An honest question for football fans

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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149 Responses

  1. Slugger says:

    I am simply not watching football. There are plenty of alternatives on week-end afternoons. I do not need to support injurying real people to get my vicarious thrills.Report

  2. Michael Drew says:

    It diminishes my pleasure in watching when I hear other fans bemoan the loss of “real” (especially defensive) football when the League takes steps to try to minimally control the level of violence that leads to these injuries. That makes me want to walk away.

    OTOH, it might just be a fantasy to think those kinds of measures are going to have any ameliorative effects at all; I don’t think we know yet. I feel some guilt watching, and at some point I can see myself walking away if the culture doesn’t change, but for now the selling machine still has its hooks in me pretty deep. But I can pretty easily see a time when I don’t care about football at all and don;t miss the time when I did.

    Also, I’m a huge fan of On Point with Tom Ashbrook on WBUR, but I wasn’t aware of this sports show, so I’m grateful for the heads up. It’s cool that you listen despite a low general sports interest.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew says:

      My issue with the rules is that many of them aren’t about long-term safety but instead about profits. See: the Tom Brady rule.

      You want to address safety? Add an extra bye, increase roster sizes, redesign the field, address the PED issue, adopt better helmets.

      You know why none of those haven’t been done? They either don’t make money and some actually cost money.Report

      • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

        Actually, the best way to avoid injury IMHO is to remove all padding. Rugby players who are less padded have fewer injuries. Armouring up encourages players to be more violent.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        except if you’re playing against GWBush.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

        You know why none of those haven’t been done? They either don’t make money and some actually cost money

        The obvious win-win solution is to take it out of player salaries. Since the safety measures are purely for their benefit, they should be happy to make the trade-off. If they’re not willing to pay for it, why should anyone else?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        That is, rather than letting the market in player salaries adjust to the new conditions, all costs should be borne by the players. Why am I not surprised that that’s the “free-market” solution?Report

  3. Tony says:

    The concussion issue has changed my enthusiasm for football. Part of that was easy while my team, the Redskins, stunk for so long. With their resurgence I find my joy is back almost as strong as it always was. I still love the talent and strategy. However, I don’t enjoy the hits any more.

    A few years ago, the Redskins had a player who focused more on trying to blow opponents up than making the smart play that didn’t usually require such extreme violence. I hated watching him because it was stupid football, but more because it was becoming clear how needlessly dangerous that was.

    I think it’s possible that I could stop watching in the future. I think Goodell’s been a terrible commissioner who has no concern for the players’ health as a part of the NFL’s business model. If nothing changes in the league’s efforts, it’ll get harder to watch. I want a bigger focus on safety, with mandatory concussion protocols. But I temper that for now with the expectation that players are finally aware of the risks.

    I started following hockey four years ago and have witnessed numerous concussions. There’s a mentality that hitting and the results are just old time hockey and that should be revered. That’s silly with the knowledge we have now. The NHL cracked down on hits to the head for a brief period, but that ended quickly. It was PR. They’re not yet serious about eliminating it. As a fan I’d love for the league to punish head shots with lengthy suspensions, whether the hit is intentional or not.

    I know of a player in my rec hockey league who is about 18 and has already had four concussions. His doctor advised him to stop playing. He still plays. That’s where the real focus needs to be, I think. The solution is likely in dealing with children and the requirements of their leagues, not in focusing on professionals. Hockey Canada just raised the age for body checking to 13. There was predictable outrage, as well as concern that players not learning to check and receive a check properly could increase injuries. But how much is that offset by the realization that most players won’t continue progressing through to junior, college, or pro hockey? If I had children, they wouldn’t play tackle football. I’m not sure what I’d do about hockey.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Tony says:

      I agree with this. Hockey has always been my first love but the brutality of the game increasingly limits the amount of time I spend watching it. The internal culture accepts too much gratuitous violence for my taste. But the Old-Timers and owners apparently don’t want the game to change.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to Tony says:

      Hcokey has a problem with hits to the head, but is taking some steps to resolve it.

      Certainly, some of the highest level and most exciting hockey is played largely without brutality. (The 2010 Olympics, say, or even most playoff series these days.) So you can imagine hockey surviving rule changes that protect players’s brains.

      I just can’t imagine football surviving those rule changes. IIRC, it is the series of little hits over and over that tend to cause the long term brain damage. And those happen regularly.

      To be safe, football would have to virtually eliminate the line of scrimmage and do something like touch football with a count. And there would have to be rules about legal tackles. I don’t see it working with football surviving.

      I can’t watch boxing. It is a sad and awful thing now that I see what it does to people. Same with football. And hockey is headed there, but there is a chance for hockey to be saved.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Boxing is a good point of reference. I used to watch boxing all the time as a kid, but once I became aware of the serious head injuries professional fighters were experiencing, the buzz was pretty well killed. If the pros wore headgear like amateurs, I might go back to watching.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Yeah, headgear and better rules about medical clearance for fighting and number of fights a person can have in their career, adding both amateur and pro.

        Even then, I’m not sure that would solve the concusion problem. Guys might feel more protected and thus guard themselves less, while really teeing off on one another. But no one would get knocked out entirely, which would lead to lots of little concussions, which are the big culprit.

        Maybe you just can’t make a sport out of hitting other people in the brain.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Certainly, some of the highest level and most exciting hockey is played largely without brutality.

        Yeah. And it’s not like the NHL couldn’t provide the same product. Some years ago I recall watching hockey during the Olympics, and then in the NHL afterwards. One of the color analysts summed it up well: “Largely the same players on the top teams. Many of the same refs. If you look, almost identical written rules for hitting, holding, etc. But two organizations that demand different interpretations of those rules. So one has a game based on speed, agility, puck-handling skills, and a minimum of holding, grabbing, and unnecessarily hard hits. The other, not nearly so much.”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot3 says:


        You could address little hits with rule changes. Allow the OL to hold face-to-face. Lineplay becomes more grappling than head banging. Consequently, allow the defensive backfield to hold the front of the torso. Mitigates the offensive gains of OL holding and cuts down on high speed collisions.

        Not perfect, but better than what they currently do.Report

      • Peter in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Brain injuries and even deaths in boxing could be greatly reduced with a simple rule change. A bit of background: boxers usually compete in weight classes significantly lower than their everyday, “walking around” weights. For instance, a boxer whose natural weight is 175 pounds would be at the light heavyweight limit but would never compete as a light heavyweight. He’d cut down to 160 pounds and compete as a middleweight or even to 154 and fight as a junior middleweight.

        In order to cut weight without losing too much muscle, boxers dehydrate themselves for several days prior to weigh-ins, which are held the day before the fights themselves. They then rehydrate themselves in the 24 hours or so between the weight-ins and the fights, regaining much of the lost weight. If our hypothetical 175-pound boxer dehydrates down to 154 pounds for the weigh-in, he’d probably rehydrate back to 165 or so at the time of the fight. The idea is to cut and rehydrate enough to have a weight advantage over your opponent when the fight begins.

        Unfortunately, the dehydration process causes a reduction of the protective fluid around the brain, which increases the risk of brain injury. While some of this fluid will be regained during the 24-hour rehydration process, not all of it will be, especially if the boxer cut a large amount of weight. This explains why heavyweights, who do not cut weight, have a lower rate of brain injuries than other boxers.

        An obvious solution would be to have weigh-ins immediately before fights rather than 24 hours earlier. While boxers could still cut weight, they’d be deprived of the opportunity to rehydrate, and very few if any of them would want to fight in a weakened, dehydrated condition. Imposing this rule would require many boxers to start fighting in different weight classes. It also would severely deplete the ranks in some of the smaller classes, for example the flyweight class would be much diminished as there simply aren’t many men who naturally weigh 112 pounds. As I result, I don’t anticipate it happening anytime soon, even though it could literally be a lifesaver.Report

      • Kim in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Or, ya know, we could just remove the gloves.
        Go back to the old style, with fewer head injuries and more eyegougings
        (I say this without much irony, and more to explore the whole “why do we find brain injuries that much worse than other injuries?”)Report

      • Murali in reply to Shazbot3 says:


        regarding brain injuries, we can call this the long shadow of Descartes. The idea, roughly, is that we are in essence our minds. Having a functioning mind is where we generally locate personhood either directly or derivatively. To do things mindlessly is to fail to live up to one’s human potential. That’s also why it is more superficial to like someone for their looks than to like someone for their brains. To describe someone as unintelligent is to place that person closer to being an animal than other persons are. i.e. not worthy of the respect we normally afford others. To receive brain damage is to damage one’s processing capabilities or worse to modify one’s personality which is even more centrally connected to personal identity than intelligence.

        Here is an thought experiment: If you were to lose your leg in an accident tomorrow, would you be a different person? But if part of your brain was damaged and as a result you became a lot less spontaneous would you be a different person? Saul of Tarsus became Paul when he changed his mind, not because he skinned his knee.Report

      • Kim in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        the mind and body are not nearly as distant from one another as we like to think they are, I suspect.
        If a brain is inputs and outputs, and a black box between, surely then the loss of large portions of input is damaging… if not in the same way as damaging the black box, in a remarkably similar way.

        There’s a reason that sensory deprivation is torture.

        Are you different if you lose your legs? Probably. You’d have to be different, to change.
        To rely on other people all the time takes its toll — people deal in different ways.

        I guess where I’d draw the line is “normal human activities” (possibly with an eye to the elderly). If sports merely mean that you can’t throw a baseball at 100mph anymore, that’s no problem. But if sports mean that you can’t walk anymore, that’s a big problem.
        Maybe not as big as brain damage, as that’s more insidious.Report

      • Murali in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Kim, all good points. Think of what I said above as more explanation than justification. That is not to say that losing arm function is just like losing some brain function. Of course things are not so clear cut. But if we step out of focus for a while, it kind of works at least under the cultural conditions we are operating in. Being more afraid of brain damage makes sense given the cultural context. Certainly sensory depravation is torture, and this is part of our meat-bag-ness. But our meat-bag-ness is not as in our face as our mental life. Also, while a person changes when he loses his legs, notice how we don’t think he changes merely because he lost his legs, but because his personality and character had to adapt to the new situation. If you want a descriptive account of where we locate ourselves, it is in our brains/minds. We like to ignore our meat-bag-ness and we can get away with it because it doesn’t really intrude into our narrative of ourselves as primarily mental beings.Report

  4. just me says:

    Nope. It doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of football at all. I am hard pressed to think of any sports that do not cause injury to those that participate in them. Personally I think that the safer the equipment gets the more likely we are to have serious medical conditions happen. if football players were still playing with leather helmets I don’t think you would see so many hard hits. People take calculated risks everyday. The players are betting their equipment will keep them safe so they feel safe in leading with the head.

    p.s. jaybird, my condolences on Tebow being cut.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to just me says:

      It is not just injury. It is debilitating, life-ruining, family-destroying, brain injury we’re talking about.

      And it isn’t just a few unlucky players who got hurt in an accident, a la skiing or basketball or cycling. It is a large ercentage of the players who are getting brain damage just in virtue of playing the game as it is meant to be played, like boxing.Report

      • Just Me in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        I was thinking more along the lines of gymnastics. What is done to their bodies at a young age makes me sad. While I am in awe of the grit and dedication that goes into being a world champion I wonder what the long lasting consequencies are. Dancers, wrestlers, body bulders all do things to their bodies that have long lasting consequences. I am not talking about accidents though I cant understand seperating a concussion from the realm of accidents. Its not like it any more surprising for a cyclist to break a clavicle al than it is a football player having a concussion.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Many dancers that I know have developed problems associated with senior citizens during their twenties. This seems to be much more of a problem with theatrical and art dancers than those involved in partner dancing. At least thats what I get from casual observation I might be wrong. I got more injuries from dancing than I did from anything else I did in my life.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Its gymnasts that really get to me. Most dancers start learning the craft a bit latter than gymnasts. The average age is seven and one dancer I knew was fourteen when she started. It generally seems to be more on their volition than their parents and their career highlights tend to be during their twenties and thirties, that is when their adults.

        Gymnasts are different. They have the high point of their careers in their teens or younger, especially if they are female. It seems more to be something that their parents force on them and they get body problems associated with old age way earlier than they should.

        Their are also many more career opportunities for dancers than gymnasts.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot3 says:


        Great point re: gymnasts and the like.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Those problems may be physically debilitating, but they’re rarely fatal. As bad as degeneration of the joints can be, it doesn’t hold a candle to neurodegenerative disease.

        By the way, do male gymnasts have the same problems, or are they largely spared due to male gymnastics’ greater focus on strength?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Brandon, they problem have similar problems but to a lesser degree. Male gymnasts tend to be older than female gymnasts during the high point of their career to.Report

      • @just-me As has been pointed out, as unpleasant as degenerative orthopedic problems may be, they aren’t in the same realm as degenerative neurological conditions.

        First of all, the technology for remedying a lot of degenerative joint problems has come a very long way, and we can do a serviceable job replacing degraded joints entirely. Obviously, this isn’t the case with degenerative brain diseases, where there is still very little to offer those who suffer from them.

        Then there is the difference between what it means to have a shoulder or hip that doesn’t function normally and a brain that doesn’t.Report

      • @leeesq

        Re: gymnasts

        That’s an interesting issue, and as far as gymnastics goes, a purely academic one for me since I don’t watch it. But it also reminds me of the use of child actors on TV and in movies. I suspect a non-trivial number of them are doing it because their parents force it on them, or that they are doing it in a manner that’s very disregarding of their interests. Perhaps the Gary Coleman story is an outlier, but I do wonder whether his type of story is common, maybe not typical, but too common.

        In other words, I sometimes wonder if I should watch/enjoy shows with child actors. To be honest, I can’t really think offhand of a movie or TV show with children that I like (I’m sure there are some, but my general entertainment tastes are more adult*). So maybe in practical terms, it’s less of an issue, although in theory, it still bothers me.

        *By “adult” I mean “Merchan-Ivory adult” or maybe “sentimental brain candy adult,” and not “xxx adult.”Report

    • I am hardly an expert, but my understanding is that the risks associated with tackle football can only be mitigated to a certain degree, and that even the best redesign of the equipment cannot actually reduce the risk of CTE all that much.

      And yes, most sports carry some risk of injury, but football is particularly risky for a pernicious and irreversible kind of injury.Report

      • I think the best mitigation of sports head injuries actually doesn’t have a lot to do with equipment or in-game rules, though there are improvements to be made there. It’s reducing and eliminating contact in most practices. I mean, to harken back to my junior high days, it was five days of 2 hours or so of hitting each other in practice, with only one day of between 2-3 hours of hitting each other in games*.

        Some college conferences (at lower levels) are already moving on this. I think the Ivy League schools limit contact practices to twice a week. But this is where there is the greatest potential for reform, in my view.

        * – Not all of which spent actually hitting one another, of course. A minority of it spent doing so, actually. Gametime is less than 60 minutes of actual play (60 minutes of clocktime, but a lot of that spent lining up and on clock management, I’ve heard that the actual hitting is something like 20 minutes). I think that practice is actually higher-proportion of contact.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        My current understanding of the science here (Doc can correct me if I’m wrong) is that the head injury aspect of football is very likely to begin at the youth level, when it is particularly damaging, and that the CTE danger is heavily compounded by repeat contact.

        It’s kind of like smoking cigarettes. It’s not that any one cigarette is terrible for you; you’re probably exposed to more environmental carcinogens walkin’ around in urban America every day than you would be if you had a single smoke. It’s the damage you do to your system by persistent smoking that eventually catches up to you, statistically.

        This seems to me to indicate that establishing more stringent controls at the high school and college level may have a large impact on the future distribution of degenerative brain injury. I’d have no problem whatsoever with getting rid of tackle football at the high school level. I’d have no problem whatsoever with dramatic changes to college football.Report

      • It’s pretty crazy that we let tackle football begin as early as we do. I expected to roll my eyes at this Slate piece on the subject, but I found it exactly right.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to just me says:

      And Just Me proves my point.Report

  5. Chris says:

    Yes, I’m struggling with it.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    I have this problem with pro wrestling quite often… the fact that these guys are trying to *NOT* hurt each other doesn’t even come close to translating to nobody getting hurt. You see arms broken, knees dislocated, concussions given all the time. You can’t jump from the top rope to the floor of the arena into the arms of another person twice a week, every week, without *SOMETHING* going wrong eventually…

    And then you realize that, yep, once again you’ve watched someone break his arm, dislocate his knee, or get a concussion.

    The fact that this is the biggest dream of these guys blunts guilt, somewhat. They talk about how they live for the lights, they live for the roar of the crowd, and I’ve heard stuff like “I wrestle for free, they pay me to travel.” They’re grown men, usually well into their late 20s or older, who have made this decision.

    But I do feel guilty, sometimes.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yeah, it actually might be safer long term if they were really fighting each other, ironically. I’d like to see a safety and health comaprison between UFC stuff and “wrestling.”Report

  7. NewDealer says:

    Note: I am not a football fan or much of a sports-fan in general.

    My answer is probably a long time to never. The same goes with reforming the NCAA.

    People love sports. They really, really love sports. People construct all sorts of cherished narratives about sports and these narratives are hard to break.

    The narrative of football seems to be that it is the manliness of sports and the one most resembling of old tribal combat. One of my classmates in law school was a very smart guy and studious. He also created a very macho self-identity for a variety of reasons, mainly that he was a first-generation American from a society/culture not necessarily associated with athletic skills in the American imagination. He wrote an essay for the law school newspaper about how all this modern safety equipment was unmanly. He wanted more aggression, not less.

    The same is true for the various abuses of NCAA sports. People are still heavily invested in the gentleman and amateur-athlete narrative that was applicable in the early 1900s but not so today. This narrative feels “nice” but it is wrong, the NCAA is basically a largely-state supported minor league for the NFL and NBA. My solution would be that if the NFL and NBA want minor leagues, they should pay for them.

    Keep in mind that I am not really a sports guy so I am willing to argue for more extreme solutions. Sports-mania is baffling to me. I don’t get warm feelings when I see rows and rows of people in a stadium wearing the t-shirt for whatever team. I imagine this is a minority view.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to NewDealer says:

      I think team sports ar more about tribalism and feeling connected to a group of fellow fans anad against other groups than violence. But tribalism and violence do sort of go together, don’t they.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        I agree that there is a lot of tribalism in sports. The US is generally much better at this than other countries. We do not have too much of a tendency towards hooliganism.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to NewDealer says:

      Also, I think team sports are a very powerfully good outlet for people to find meaning in being part of a group.

      In their book “All Things Shining,” Dreyfus and Kelly often use sporting events as an example of people finding or making meaning in their lives, and I think this is correct. They got a lot of flack from elitists thinking this is not really meaningful.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        The use of elitist here bothers me. There are plenty of very rich or at least will be upper-middle class people who love sports. San Francisco is a sports-mad town and I doubt it is only the non-elite who are going to sports games.

        Did it occur to the authors that people who are weary of sports might have been picked on as kids for not being very good at sports, being the last picked in gym class, and depending on the town had been attacked challenged and questioned for being bookish and artsy?

        The last did not occur to me but I do have a fair bit of elementary school scars from being last picked for gym and being a bit like Ferdinand the Bull.

        I hardly think this makes me an elitist.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Sorry ND,

        I meant to say that some people, the people I want to call “elitist,” think that there is something wrong with the meaning that I and others here find in sports and being connected to a favorite team. Those elitists criticized Kelly and Dreyfuss’s book. (Gary Williams, IIRC, was one.)

        You clearly are not that judgmental, and I don’t wish to judge you negatively for finding in meaning in things other than sports, as I do as well. Meaning is good where you find it: sports, painting, opera, craft-beer, motorcycles, etc.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        I’m suspicious on the overuse of the word elitist.

        There are so many variables in America that it is hard to determine what makes someone a member of the elite and what does not.

        When you wrote that elites criticize people for liking sports, it read like a very Palinesque use of the word elite.Report

      • Kim in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        without the meaning that men find in team sports, civilization would not exist in its current form.
        Team sports are one way of expressing latent homosexuality, in a constructive fashion.
        (so, too, is civilization itself — without the deliberate selection of certain traits, humanity was and is constrained to extremely small groups of people).Report

  8. It’s definitely becoming harder and harder to reconcile, but it’s become too ingrained in my life to expect that I’ll give it up anytime soon. However, unless changes far more drastic than are in the works now are implemented, fewer and fewer parents will allow their children to play, meaning the talent level will drop considerably. That would, in turn, make it a lot easier to give up. For me, if the Bills ever left Buffalo, that would completely and immediately change the equation; without a strong and deeply ingrained rooting interest, the safety issues would then totally overwhelm whatever lingering love of the game I felt.

    In the meantime, the way I rationalize it is that there’s nothing that can be done about the past other than compensate players for risks they were unaware of. This settlement is a step in that direction, even if it’s inadequate (lest we forget, plenty of the most severely impacted players are likely to opt out of this settlement and sue separately- and will likely win those suits). Additionally, I recognize that it’s always been a particularly violent game, and players have thus always been aware that they had a high risk of permanent injuries; to some extent, the longterm effects of hits to the head are just an addition to that list, albeit it a particularly severe addition that needs to be addressed in a far more significant way than it’s been addressed thus far.

    Going forward, the risks are increasingly clear, though; that the players thus now know what they’re getting into surely mitigates my concerns a bit, and it’s not as if every player or even the majority of players exhibit the severest effects of CTE. It’s still far too many, to be sure, but I’m hopeful that as we find out why it affects some and not most, we will figure out ways of minimizing its risks through better equipment, risk screening, and rules changes.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      I suspect it is easier to give up than you think.

      Whenever there is a strike or lockout in a sport I love I amsurprised by how little I care after about one week after opening day should’ve been.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        There’s truth to that, certainly- even for me, the 94 strike pretty much killed my interest in baseball for a good two or three years. But for me, football is a bit different, because the Bills have become one of the only ties I have left to my roots as well as a vehicle for maintaing relationships with distant friends; my fandom nowadays is probably more about the emails and phone calls after the game, the food I cook before and during the game, and the connection to the region I feel from watching the game than it is about a love of the sport itself. If football goes away, then all of the does, too, and there’s not much that can realistically replace it.

        On further reflection, this also means I probably don’t care nearly as much about the quality of the play on the field as I suggested above.Report

  9. J@m3z Aitch says:

    It’s becoming harder for me to watch. I don’t care much about broken bones (so long as it’s not spinal), but brain damage is categorically different issue, in my opinion. I find myself, for the first time, greeting the opening weekend of the college football season with only marginal enthusiasm.Report

  10. Patrick says:

    It’s hard for me to come up with a principled rejection of football that doesn’t principally reject whole slogs of human activity. Snowmobiling. Just about everything in the X games. Parkour. Skydiving. Boxing. Most other forms of competitive martial arts. Race car driving. Bobsledding.

    In any of the above, failure of safety gear results in a high probability of permanent injury or death.

    Hell, people die climbing mountains taller than 5000 meters every year.

    Now, in practice, I can see a specific practical objection to the NFL in that the League, itself, is arguably taking actions that not only don’t reduce injury, but possibly continue a culture that actively prevents the reduction of severe injury. That isn’t an objection to “football”, though.Report

    • Cascadian in reply to Patrick says:

      @patrick Excellent point. “Hell, people die climbing mountains taller than 5000 meters every year.” Most dangerous sport on earth and you start sustaining damage long before you’re near the top. No contact necessary.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Cascadian says:

        I know this guy (he’s my wife’s cousin). We see him about once a year when he’s on his way to or back from Everest. He’s been climbing 5k meter mountains for a long, long time.

        Dave talks about his sport the way that conscientious football players talk about their sport. Acknowledges the dangers. Explains how he compensates for them. Discusses people involved in his sport that take… um… more lax attitudes towards safety. Why they have those attitudes. He talks about the semi-pro mountaineering set (because he guides a lot of them) and what it takes to assess their competency. How this is deathly important not only for their safety, but his (because nobody in their right mind is going to take a subpar climber to the summit of Everest just for money, because you can get yourself killed that way).

        If the only thing you know about mountain climbing is what you learned from reading Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air”, you’d have a very different idea of how actually dangerous this sport is.

        This is what I think about when people talk about the NFL.

        It’s evident that there are problems with the NFL. It’s not evident to me, the outsider, what those problems actually are, and if they’re correctable… and even the ones that aren’t correctable… it’s not evident to me, the outsider, that they’re pernicious and bad enough to warrant me carrying a strong opinion about whether or not people ought to be allowed to play professional football, or not.

        I do know that I’m more concerned with racing’s occasional crash that unloads a tire going 210 mph into the stands than I am concerned with footballers suffering spinal injury, because the first is a danger to the spectator that really ought to be preventable by the facility and the second is a danger to the participant, who is supposedly paid to accept that risk and does so voluntarily.

        I’m far, far more concerned with college football than I am with the NFL, because of the lack of the pay, the power dynamics that imply a lot of potential coercion, and the problems with the “informed” part of “informed consent”.Report

      • Cascadian in reply to Cascadian says:

        I used to be a guide before diapers. I only got as high as McKinley. I specialized more in Yosemite Walls and Montana/Canadian Rockies mixed climbing. I was training to go to the Trango Towers but little one came along.

        Guiding is way more dangerous than just climbing. It’s almost a completely different sport. One is often expected to find safety shortcuts for oneself to maintain the speed safety of the group.

        We used to joke that clients only had two objectives: to kill themselves and to take you out with them.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Cascadian says:

        Only semi-related, but my wife and I had our honeymoon at Zion National Park in Utah. We did a lot of “climbing.” The word is in quotes because for some of them it wasn’t at all like you were talking about. Yet it wasn’t what I expected, either. I mean, at points you were holding on to a chain that if you slipped from, you would fall a very long way to your death. You wouldn’t have to be horsing around, or being careless. You’d just have to… slip.

        I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but there came a point where I just had to turn back.

        It’s amazing that Angels Landing exists and is open to the general public.Report

      • Cascadian in reply to Cascadian says:

        @will-truman That’s some nice exposure… bet your sphincter was sore for a couple of days 🙂 They must have some serious warning signs before that. It’s amazing how many civilians casually cruise around the mountains completely oblivious to the dangers that surround them.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Cascadian says:

        @cascadian The signs that cried wolf, sort of. There are warning signs everywhere, including for things that don’t particularly strike me as dangerous if you’re sober. It just took me a while to get to the point where “Holy spit, this really is dangerous!”

        The turning point was when we asked some people coming back how much further we had to go. They said that it was another few hundred feet of chain-to-oblivion, but then it got really nerve-wracking. That was the point at which I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it.

        We may go back at some point. I’ll be more psychologically prepared for it. And wearing the right shoes.Report

      • Cascadian in reply to Cascadian says:

        You’d be much better off paying a guide to take you real climbing… ropes, harness, safety equipment, knowledge. It would be way more fun, challenging, and safe.Report

      • zic in reply to Cascadian says:

        My Sweetie worked on Mt. Washington. Barely 6,000 feet; people didn’t take it seriously. But the weather can turn on you; folk die up there every single year.

        I used to dread the call out to search and rescue to go find some dumbass who went up for a sunny day’s hike, wearing jeans, a tee-shirt, no water, and depending on his cell phone for safety. Because since my Sweetie was at the top, he was the first line of search and rescue. And we’re talking a place where there is at least plenty of air; where it’s still easy to think clearly.

        But this does hone in on a crucial point: being aware of the risks and dangers, and he basic safety protocols when you participate in any sport. Even a hike up a mountain on a sunny day. I have friends who ski, ride (snowboard), rally at serious competitive levels; and they all take safety extremely seriously. Most also have a lot of experience at search and rescue, ski patrol, and wilderness medicine; sadly, they also have too much experience pulling dead bodies out of the woods and off the slopes.

        It’s often the dumbass without even a bottle of water who endanger themselves, endanger others who will come to their aid. Like mountaineering guides who risk themselves for their clients, people don’t realize the dangers rescuers take to help someone.

        When it comes to football, the comparison would be to the child/young adult, uninformed about the risks and with parents/coaches pushing them on.Report

      • Kim in reply to Cascadian says:

        Anyone interested in a climb without pitons and stuff is heartily encouraged to try Acadia.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Patrick says:

      It’s hard for me to come up with a principled rejection of football that doesn’t principally reject whole slogs of human activity.

      For me, the difference is that injuries sustained in other sports result from the failure to execute a trick properly or somesuch whereas the head injuries incurred by playing football result from the very nature of the game. They’re not an accident, but constitutive of playing the game well.Report

    • FridayNext in reply to Patrick says:

      But that doesn’t address the original question concerning our desire to continue to watch the sport. You are right. All those activities are dangerous. But I don’t watch them (or do anything else that supports these sports like buying their jerseys or whatnot) and judging from TV ratings I am part of a very large group. I have zero interest in stopping anyone that wants to do any of those activities any more than I want to stop anyone from participating in football.

      But asking me to watch and support that activity is a qualitatively different question.Report

      • Cascadian in reply to FridayNext says:

        @fridaynext I haven’t watched football in maybe thirty years, don’t own any jerseys. For me, it was a post aimed at folk that aren’t fans that they should be careful of getting on their high horse.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to Patrick says:

      I think the big difference with football are:
      1. The sheer ubiquity of hits ranging from the professional level down to children’s tackle football leagues.
      2. The fact that the system requires a constant feed of people, which is based on creating a very large feeding pipeline that starts at the Pop Warner level and continues right into the NFL.
      3. The system that requires that pipeline is almost entirely unpaid and done at the expense of many children, while the professional league at the top has done everything it can to bury or minimize the data on neurological injuries.

      2 and 3 are the things that really make football unpalatable for me. I would honestly feel a little different about it if the NFL had to fund and pay players in developmental leagues even into middle school/high school ages like soccer teams do with youth teams. At least then they’re not using the vicarious need of washed out former varsity players to coach pop warner teams.Report

  11. BlaiseP says:

    American football has more rules and referees than any other professional game. Just how many more would make the game Safe — and who gets to say what Safe means?

    Every physical sport produces injuries. Any competent anatomist can look at two skeletons and tell which person did more physical labour in life. Compressions of the vertebrae, arthritis in the joints and limbs, distended enthesis points where tendons merge into bone. Work on a farm for a while. You’ll get hurt, soon enough. Fractures, crush wounds, bites, falls. Maybe you’ll get your arm caught in a grain auger.

    This whole debate is very silly. Sport hurts. It’s always hurt. Two bodies hurtling at each other, for crissakes, F=MA. Of course someone will end up concussed. American football is symbolic battle, ten men and a lieutenant fighting for ground. Football is as popular as it is violent. It’s long since surpassed baseball as the American sport. There’s only so much you can reform the game but it’s being reformed all the time. Guys like Mean Joe Greene and LC Greenwood pulled shit nobody would get away with these days. Greenwood turned QBs like Staubach into hamburger.

    Football wears out players. Life wears out everyone. The clipping rule in football says you can’t hit someone below the waist. Good rule and a very old one. But players get torn ACLs all the time, even with the clipping rule in effect. The clipping rule changes the geometry of the hit a bit, but it doesn’t stop the injury. And nobody going to stop the concussion. It doesn’t matter how good the helmet is, how well it’s designed. Two guys impacting at high speed — look,your brain is floating inside your skull. If you come to a full stop, your brain will hit your skull. Unavoidable. Don’t like it? Go play chess. Nobody can make a helmet to prevent it.Report

    • This whole debate is very silly.

      Really? A debate about the long-term ill effects of a sport that can render a person neurologically impaired decades before they would be otherwise? In which we allow our boys, scarcely pubescent, to participate, knowing far too little about the long-term effects? Whether or not it deserves the place in American society it holds is silly?

      How very definitive you are in your opinions, Blaise.

      And for the record, I see at least a dozen teenage boys per season with football- or hockey-related concussions. Silly me, I think the question is well worth raising.Report

      • Just Me in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        So does that mean you think football shouldn’t be a sport? Or just that it shouldn’t be a beloved sport?Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        No one is talking legal ban, Justme. “Football is a sport that your kids shouldn’t play and that you shouldn’t support by watching it” is the position, where “you” is everyone.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I retract silly. The word doesn’t fit and I’m sorry for using it.

        But this complaint, however well-intentioned, complaining about America’s most popular sport is facile. All physical sports produce injuries. Soccer players have double the rate of abnormal EEGs than control subjects. Perhaps you’ll see fit to enlarge the scope of your complaint somewhat, in the interests of caring parents who would like to know more about the long-term effects of physical sports.

        American football is popular because it is violent. You’re damned right I’m definitive. For the record, having raised a boy who gravitated to rollerblading, a child who repeatedly injured himself, several major fractures and concussions, I found every attempt to reason with him futile. I became reconciled to it. My daughter went to college on a full ride athletic scholarship. Two concussions. No convincing her, either.Report

      • Just Me in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Sorry. But ahem there is a post that he says is about a discussion as to whether football should hold the place it does now in American society I’m going to question whether that is supposed to mean football should go away.

        The ultimate goal to me sounded like lets get the public to understand how wrong it is to cheer for such a vilolent sport. Once that heppens the profits go down. If football becomes unpopular and unprofitable then less kids will enter the sports. In effect we kill football. Is that not the ultimate goal here?Report

      • I’m willing to suspend judgment to a certain extent, now that concussions are being taken much more seriously, and there seems to be a welcome shift away from the “get back out there” mentality that allows kids to concuss themselves multiple times in one game. The report I get from the parents who bring their kids to me is that the coaches in the area are being appropriately attentive to head injuries, so that may mitigate much of the problem.

        We’ll see.

        And of course I concede that all contact sports carry risk of concussions, and all sports carry risks particular to them. But football is especially risky precisely because it is so violent. Its primary appeal is also its greatest risk factor.

        For the record, I am much more direct with those few patients I have who box, to whom I recommend outright cessation.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        In real life, I’m not a violent man. But the nearest I ever came to striking another adult was a parent on the sideline at one of my daughter’s soccer games. Screaming at the referee after her child had been Red Carded after stiff-arming my daughter to the ground, nowhere near the ball, out of sheer spite.

        My daughter’s coach and a few of us walked up to the ref, basically to keep him from being attacked again. I held up my phone and said “You, get off the field, climb in your car with your daughter and get out of here. Immediately. For if I don’t see the last of you in one minute flat, I’m calling the Elgin Police Department and press charges for assaulting my daughter. The ref ought to press charges for your striking him as well. Here’s your chance. Run. You have a one minute head start.”

        They ran.

        I turned to the other coach and said “You tolerated this and said nothing. I hold you complicit in all this. Your team already has a bad reputation. You ought to be ashamed of yourself but you are not. I will call the mayor and he will talk to the Parks people and they will sort this out and proper, you ethically challenged individual.”

        Between harsh coaches and bad parents, intent upon some sick, vicarious reification of their own twisted dreams of glory, I’m not sure who’s more to blame. I don’t think it’s the sport itself. It’s not the children. If there’s one thing I’d change about youth sports, if there’s anything we could eliminate by fiat, it would be to evict the Get Back Out There-ers from the scene.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to BlaiseP says:

      “Unavoidable. Don’t like it? Go play chess.”

      Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant!Report

  12. zic says:

    In the realm of unintended consequences:

    I had a severe head trauma as a teenager; concussion, broken upper jaw, and damaged neck; a serious re-arranging of the furniture.

    By my early 20’s, I’d started having a host of problems; headaches, memory loss, neurological issues with my hands. And (not to dis doctors, but. . . ) I was told by too often, “It’s all in your head, nothing wrong with you.” The tremors, the physical evidence of something wrong, hadn’t started yet; they would wait until I was in my ’30’s.

    One evening, I was watching TV (we’re talking early 1980’s, now), and the topic of football players and head injury popped up on the nightly news. And they were describing me. Now I now it really is all in my head, and from that night on, I understood that yes, there was something different; something wrong. I’d had a serious head trauma, and like football players, what I was experiencing was a result.

    So here we are, 30 years later. Football players and their brain injuries are still under debate. We’ve got people home from war with traumatic brain injuries from IED explosions. And people like me, who just manage to hit themselves hard enough to do some damage.

    I don’t mean to take joy in what football players experience; believe me, I understand how not-fun it is. But I’m grateful something popular enough is exposing the problems of brain injury; I’m really relieved at the new concussion standards that schools are adopting. And I’m so thankful for the night so many years ago when I heard about what happens to football players for the first time.

    But I cannot bear to watch the game; I’m like our Good Doctor when it comes to sports.Report

  13. ScarletNumber says:

    I don’t let it bother me in the slightest.

    If someone gets hurt, there is someone to take his place. No muss, no fuss, at least for me.

    Of course, since I stayed up Thursday night to watch that entire Rutgers/Fresno State game, someone might want to check me for brain damage.Report

    • Just Me in reply to ScarletNumber says:

      Now there is a study. What is the comparision between the percentage of football players who get a concussion compared to their fans? There has to be plenty of fans who fall over drunk or bang their heads on the table in disgust. If you didn’t do either of those before staying up all night I think you might just be a fan(atic).Report

  14. FridayNext says:

    It has definitely dampened my excitement for watching the game. I will admit I was never a huge fan to begin with. I loved watching a good game, but my interest died with the final whistle and picked up with the next opening kick-off. Unless “my team” was doing well, I didn’t really follow the standings or how many games out they were. And “my team” is fairly elastic. Though from Baltimore and a Ravens fan, I can get just as excited watching the home team when I live in other television markets. I just liked to watch a good game, nothing more, nothing less.

    But though I was REALLY excited when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001 (I actually flew to Baltimore to watch it in one of my favorite hometown bars with my pals and flew home to New Hampshire the next day) This year I was only vaguely excited and didn’t watch the whole game. It was more background noise to me doing other things around the house.

    What happened in between was the concussion issue, sure, but so much more. In the intervening years I taught at a DIV I football power house. I was really looking forward to it and initially got tickets to watch a lot of games in person. I watched them win TWO national championships. But what I saw behind the scenes disgusted me. I am convinced there is NOTHING the NCAA, the SEC, and individual schools will not stoop to to maintain the myth of amateurism while making a relatively small number of people unimaginably wealthy. It isn’t even about whether the students are paid, the whole enterprise corrupts the community in ways I never imagined.

    As Baltimore fan I also got tired of defending an alleged/possible/whatever murderer against the slings and arrows of fans of teams with rapists, dog-fighters, and lord knows what other felons. It was just tiresome and pointless.

    I also got tired of watching billionaires blackmail cities into paying for huge stadiums to host teams their citizens could not afford to visit.

    Now with the concussion issue, I watch the peewee’s practicing down the street and I get this morbid urge to sing High Hopes every time I see them butt heads. (Whoops there goes another brain cell, whoops there goes…)

    It just builds up over time and watching a game just isn’t fun anymore. I still might watch once in awhile, maybe if I am at the gym need something to watch while doing a cardio machine or at home while doing other chores. But, like I said, it just isn’t fun anymore.Report

  15. NotMe says:

    Nope, my enjoyment of the game hasn’t changed. These guys voluntarily choose to be out on the field to play knowing the risks and get paid damn good money to do so. A smart one might play just a couple of seasons then get into doing color commentary. I mean get real folks, you have 200 lbs plus guys running at each other full speed, it sure won’t tickle when they collide. Football is a physical sport, which is why they wear protective gear which migrates but does not prevent he risk of injury. If they are worried about injuries then take up rhythmic gymnastics. I see this as another instance of folks not wanting to take responsibility for their own choices as I find it hard to believe they didn’t know the risks involved. Not to mention that the NFL has deep pockets which makes then a target. Realistically there is a potential for injury or death in many sports, not just football, even soccer can be deadly.Report

  16. Russell M says:

    I love pro-football and can not stand college football. played football from age 8 until 16 when i blew out my knee in a non-sports way(bad slip on ice.) Watching some hits and injuries does bother me(y.a.tittle, joe namath, those two jets who paralyzed each other) but I do love watching the game. and I will keep loving it. these men get payed very well to play what is a mildly violent sport, have the best doctors(unless they were lucky enough to play in SD) to tend to their injuries, and continuing progress in safety equipment. If we want to look at a dangerous sport check college football between 1890-1910. people were actually killed.

    Another reason I don’t feel bad about it is that all cultures need the coliseum. we at least pay our gladiators and don’t feed them to the lions. but if you don’t want to run the risk of injury don’t play.

    Oh and fish Rodger Goodell. that man seems to actively be in the dark and unwilling to work with the players union on anything. no wonder none of the players trust him.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to Russell M says:

      I think the problem here is that the NFL not only takes advantage of the labor pool that comes from the “amateur” football teams, but they do so in a way that actively colludes with the amateur leagues that make the most money. There’s a very dirty structure here where the NFL uses free developmental leagues ranging from southern high school varsity teams to the NCAA, imposing arbitrary age caps and other rules through its controlled monopoly that means many more people than the ones who get paid suffer through some sort of consequences.Report

  17. Kazzy says:

    It will likely impact watching thr game of football little if at all. My perception of the NFL, as an institution has and will change. But I enjoy watching football players play football… And at this stage in the game, with all players fielding annual 6 figure salaries and being at least relatively informed on the risks, I have no qualms with enjoying it as I do.

    I should note that I never played organized tackle football but suffered 5 (that I know of) concussions via other means. I’m honestly unsure how this impacts my response here.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

      For every one professional player, how many amateur players tried just as hard to get there, didn’t get the salaries, weren’t really informed of the risks, and are still suffering some sort of after effect of neurological trauma?Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to Kazzy says:

      How bad for the player’s health would it have to get for it to make you think you shouldn’t watch?

      Or is their no limit? A sort of “they consented to do this, so if most of them die from squirrell’s biting their internal organs, it still isn’t wrong for me to watch it”?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I watch “Deadliest Catch”. That shit looks dangerous as hell. Should we all stop eating King Crab? How many wars have we fought for oil? How many of us use gas-powered cars?

        I don’t have a perfect answer. I grew up watching football; to some degree it is ingrained in me. I’m not 100% okay with everything the NFL does. I think Goodel is full of shit and cares more about covering his ass than safety (as evidenced by his desire for an 18 game regular season).

        But people do dangerous things all the time. I don’t know why football is unique, especially if we can address the “informed consent” issue.Report

      • Just Me in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        @kazzy that is make feelings too. I can not remember life before football. Every thing we do in life has inherent risks associated with. We do the best we can to mitigate those risks but they are still there.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Well, there is a difference between risky activities that are necessary for things like food production, mining, etc. that ultimately save and greatly improve lives and risky activities that create entertainment. The line between needs and unnecessary entertainment might be a bit blurry, but I’m 100% sure football is on the other side along with dog fighting, gladiator death matches, boxing, cigarrette smoking and a whole lot of other things. These are things you should aim hard at not supporting, too, if all different in degree of perniciousness.

        And again, the problem isn’t that football is dangerous. It is not that one or two or a small percentage of people die or a severely injured in accidents. That will happen in almost any (or at least many) activities (driving, swimming, etc.) The problem is that the low-level concussions (not quite concussions, actually) add up to cause serious brain damage over time. Almost all players who play will experience this damage and a fairly large percentage will show awful, life-ruining symptoms. (Including ruining their families lives, which makes it a social problem that effects more than those who consent to play.)

        Another way of putting the same point, from a utilitarian point of view: take into account the total ruin done to the lives of a largish amount of players, the joy the fans get, and the happiness the players get. Then also imagine that fans could get joy (maybe somewhat less) watching a much safer sport (though not perfectly safe) sans the horrible brain damage and so could the players.

        Isn’t the world with no football vastly better? Isn’t that a reason to not support football?Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        I’m not sure if you can make the same case for fishing or driving. Yes, if we stop driving. the world gets better in that you save traffic accident victims, but the losses to human well-being are even greater. Fishing actually provides a lot of food even if it is sometimes dangerous.

        Maybe a kid gets killed playing baseball, but it brings joy to millions and physical fitness.

        The problem with football is that when you realize that it causes brain damage to a high percentage of players, the utilitarian calculus makes the happiness you get from football (the amount that you can’t get from a safer sport) far less than the suffering and death that football causes.Report

      • just me in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        @shazbot3 can you post some numbers on how many NFL players experience life altering head injuries? I don’t think eating lobster and crabs is a necessity but I guess hey if it improves the quality of our lives then it’s a much more worthy risk of life than football.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        My point is that adding to the food supply as commercial fishing does alleviates overall need for food. From a utilitarian POv, alleviating the need for food does more good than entertainment, especially when there are alternative forms of entertainment and if we stop fishing we lose overall food production.

        Regarding brain damage in football, Google is a good place to start:

    • Just Me in reply to Kazzy says:

      Concusions are very common. Male children are especially likely to get a concussion regardless if they play organized sports. I cant link to articles my kindle makes it too hard to copy and paste….and spell. Ugh. Five? Ouch.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Just Me says:

        One due to a rock fight (age 5). One due to flag football (age 18; freak accident). Three due to drunken idiocy (ages 21, 21, and 24).

        Maybe we should make drinking illegal.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Just Me says:

        Kazzy, it could be worse. My dear old da’ actually broke his skull three times: once falling off the running board of a car (he was born in 1922), once falling off the roof of the house, and once falling off a cliff. The dude wasn’t even a thrill seeker or a drunk like you. (*grin*)Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Just Me says:

        This would be relevant if the issue for the NFL were that players at times suffer concussions. In fact, the issue is that some players (e.g, the 4500 who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit) have significant impairments: dementia, short-term memory loss, suicidal depression, CTE, and ALS. None of these were known risks in the way that concussions were. Moreover, as I pointed out below, concussions may not even be the issue; it’s looking more and more likely that the culprit is recurrent low-level brain trauma caused by everyday hits, not the monster hits that cause concussions.
        So I’ll ask again: is it hard to watch football in the full knowledge that every tackle, every block could be contributing to eventual serious brain damage for the players involved? It’s a question we don’t have to ask about basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, soccer, etc, and I think it’s a question that puts football’s future in danger.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Just Me says:

        “is it hard to watch football in the full knowledge that every tackle, every block could be contributing to eventual serious brain damage for the players involved?”
        No. Not for me.
        What’s a running board? One of my drunken incidents involved falling off a roof.Report

      • just me in reply to Just Me says:

        not relevant to soccer? really?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Just Me says:


        See here; the board along the side of the car. Unwary folks like my dad would stand on those, holding onto the car while it was in motion, only to fall off and crack their skulls when their hats blew off and they tried vainly to catch them.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Just Me says:

        @jm3z-aitch – to be fair, your dad was probably distracted by the jerky, sped-up motion of the car, the jaunty music-hall piano, and the wind blowing his walrus mustache up into his face.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Just Me says:

        It’s also impossible to see what’s ahead of you when that damned title card comes up.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Just Me says:


        I recall seeing some evidence that soccer can also lead to problems from repeated head injuries, but nothing that makes it an NFL-like epidemic. DId I miss something?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Just Me says:


        I admit, not for me yet either. But I see myself moving that way.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Just Me says:

        Soccer players usually get injured when they throw themselves on the ground in attempts to draw the foul. Get rid of the draconian “foul” rules, and we’ll see fewer injuries.Report

  18. Peter says:

    I’m wondering if it might be possible to take some lessons from rugby to reduce the rate of serious injuries in football. While a rugby match looks barbaric, basically indistinguishable from a massive barroom brawl, and the players are incessantly getting all sorts of superficial injuries, the rate of severe injuries – both brain injuries and season- or career-ending knee jobs – is much lower than in football. There are several reasons for this:
    1. Rugby tackles must be actual tackles, in other words wrapping one’s arms around the ball carrier’s lower body. Full-speed collisions aren’t allowed.
    2. There’s no blocking. You’re not going to be hit unless you’re carrying the ball and prepared for contact.
    3. With no protective equipment, rugby players have to be careful about how hard they hit. Like back in the days of bare-knuckle boxing, when boxers had to be careful how hard the punched opponents out of fear of breaking their how hands.
    4. Rugby’s continuous clock means that players can’t go all-out at all times, but have to conserve their strength. Not like in football, where a typical NFL game features twelve minutes of actual, snap-to-whistle action.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Peter says:

      I’ve read that the Rugby Effect (the lack of protective gear) may be overstated. That the damage done to rugby players just hasn’t been discovered yet. Anyone want to point me to some sources on that? (The Rugby Effect does seem intuitively true, though.)Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman says:

        A similar debate is going on in women’s college lacrosse. They do not wear protective head gear and some folks are pushing for them to do so, but there is push back based on the claim that when headgear became mandatory in men’s lacrosse it led to more hitting each other’s heads with the sticks because of the presumed protection.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Peter says:

      While rugby tolerates the scrum, there’s no comparing the two sports. The scrum is where most of the serious injuries in rugby happen, serious spinal column injuries, paralysis. Nothing like it in American football.Report

      • Murali in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Not getting injured during a scrum is about getting the posture right. And people have time to get their posture right.Report

      • Peter in reply to BlaiseP says:

        As I understand it, rugby can be played with a sort of limited-contact scrum. Players get in the same position, still try to kick the ball backwards to their own side, but do not push. Using this form of scrum waters down the game a bit but does not change its basic character.Report

  19. Mike Schilling says:

    A quibble, but (I think) a serious one. Doc, like everyone else I’ve seen write about this, is calling it a concussion issue. It’s not. The insidious thing is that repeated brain traumas, none of which reach the level of concussion, can cause serious and permanent brain damage. The NFL is actually starting to treat concussions more responsibly (and good for them), but that’s a distraction from the real issue, which is much harder to address.Report

    • An important distinction, and one I’m glad you pointed out.Report

    • Darwy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I think the NFL is, at least, moving in the right direction regarding concussions. (I think the MLB has done an excellent job in this regards). I don’t know how they can completely eradicate the types of traumas you’re describing – and still have the sport.

      I’m lucky I haven’t (yet) shown any signs of complications from a set of concussions I had when playing high school softball. (I had my jaw dislocated and my bell rung from a batter bringing her bat back after popping up behind the plate.)Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Darwy says:

        Mike Matheny looks like a good model: when player’s health makes it necessary, shut him down to avoid permanent damage, even if that means retirement. Eventually, Matheny recovered well enough to manage. (Insert joke about how much brains that actually requires.)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Darwy says:

        Mike, I am generally supportive of the NFL players union over other athlete unions, but if they wanted me to become an evangelist for them, they’d focus less on player pay and more on retirement and disability benefits.Report

  20. mclaren says:

    Silly lad. Football is a gladiator sport. The entire point of the sport is to delectate in the brutal injuries.Report

  21. Barbara says:

    I’m not a football fan, either–I’m a baseball fan–so I can’t answer the question. My father enjoyed watching football even knowing the inherent risks and remembering that a high school football game killed a schoolmate in the mid-1930s and realizing that he would never allow his son to play football, either.

    Over the years I have wondered how people enjoy boxing matches and the much more graphic injuries.Report

  22. Burt Likko says:

    I read this over the weekend and thought about it a bit.

    My conclusion is, in short, that I tell myself all these irrational things so as to reconcile myself to the sport. Helmet technology is getting better. The rules aimed at safety are being enforced better. Rationally, I know that the foundation of the game — five guys on each line,* grappling and using their speed and strength against one another — is where the real injuries accumulate, and the NFL represents only the climax of half a lifetime of such injuries for the players, beginning with Pop Warner. So these may well be pretty little lies that I tell myself, along with thousands, nay, millions, of other fans.

    It’s so ingrained into our culture, though; there’s no getting rid of it. And all cultures have one form or another of ritualized, socialized violence. So there really is only seeing how far the better helmets can go, and trying to build a culture within the sport of rewarding tackles below the shoulders tackles and condemning them above the shoulders. We do agree that some kinds of contact are not only against the rules but also culturally unacceptable (e.g., grabbing the other player’s crotch and causing pain to his testicles) so it is possible to have a culture that distinguishes between different kinds of contact.

    * Maybe more, maybe less, depending on the formations selected for each individual play.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “It’s so ingrained into our culture, though; there’s no getting rid of it.”

      Hey Burt. What reasons are there to believe this?

      I get that people enjoy football, but what reasons are there to believe they can’t or won’t give it up easily.

      You used to hear the same claim with respect to gay marriage or a black presidents. Such and such is just too ingrained for the world to become better. But often that turns out to be false.

      Moreover, the claim that societal change is hard to impossible is not really relevant to how a person should act. Segregation was ingrained in culture and law (and still is to a lesser degree) but that was never a cause to throw up our hands and aay “there is nothing to be done about it”

      Indeed, I am not accusing you of this but I often find claims like “it is just too ingrained in the culture” to be things a person says to themself (and others) to feel better about something they know to be wrong. (For example, “I think eating meat is wrong, but we’ll never solve the problem, so I keep eating it.”)Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        Go ahead and accuse me of it. I’m a big boy, I can take it. (I do eat meat, too.)

        I suppose I have to concede that it’s possible that something similar could happen regarding the physical risks inherent in football the way that issues of justice and fairness percolated about racial integration and acceptance of gays. But it seems very unlikely — people are willing, if not eager, to put their bodies at risk for fame and glory and to demonstrate their physical prowess, and always have been so.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        J’accuse! 🙂

        I get your point. But look no further than what happened to boxing and what may soon be in store for boxing.

        What was once a big part of culture faded in importance and dignity. People still box and there are still fans, but the immense popularity and cultural importance of boxing, especially heavyweight, is gone. Boxing is now gross and dangerous and disgusting to many people and barely tolerated by others. There is no doubt that a big part of this, though maybe not the whole story, is the brain damage that repeated low-scale head injuries cause to the boxers, leaving them in a horrid state.

        I’ll guess that in 25 years, football will fall to being less popular than the other professional sports, which will make big steps to be safer. And in 40 years, it will be a niche sport.Report

      • Peter in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        But look no further than what happened to boxing and what may soon be in store for boxing.
        What was once a big part of culture faded in importance and dignity. People still box and there are still fans, but the immense popularity and cultural importance of boxing, especially heavyweight, is gone. Boxing is now gross and dangerous and disgusting to many people and barely tolerated by others. There is no doubt that a big part of this, though maybe not the whole story, is the brain damage that repeated low-scale head injuries cause to the boxers, leaving them in a horrid state.

        As a boxing fan, I would (mostly) disagree. The issue of head injuries, which indeed is a serious problem, might have driven away some very casual fans but has had less effect on the more ardent ones. Several other factors are much more significant causes of the sport’s decline.* First and foremost is pay-per-view, which is pretty much guaranteed to drive away people who are curious about boxing but haven’t yet decided if it’s something they’d like to follow. Pay-per-view is an obscenity, you’ll note that it scarcely exists for any other sports.** A related issue is the relegation of most non-PPV televised boxing to HBO and Showtime. Not everyone pays the extra cost to get those channels.
        Another thing that’s really hurt boxing is the proliferation of alphabet-soup sanctioning bodies with their own championship belts. A generation ago there was one recognized champion in each weight division.*** Today there are four titleholders in each division, and with unification bouts being uncommon it’s not always clear which one is the best of the four. Speaking of which, thanks to all the not-always-honest promoters infesting boxing many logical bouts never happen. If a Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao “superfight” had happened a couple years ago it would have been the biggest fight in decades. But thanks mainly (though not entirely) to squabbling promoters, it never happened, and now it’s too late.
        There are other factors too, such as the poor quality of ringside judges and the horrible decisions that result, the propensity of state athletic commissions to sanction mismatches, the lack of charismatic American heavyweights, and finally the often overlooked fact that there are many other sports competing for peoples’ attention. Still, if boxing would go back to free television and if there were just one recognized champion in each division, the sport would be in much healthier shape.

        * = though note that boxing is a worldwide sport and remains very popular in many places, especially Latin America
        ** = the UFC had some success with a PPV business model, but its day seems to have passed
        *** = a generation ago there were eight weight classes, today there are seventeenReport

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to Burt Likko says:

      But what does your inner tort attorney say, if not “$$$$$$$$$!!!!!” when you look at the amateur-professional collusion to bury the findings on CTE?

      Also, I think one of the hidden things not talked about enough in at least college and professional football is the issue of PEDs. There’s still a tendency to shrug when football players get caught doing HGH or some other thing. I’d imagine a no tolerance policy on that would at least lessen the continual impacts suffered by players, especially during practice.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        But what does your inner tort attorney say, if not “$$$$$$$$$!!!!!” when you look at the amateur-professional collusion to bury the findings on CTE?

        My inner tort attorney takes $765 million and divides that number by three. And then I have to stay seated for a little while.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “It’s so ingrained into our culture, though; there’s no getting rid of it. And all cultures have one form or another of ritualized, socialized violence.”

      But what about baseball, or tennis, or golf? Many American popular and professionally-played sports involve no forceful contact at all.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        Some sports don’t have much risk of contact, sure. But ask a baseball player who’s been hit in the helmet by a pitch, or a baseman who’s taken spiked cleats to his shin, or an outfielder who ran blind and shoulder-first into the back wall, whether baseball involves no forceful contact.

        Nothing like the brain-shattering tackles of American football, to be sure. But there is no athletic activity you can think of that does not involve the risk of injury.Report

  23. Like a few others above, I’m not really a football fan or professional sports (or other kind of sports) fan. I know the rules of the game enough to enjoy it if it happens to be on, but at my house, it’s never on and it’s only in the rare occasions when I’m with friends who happen to be watching that I watch. I might go to Superbowl parties (but haven’t been to one in years), and I have a soft spot in my heart for the Denver Broncos because that’s my home town. But again, I’m not really a fan of football.

    With those grains of salt, I guess it’s not surprising that the revelations about injuries make it easier for me to not watch football. It’s hard to say what I’d feel if I were more of a football fan.

    I will say that I’ll agree with those who say that the injuries are more than incidental to the game. They, or at least the onfield behavior that leads to them, seem to be part of the point of the game. The game is *about* contact in a way that some (not all) other games seem to me to be only incidentally about contact.* (Will T.’s point that more contact is engaged in in practices is food for thought, and if he’s right, then maybe that changes my view a bit.)

    *And then there’s soccer, where a player writhes in agony on the ground until someone from the other team gets a warning card, a move that miraculously cures the injured player, who hops up and happily continues prosecuting the “exciting” 0-0 game up to the point, several minutes after the clock has actually run out, when the game finally ends.Report

  24. Wyrmnax says:

    The health of the participants is not a concern for anyone watching *any* type of sport. Just see how much public the Olimpics bring in, and i dare you to tell me as a doctor that what any of those athletes had to go through to get there is healthy.

    No, we do not care about the health of the athletes. Those are the kind of things we do not think about unless it suddenly comes up.

    Some people – like you – are much more aware of the real problem that injuries can be on athletes. But for most of the public?

    Now, what brings people to football? Variety of reasons.

    I will do a little comparasion, since i am a brazilian that does not like soccer.

    Football plays are very diverse, and the action happns fairly quickly. The long intervals between plays are a bore, but once the game is going it is quite fast paced. Soccer, on the other hand, tend to be a very long game of ‘passes in the midfield’ until a sudden oportunity presents itself.

    A football game is unpredictable. There are rules that force you to go on the offensive, and there is opportunity for big risk, big gain plays. Basketball also has rules that force offensive, but you have less flexibility on just how much risk/gain you can get from a play. Hockey has the oportunity for big risk/ big gain plays, and the game area is small enough that being on the offensive and on the defensive is very quick to change. In either case, it forces both teams to be agressive, and it makes it much harder for the game to stagnate.

    Football also has a very deep strategic part. A particular play can be won before it even begins – if a defense reads the offensive move, it is can be very difficult to recover. At the same time, a QB that does not see a defensive play – or a team that positions itself wrong leaving a gap for a defender, can be in for a very rough play. In other words – you have a plan, and good plans are very important to win, but it also requires your team to be able to think on the run and adapt to the situation when the plan meets the adversary. On many games, the overall plan tends to be very simple, putting much more emphasis on the player ability to improvise.

    One last thing that i really enjoy in football is that it is a team game. *Very* team game. Again, a comparasion to soccer is good.

    Get a reasonable college soccer team. Put them against a reasonable high school team that has Christiano Ronaldo on it. That single player can, by himself, be so much better than the opposing players that the match ends up tied. Lots of goals for both sides – the college team overpowering the high schoolers, Ronaldo overpowering the college team by himself.

    Get a high school football team with Aaron Rodgers as QB. Get a standard college team. Rodgers will not be able to complete a single pass on the game. Football has very little potential to have a single team member being able to carry the rest of the team.Report

  25. Jim Heffman says:

    I think that, in response to the question, people accept that hard hits are part of playing the game at that level, and that the only way to eliminate them is to turn the clock back to 1942 where the game was played by 205-pound guys who ran the hundred-yard dash in 1:09 instead of 342-pound guys who ran the hundred-yard dash in 0:28.


    Maybe one solution is to make penalties individual, as in hockey, rather than team-wide (field position.) Losing ten yards when the offense is starting from their own twenty yard line doesn’t matter that much. Losing a star defensive back for three plays could be catastrophic.

    Another possibility could be sensors installed in the helmets that record impact. If an individual impact exceeds a certain level, a penalty would result. After a certain total number of impacts, that player has to sit out for a period of time. This probably would have too many perverse incentives, though. It might encourage some players to intentionally knock themselves around to try and draw a penalty; it would also encourage defensive players to intentionally target players and, as it were, knock them out of the game by banging them on the head too many times.Report

  26. Turgid Jacobian says:

    Silly ideas to reduce the severity of hits: have the linemen actually in shoulder-to-shoulder contact at the line of scrimmage when play starts; line up receivers and DBs within a reduced distance of LOS; reduce the width of the field; restrict players to the 1/3 of the field they line up in; allow some amount of holding; limit size.

    Silly ideas to reduce the frequency/cumulative hits: dramatically limit contact sessions; shorten games; fewer games per season; expand rosters; *force* increased player substitution.

    Some of those would be terrible, some would be great. Some would hurt the business aspects, some the excitement. OTOH, less brain damage!Report