Friday, December 4, 2015

"Wasting Time"

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?


JED said...

My guess is that they called it Breaking News because the station that reported it thought they were the first to get the information and wanted to add it to their end-of-year list of "We were first" items.

I agree with you, Earl. Are we surprised? Is it out of the ordinary? It's sad and Mr. Gifford was famous so it gets mentioned but it wasn't Breaking News. Maybe it would be Breaking News if they found a deceased professional football player without this injury.

Here's a sport where big men line up pointing their heads at each other, wind up their bodies to prepare for an all out rush at each other and, on the snap, run full tilt at each other and we're surprised that they ruin their brains? These aren't just big guys. They are fast. They are muscular. They are taught the most efficient way to knock over (or knock out) their opponent. They don't do anything for most of the time of the game except for a few seconds each play (65 offensive plays was the average last week) so they can put everything into those few seconds.

How can this not be damaging the brain - and knees and back and...

A. Josiah said...

Available on Netflix, a very interesting documentary on this very topic entitled "League of Denial." The NFL continually attempted to discredit the Pittsburgh coroner Dr. Bennett Omalu, who originally brought this topic to light. And I understand that there's a new movie coming out soon called Concussion, starring Will Smith as Dr. Omalu. Hopefully, this flick will show the NFL owners and executives as the cold, uncaring money-grubbers that they are, just as the aforementioned documentary does. I love football, and I played through my high school years, but now, I'd do everything I could to dissuade a son from playing the game. I imagine the NHL is watching these developments, too.

Ad Dendum said...

Just read this stat yesterday: 200,000 concussions per year, in high school football. That's one reason you hear about CTE. And a small number of pros who've learned more and more about CTE have quit.

Many years ago I heard Joe Paterno say if you want to cut down on head injuries, get rid of the helmets. Probably would have the desired effect.