burnspbesq says:

    @Fair Economist:

    Put a stick in his hand, and I promise you, within 15 minutes the desire to play football will be gone.

  26. 26
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Fair Economist: Parents afraid of social stigma? Have you seen the Honey Boo Boo show? Every other program on TV is about idiots acting like idiots. I’m not expecting a wave of cautious restraint to sweep the nation. People still go to _tanning places_. Their whole business model is to damage your body. They market it by saying you can buy an unlimited membership.

  27. 27
    Steeplejack says:

    Just deleted a longer comment for “anecdata” and possible bias.

    Shorter: When I look at NFL film footage from the ’60s and early ’70s, it appears to me that there is a discernible difference in the style of tackling and hitting from the game today. Yes, I know there were “headhunters” and severe injuries back then, but they seemed to be rarer.

  28. 28
    SRW1 says:

    Is boxing still legal?

    There’s your answer.

  29. 29
    Xenos says:

    In six years of playing rugby I saw two concussions. Some serious lower body injuries, sure, but very little head trauma.

    They fixed the game of football for a century when they adjusted the rules that allowed college players to be killed on the field. I don’t think a rule change is going to fix it this time.

  30. 30
    👽 Martin says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    Coates. Liability and insurance will set a price on permanent brain damage; it will be high.

    I think they’ll both be right. I expect pony football and high school football will change in significant ways because of the liability. College football will change less, because there is serious money there to cover the liability. Pro will change even less because they can cover the liability completely.

    When we discussed this previously, subtle changes like shortening the play clock could have significant impact. A 250 lb wide receiver isn’t going to be able to keep up with the faster pace of the game. Whittle around a bunch of things around the edges, get away from the shit $250 helmets and put real money $25,000 helmets on these guys like other sports do, and they can likely get the risks down quite a lot without changing the fundamental nature of the game – but college won’t be able to afford some of these options, and HS won’t be able to afford any of them, and those games will change quite a lot.

  31. 31

    @Xenos: The problem is that it seems that a lot of subconcussive hits are what lead to CTE. The evidence suggests that a player can end up with it without ever experiencing significant concussion symptoms. That you haven’t noticed more than a couple of concussions in rugby doesn’t even mean that there aren’t more concussions happening than that. Now adjust for all of the players that routinely get hit in the head without suffering concussions. If that happens a lot in a sport, then it is probably causing CTE, even if no one complains of symptoms.

  32. 32
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    @J. Michael Neal:

    Studies have already shown a high incidence of mild traumatic brain injuries in both Rugby Union and Rugby League players at all levels.

    I don’t doubt that further study would show CTE amongst professional players, but I would be surprised if it was as prevalent as in NFL players. Helmets are the difference.

    It’s kind of like boxing. Bare knuckle boxing rarely saw anyone hit in the head for fear of breaking a hand. The introduction of gloves made it possible to smack the opponent so hard in the head that his brain would turn to jelly.

    Rugby players of both codes generally wear heavy protection on the upper body and occasionally soft headgear. Aussie Rules players don’t really need much more than soccer players. It’s regarded as a rather effete sport in some quarters.

  33. 33
    👽 Martin says:

    And consider the upside to this: it might force universities to deal with the problem of money and college sports – at least the football side of it.

  34. 34
    👽 Martin says:

    Hockey is the other sport where CTE is prevalent – particularly among enforcers who are taking the hardest hits and due to the frequent fights. Hockey more than football can easily make changes to the game to eliminate that. Will they lose fans? Probably not – they don’t have any left to lose.

  35. 35
    ruemara says:

    Loomis. Not because of safety, liability or any other issue in that vein. Money. Because, like war, poor men will seek an out. If it means they wind up rich, but tortured by their brains, yet they at least have money for a while-they’ll do it. Happens in boxing, happens here. Sports and war, the brass ring of opportunity for suckers.

  36. 36

    @Viva BrisVegas:

    I don’t doubt that further study would show CTE amongst professional players, but I would be surprised if it was as prevalent as in NFL players. Helmets are the difference.

    I think we’re far too early in the process of dealing with this to have any confidence about statements like this.

  37. 37
    👽 Martin says:

    @Viva BrisVegas: Except that the variation across boxing levels is really significant. Olympic boxing is entirely points based – everyone wears headgear, and matches are only 3 rounds. That’s not to say that there isn’t opportunity for significant injury, but compared to 10 round, no headgear boxing with TKO as the preferred outcome, it’s a vastly broader exposure to injury from end-to-end as compared to HS-college-pro football, that really only differ based on the size and strength of the guys playing. And even our suburban half-measured, half-asian HS football team, half those guys are huge.

  38. 38
    Ailuridae says:

    @Steeplejack:

    I think you’re likely wrong here. The current list of retired players involved in suits against the league for failure to protect them against concussions and resulting brain damage is over 4000. Those folks can’t all be the result of different or poorer tackling techniques and many of the most severe and obvious cases like Mike Webster were from the era you suggested. In Webster’s case he is considered among the best if not the single best OC in terms of technique ever. And he still was considered disabled before he stopped playing and lived out of a van the last 10 or 15 years of his life.

  39. 39
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @👽 Martin:

    I think they’ll both be right. I expect pony football and high school football will change in significant ways because of the liability. College football will change less, because there is serious money there to cover the liability. Pro will change even less because they can cover the liability completely.

    If liability stops football below the university level the feed of new players is likely to dry up.

    By the time students get to the U they won’t have developed a love for the game. They’ll be involved in other sports.

    And if millions no longer play at the high school level and lower the fan base will start to dry up. The “that could be me” fantasy won’t work any longer.

    Might take a decade or two, but….

  40. 40
    Ailuridae says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Less minutes in the ring as a competitor will obviously diminish risk versus more. But while gloves and headgear do something to diminish the impact of linear shots like jabs neither has shown much in the way of reducing the impact (and likelihood of a concussion) from a rotational punch like the classic hook.

  41. 41
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Loomis is right. Because Texas is brain damaged from the start, and doesn’t need football to make it that way. They revel in their brain damage. Look at their fuckin’ governor!

  42. 42
    👽 Martin says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: See, I think you have it backward. Texas will be the first state to embrace changing the sport by adding a pair of sidearms to the player uniform. In lieu of helmet tackles, players can shoot at the feet of opposing players – but they can’t go for their gun until the snap.

    It takes football and makes it even more Texas.

  43. 43
    redshirt says:

    It’s gonna be flag football soon enough, AKA “Grass Basketball”.

  44. 44
    Ruckus says:

    @scav:
    It isn’t the helmet law so much, it’s the macho attitude that so many wear helmets that either met the absolute min standards or are not even legal. Many have helmets with fake DOT stickers that are little more than leather beanies. A proper helmet can do wonders, I for example have gone head first into the bumper of a truck at a closing speed of 30+ without any injury above the neck. I wouldn’t recommend this at all by the way because the other injuries below the neck will remain with me forever and the outcome could have been much worse, which is what I expected as it was happening.
    On to the original question. I think it will take quite a while to change but that will happen. And it will be due to litigation and as many said will start with HS ball. How many kids like soccer and could care less about football? The culture may already be changing.

  45. 45
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @J. Michael Neal: not yet but in 10 years – I’ve ranted in other threads about this but since it professionalised in the 90s the players have gone from strong-normal to refrigerator sized. The play is more formally structured, the rules about contact are much tighter (and enforced) and not having pads makes a difference, but the players now are too damn big. I am 100% sure that in 10 years when this gen of players starts hitting 40s/50s it’s all gonna hit the fan.

  46. 46
    👽 Martin says:

    @redshirt:

    Grass Basketball

    Grassketball! My trademark! I want $2 every time someone says Grassketball™ on TV!

  47. 47
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    Example from the last decade

    Johnny Wilkinson (English rugby legend, hero to the nation, kicking god, etc ad nauseum) in 2003, 2008, 2011.

    Aside from the utterly atrocious recent haircut, look at how his neck and upper shoulders expand. He’s also one of the smaller guys on the pitch.

  48. 48
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @J R in W Va: This.

    Of course, the sunset for football even with liability is not so close as all that because the “student athlete” crapola lets them evade worker’s compensation laws.

  49. 49
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @👽 Martin: Not a fooking chance of that.

    Look into the finances of the SEC schools sometime. Well, the state ones–the private ones are even more opaque.

  50. 50
    scav says:

    @Ruckus: Wasn’t it clear that I thought it was exactly the macho thing that would play out in football? Laws or recommendations agaist it increase the cachet for those that base their decisions on that particular thrill, whereas motorcyclists (the other culture) do take precautions. Perhaps that’s a family specific distinction between the two terms, esp. with multiple doctors involved.

  51. 51
    slightly_peeved says:

    @TheMightyTrowel:

    Except that given how many people play Rugby and AFL, and given that there are a significant number of cases of CTE developing during or just after a gridiron career, that shit should have already hit the fan. You see a lot of articles about CTE in Rugby and AFL, but very few examples of players who are suffering it.

    And I think the improved cleanliness of the sports would have an effect. Particularly in AFL, with the old habit of the king hit (for US readers, read sucker punch).

    The bigger necks would also protect against concussions, since the neck muscles slow down the head when it gets hit. Aussie Joe Bugner was able to go the distance with Ali because he had a neck like a tree trunk and could just wear Ali’s punches for 15 rounds.

  52. 52
    JoyceH says:

    I’m with Coates, for reasons that others have already pointed out. A father might be willing to veg out on the couch and watch a bunch of strangers incur lifelong brain injuries, but his wife sure isn’t going to let their son risk those same injuries just to play a sport, even if dad might want the kid to play. And if they’re not learning the game in high school and below, where are the pros going to come from?

    Sports come in and go out of fashion anyway – football’s day in the sun might have been expiring already.

  53. 53
    Cmm says:

    I am with those that say that soccer will end up on top. Every World Cup and Olympics has more Americans involved and following the tournaments, plus the popularity among kids has grown tremendously as a sport to play and to follow. The attraction over football now that the higher risks of football are obvious will be another boost, as will the growth of the Latino population, since soccer is much more a part of their culture than US football. I am no sports fan but occasionally watch big events as a social thing with friends, but find myself unable to watch even highlights of football games without thinking of the debilitating damage we are watching occur real-time.

    I am sadder to see the long decline of baseball than football, though.

  54. 54
    DecidedFenceSitter says:

    Honestly, while I’ll be sad to see it go, I’ll go with Coates in the long run as parents take their kids out and thus programs dry up.

    Why sad? Because it was a sport I could play despite not being a runner. Because it made being bulky and powerful an asset rather than limiting me in the other sports. Generally speaking, there is wrestling as well for common high school sport, but the shenanigans that are involved with weigh-ins make me leery.

    Most other sports the athletes look fairly similar, while in football there was a wider variety of body shapes to be found.

  55. 55
    Cacti says:

    @J R in W Va:

    I understand that Aussie Rules football and rugby players don’t wear any protective devices.

    Another big difference between Aussie football, rugby, and American football is the forward pass in the latter.

    Passing plays are often the ones where defensive players really have an opportunity to wind up and blast a vulnerable offensive player.

  56. 56
    aimai says:

    @Tom Levenson:
    I agree.

  57. 57

    I’m in the Coates-because-insurance camp.

    However, and you heard it here first, all the sound and fury will be that Obamacare killed football.

  58. 58
    gnomedad says:

    You’re all missing the point. Obviously, the players need to be armed.

  59. 59
    R-Jud says:

    @DecidedFenceSitter:

    Because it was a sport I could play despite not being a runner. Because it made being bulky and powerful an asset rather than limiting me in the other sports.

    If football really does go into a decline, I predict we will have AMAZING Olympic weightlifters, and probably shot/disc/hammer throwers, in another 10-15 years. Right now, most of our bulk ‘n’ power types like you wind up strapping on football pads.

  60. 60
    The Sheriff's A Ni- says:

    @R-Jud:

    If football really does go into a decline, I predict we will have AMAZING Olympic weightlifters, and probably shot/disc/hammer throwers, in another 10-15 years.

    I predict in another 10-15 years, no kid will ever be able to play a sport without a gigantic inflatable bubble around his head. Also, we’ll have an even worse epidemic of obese junior couch potatoes as we wonder why kids just aren’t going out to play anymore.

  61. 61
    NCSteve says:

    Coates. Two words: trial lawyers.

  62. 62
    Tokyokie says:

    @DecidedFenceSitter: Baseball accommodates a wide variety of athletic body types, providing those athletes have the requisite hand-to-eye coordination (hitters) or muscle memory (pitchers). Big galoots can play first base, DH or maybe left field. Fast, nimble, little guys can play middle infield or center field. Tall guys can pitch. And more normally dimensioned fellows can play the other positions.

    I think the CTE problems of football will wind up helping baseball to an extent. It still baffles me why a promising athlete, given a choice of playing either of the sports professionally, would choose football, seeing as the careers in baseball are longer, the money is guaranteed, and the likelihood of retiring with debilitating conditions is a lot lower. But then, I guess if you can’t hit (or throw) a good breaking pitch, you don’t have much choice.

  63. 63
    jayboat says:

    Discovery of new relevant facts,
    and distribution of these facts to an ever-greater % of the populace (thanks, interwebs!) will evolve into better, more well-informed debate on this issue.

    this thread is proof in microcosm.

    Looking at the media cycle of recent events and it seems to me that voices of rationality are gaining traction across the board (holy grail: climate change). The radical, screeching distracting elements are being sidelined by the facts, and more people are now getting the facts. (not implying they’ve given up, just optimistic by nature)

    I’m hopeful, anyway. And I see this playing out just as many here have noted. The timeline is a big variable, but subject to acceleration the next, and every time a player leaves the field on a stretcher.

  64. 64
    Cassidy says:

    @Linkmeister: Boxing has always been a “working class” sport, so I don’t think that was ever an issue. There are still plenty of white boxers. The two of the four biggest names in boxing are white.

    I don’t think soccer will ever catch on like the rest of the world. I foresee a lot more interest in baseball (traditional), track and field and other Olympic sports, and a significant increase in Wrestling and MMA.

  65. 65
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cacti: In rugby the only person who can be tackled or even impeded without a penalty being called is the ball carrier; the rest of the field is in motion to advance or chase the ball. Tackles are usually at waist height and head contact while running is rare. Scrums are static, there’s no opposing lines clashing as in American football hikes. That’s not to say that dirty deeds don’t happen when the ref (singular) can’t see what’s going on but the “no trophies” rule from the amateur days stating that severed body parts must be returned after the match still applies.

    On the other hand the full team plays the full eighty minutes (two 40 minute halves, no timeouts) with only limited substitutions for injury or tactical reasons. There are no specific offensive and defensive teams and the specialists like the kickers are on the field for the entire game and expected to tackle and move the ball as necessary.

  66. 66
    Kent says:

    Times are changing. I’m starting to see Lacrosse showing up here in Central Texas high schools which would have been a ridiculous notion a decade or two ago. Soccer also continues to grow like gangbusters.

    I expect football is in for a long slow decline as youth shift away from it in increasing numbers. But I also expect the game to evolve in terms of rules and equipment in an attempt (futile I suspect) to address these issues.

    Manufacturers already know how to make MUCH safer helmets. The key is making them soft so they can’t function as a weapon. Much harder to spear someone when your head is wrapped in a pillow than when you are encased in a hard heavy plastic shell with a steel facemask. And we are already seeing a dramatic evolution of the rules this year. I expect that will continue.

    However if they lose the youth the sport will eventually be doomed to becoming more of a niche sideshow rather than a national past time.

  67. 67
    RSA says:

    I am sure that plenty of players would continue playing, even if they knew they had brain damage.

    I saw a poll some years ago that asked young people training for the Olympics what they would do if told they could win a gold medal but would die shortly afterwards (a few years maybe? I don’t remember the exact wording.) Most were fine with the tradeoff, if I remember correctly.

    On the other hand, I think that all the comments about the pipeline to the NFL being shut down, or at least constricted, are right. I played a lot of sports when I was a kid, but not football, because my parents thought it was too dangerous. If a lot of people start feeling the same, then the culture and community support will change, I think.

  68. 68
    Chet Manly says:

    @J R in W Va: The whole reason American football has protective gear and the forward pass in the first place is that before they were introduced players were dying on the field by the dozens every year so I don’t think that’s the answer.

    I honestly think this is a very rare example of Coates being completely full of it. Anyone who thinks the audience will dry up obviously doesn’t understand America’s love of violence and there will always be willing players.

    Just try telling a super-athletic 16-year-old boy or his family that they shouldn’t choose football as a path out of poverty because he might end up with CTE some day. Hell, Earl Campbell’s in constant pain and has barely been able to walk for decades due to the punishment his legs and hips took in football. Campbell says he wouldn’t have given up a single year of his career for better health and looked at the interviewer like she was crazy for even asking.

  69. 69
    jayackroyd says:

    @👽 Martin: Yeah, but they’re slow. I don’t know whether you’ve seen a high school game lately, but what is really remarkable is how slow they are. Or, if you prefer, how FAST the NFL is. The most you play for as a high school kid is 30 games or so, assuming you start as a sophomore, 8 minute quarters. This is not a threat of brain damage.

    The NFL, OTOH, with an 18 game season and an average of four year careers with 15 minute quarters at an incredible level of speed and force, is another story entirely. The thoughtful reason to oppose the use of performance enhancing drugs is that they are bad for people–that we shouldn’t take advantage of people willing to damage themselves in order to perform on a public stage. That same argument applies to the NFL. The injury rate (barring kickers) is 100 percent. Every single player suffers an injury that would put you or me into the ER, every season. That’s insane. But that’s the sport.

  70. 70
    evodevo says:

    @Linkmeister: Yep – the phenomenon of punch-drunk fighters didn’t stop the sport from happening. Just stopped people who weren’t desperate. (See Million Dollar Baby – one of Clint’s best).

  71. 71
    Cassidy says:

    @evodevo: You should read the book. Most of the stories have a basis of real life in them.

  72. 72
    Keith G says:

    @Fair Economist: 100% on point. It’s the physics of immediate and complete deceleration.

    What many here seem to ignore is that much of football is subsidized by public money, a lot of public money. The arguments against spending public funds in support of an activity that is demonstrably so dangerous are going to grow.

    That’s in addition to the fears of exposure to litigation.

  73. 73
    jayboat says:

    @evodevo- I don’t know enough about boxing culture, but are we not able to look at medical research in that specific sport as the ‘point of the spear’ on all of this? If the next generation of talent only emerges from developing countries or specific demographics that offer few other opportunities for ‘success’, that doesn’t seem to be much of strategy. Again, the exact timeline is unknown, but we’re heading toward a predictable destination.

  74. 74
    Alex says:

    I think you can completely count out upper-class white kids from football anyway. Except for in the south, perhaps.

  75. 75
    LeeM says:

    @J R in W Va:

    As a retired rugby player, I can attest that lack of pads created a steep learning curve for Football players new to the gentleman’s game. Lots of concussions and broken collar bones the first year. Since I came from a soccer (Futball) background, I knew better than to lead with my head into tackles.

  76. 76
    Amir Khalid says:

    @slightly_peeved:
    That was the most boring fight I have ever seen. For months afterwards, you could see the marks on the Merdeka Stadium pitch where it was damaged by the chairs that were placed on it. The Chief Minister of Selangor got rooked by Don King. And then he wound up in jail for corruption related to the fight.

    @Robert Sneddon:
    If I’m not mistaken, it’s specifically forbidden in rugby union to form one forward line of a scrum and then charge the other forward line from a distance — it’s considered dangerous play, and so are high tackles.

  77. 77
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Coates is right. It will take longer than he thinks, though. Look at boxing. Used to be very common in my grandfather’s day – he was a rather accomplished amateur. Now? One of our local gyms put in a ring, haven’t had one in the area for almost thirty years. A few guys spar in it every now and then. That’s it. Nobody tries to do it competitively and no one would even consider trying to do it for a living. Not even most poor folks with no other options would give it a shot these days, I think.

    Boxing still exists but it’s not anything like the major draw it used to be. Football will get there too.

  78. 78
    LeeM says:

    @Cassidy:
    Soccer is the most popular team sport in the US for children under 12, in terms of player numbers. I believe that this generation will grow up to see MLS become a world power in the sport (along with leagues from Mexico, Brazil, & China), rather than a second or third tier professional league.

  79. 79
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    Doesn’t soccer also have its problems, like hitting the ball with your head? OTOH that doesn’t seem like an essential part of the sport to me.

  80. 80
    Cassidy says:

    @LeeM: Possibly. Personally, I don’t see it getting higher than AA or AAA ball status, but I could easily be wrong.

  81. 81
    Fair Economist says:

    @Chet Manly:

    Just try telling a super-athletic 16-year-old boy or his family that they shouldn’t choose football as a path out of poverty because he might end up with CTE some day.

    There will still be some players who will want to play because the tradeoff between risk and living well as an NFL player is worth. But there’s not going to be enough of those to put together a team even at a large urban high school. Most players play football for fun, school status, and the dream of a college scholarship. That’s not enough to justify brain damage, even to most teenagers, and certainly not to their parents.

  82. 82
    Fair Economist says:

    @jayackroyd:

    I don’t know whether you’ve seen a high school game lately, but what is really remarkable is how slow they are. Or, if you prefer, how FAST the NFL is. The most you play for as a high school kid is 30 games or so, assuming you start as a sophomore, 8 minute quarters. This is not a threat of brain damage.

    It’s not the games, it’s the practices. And researchers have put accelerometers on high school players in practice and they are definitely getting brain damage.

  83. 83
    Cassidy says:

    Most players play football for fun, school status, and the dream of a college scholarship. That’s not enough to justify brain damage, even to most teenagers, and certainly not to their parents.

    You should go to one of those “urban centers”. You might change your mind.

  84. 84
    Tk says:

    Poverty rules all. At that age I would have done anything to get a paycheck that lifted my family out of poverty. They just have to keep a large portion of the population in poverty and harvest the talent once a year just like todays model. Knowledge of the cost to the player will just drive up the cost of the product, a cost that America will happily pay (the rich America, that is). The richest country in the world doesn’t care enough to adequately feed all of its citizens, it won’t give a moments thought to a few pulped brains in the name of entertainment. Anyone who thinks otherwise does not grasp human nature.

  85. 85
    burnspbesq says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    Doesn’t soccer also have its problems, like hitting the ball with your head? OTOH that doesn’t seem like an essential part of the sport to me

    If your technique is correct, you shouldn’t be at risk of brain trauma from heading the ball. Soccer’s biggest injury problem, at least in the USA, is the epidemic of ACL tears in high-school age girls.

  86. 86
    tk says:

    @Fair Economist:

    I can tell you that as a boy growing up in poverty, there is no risk I wouldn’t have taken to get me and my family out of the shithole we lived in. Considering that in this country, where you grow in poverty and most likely die in poverty, any chance to change that fate will be grasped with both hands. Brain damage? Feh. Small price to pay.

  87. 87
    tk says:

    In addition, if you take the option of football scholarships away from kids with few options as it is, what are the odds of many of those kids going to college? The 15 billion that the NFL and NCAA rake in (just a guess)won’t be redirected into scholarships for the poor.

  88. 88
    Jennifer says:

    Who’s right, Coates or Loomis?

    You’re asking this about a country contemplating posting armed guards at every school in order to preserve the “right” of the least sane among us to possess military-style offensive weapons, should the evil gubmint force them into armed revolt over intolerable new food labelling that forces them to know what’s in the garbage they’re eating?

    If there’s one thing we know, it’s that we’ll fight to the death to preserve the rights of a few to make large sums of money. In this case, the rights of a few to repetitively perform the equivalent of slamming their head into a brick wall in return for a very large paycheck – and more on point, for those who own the teams to make obscene sums by encouraging their employees to destroy their brains for the owner’s profit.

  89. 89
    grandpa john says:

    @Soo: So there is a chance that colleges and universities will return to their original mission of higher education instead of being pro footballs minor leagues.? instead of millions of dollars spent on stadiums, special dorms and indoor arenas or sports facilities, the massive building programs will be for top notch libraries, research facilities and classroom/lab facilities? Hmmm Well at 75 it won’t be in my lifetime.

  90. 90
    jayackroyd says:

    @Fair Economist: Interesting. On my HS team in the 70s we rarely had full contact practices. Do you have a link?

  91. 91
    Steve Finlay says:

    I think Fair Economist is right: The sport will slowly shrink. Even if the NFL manages to avoid a judgment against them, high schools and some universities will not be able to take the risk. It probably won’t disappear entirely – as many people have pointed out, boxing didn’t.

    If anyone wants to guarantee the survival of football, the best way is to get a government somewhere to ban it. Then it will be around forever!

  92. 92
    Soo says:

    @ grandpa john: Didn’t say that at all. Didn’t even infer it. What I am inferring is that excellent players on the field don’t start playing at age 16. They start playing when they are 5. If parents, knowing the sport causes brain damage, begin to sway their kids toward a different sport-something I would absolutely do if I had a kid-there will be an impact on the number of quality players to choose from in the future – yes, past your lifetime. Lack of quality players, over time, will negatively impact the sport. Watching incredibly skilled football teams go head to head (ahem) is a joy. Watching mediocre to shitty football teams play…after a while, and it may take a while, doesn’t fill stadiums. That’s my theory. If I had to speculate as to where the money would go should that happen, I would guess the next biggest sport.

  93. 93
    Ruckus says:

    @scav:
    It was but I wanted to bring in the helmet law effectiveness due to the macho, I won’t get hurt BS. Pro football being played in a controlled atmosphere, unlike street motorcycling where the law applies, would/could have a much higher proper usage rate. That should bring better results from a better helmet than what the motorcycle helmet law does, because it can be more effective.

  94. 94
    Ivy says:

    @burnspbesq: There you go. The mothers (and fathers, eventually) will kill Pop Warner and high school. Parents have to sign a form allowing a student to play ANY high school sport. Those signatures will not be forthcoming for football. Also, as someone mentioned earlier, insurance costs will really be the death knell.

    So, TNC, with the caveat tat it will be white people out first, but liability will finish it quickly for everyone.

  95. 95
    Big Al says:

    @jayackroyd: @Jay Ackroyd I don’t have a link, but at my high school in the late 70s early 80s we had full contact practices daily (or often twice daily), unless it was over 90 degrees and we practiced in pads and helmets, and before gameday we did a walkthrough.

    Of course, I am from the south, so…

    I gave up football after my sophomore year – I saw the writing on the wall – I wasn’t mean or aggressive enough. Good thing, I say.

Comments are closed.