The report arrived under the banner of “Breaking News”, a bar that has been substantially lowered since the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor.
This past August, Hall of Fame NFL football player and one of the original announcers for Monday Night Football Frank Gifford died of “natural causes” at the age of 84. Curious (or more likely suspicious) whether he had suffered any meaningful brain damage as a result of his years playing football – as numerous other retired NFL players had complained about – Gifford’s family recently submitted his brain for post mortem investigation.
After extensive study, it was determined – and this “Breaking News” broadcast was announcing – that Frank Gifford had indeed suffered serious brain damage, specifically, a condition known as “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy”.
An iconic football player is revealed to have experienced brain damage as a consequence of playing football. (Unless it was instead the result of having to endure many years listening to Howard Cosell. A reasonable alternative, but a long shot.)
The announcement about Gifford generated sadness, sympathy and, fueled by the inevitable attention when superstars are associated with serious afflictions – See Also: “Magic” Johnson and “HIV” and before that, Lou Gehrig, stricken with “ALS”– a reinvigorated conversation concerning the consequences of extreme violence in football, via concussion and continual whacks to the head.
The report offered sobering statistics:
Of those football players’ brains that were submitted post mortemly for examination, 87 out of 91 of them presented symptoms of “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.”
Professional football players were also 20 to 30 times more likely to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease between the age of 30 and 50 than the population at large.
Expert commentary on the report conceded that football at its core is an inescapably violent sport and that no changes to the rules nor improvements to the equipment can ultimately protect the players from potential physical and psychological consequences.
It was a punishing indictment of football – at all levels – an irrefutable argument for its immediate abolishment.
The likelihood of that happening?
So why exactly were they talking about this?