Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Hard Blow

I've been a football fan my whole life. I remember watching the Houston Oilers beat the Buffalo Bills with a last second field goal on a little black and white TV at my grandparents' house when I was maybe six years old. When I was growing up in Connecticut we were Giants fans - "we" meaning my uncle and grandparents and brother and I. (My father was still hooked on the Philadelphia Eagles.) I've been a passionate follower of the Patriots since I moved to Boston some 25 years ago.

But it looks like I may have to find another way to consume hours of unwanted consciousness. It may be all over for North American football. You have to read a British newspaper to really get this story told forthrightly, but it's now incontrovertible that football players, with a very high prevalence, develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That means they become demented, chronically depressed, and die early, often by their own hand. We've always known about the osteoarthritis and other joint and ligament problems, but you can see macho men making a choice to accept that risk in exchange for the money and glory. (Actually the glory for most NFL players is very fleeting, and the money not so much as you think.)

But to lose your mind? That's not so easy to reconcile. Now a lot of these players are suing, claiming that NFL executives knew about this but covered it up. And they have a case. The expert physician panel they employed for many years downplayed the risk based on clearly inadequate research, which they interpreted tendentiously. Now that the truth is out, how many mothers will allow their sons to play football? And no, you don't need an NFL career to suffer this catastrophe, it now appears that it can happen to players who never play past college, quite possibly to some who never play past high school.

Football as we know it can't exist without violent collisions. They are simply essential to the game. And helmet technology seems to be about as good as it's going to get. Hardly anyone seems to be facing up to it yet, but it's hard to see how the game has much of a future. Tell me why I'm wrong.


roger said...

the inertia of stupidity will carry football on for quite while, as well as other human follies.

Anonymous said...

There are players who crave the contact that football allows. But of course the same contact was felt the other night in the NBA when the Oklahoma City Thunder had a player decked by the malicious elbow of "Metta World Peace," a.k.a. Ron Artest. Sheer lunacy . . . he should be banned from the NBA if he can't control his emotions and needs to deck another player while beating his chest. I am disturbed by the grandstanding and testosterone-fueled physical rants that have become "de rigueur" for players in the NBA and NFL. Disgusting and disturbing. Regarding your point, players are now too big and too athletic to be protected by any pads or helmets. Football has become inherently destructive and is therefore obsolete. That's okay, big money had already rendered it so.

kathy a. said...

the possibility of big money is why it exists. and teh big money already invested. even college stadiums cost a bundle.

i'm ahead of my time, since i never could understand football -- the only point for me is the marching bands, which don't even exist in the pros.