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The NFL star and the brain injuries that destroyed him
July 20, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe


 
I hope all the recent attention on this issue reaches a critical mass that brings about real changes in the way football is played.
posted by hermitosis at 10:22 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Related: John Mackey and the 88 Plan.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:24 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And more previously. (That 88 plan didn't have the NFL tag, as that's the one I was looking for..)
posted by k5.user at 10:25 AM on July 20, 2011




.
Sad, fascinating, tragic.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:27 AM on July 20, 2011


I've heard some people propose the removal of the face-mask from the helmets used today. Sounds counter intuitive right?

Well, the theory goes that it would make people less reckless and all out with their hits, tackles, and blocks and therefor reduce the severity of impact damage on the players brains that face these obstacles day in, day out.

I'm all for it, because players have 'been there, done that' before the facemask was introduced and it still leaves open the option for someone to hit, tackle, block just as hard as ever... they're just doing it with the risk of breaking their nose, scraping their face, or god knows what other physical, immediate injury.

I think ESPN or Sports Illustrated did an article about this... *shrug*
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:29 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


RolandOfEld: That sounds like the same sort of thinking behind those remove-traffic-signals experiments, which seem to do well for reducing accidents.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:32 AM on July 20, 2011


So why not remove the helmets altogether then?
posted by hermitosis at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2011


Removing the facemasks will never happen. People get set in their ways. Just like how on trains, airplanes, busses, and anything else like it, having seats face backwards by far safer.
Why don't they change it? People like facing forwards.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2011


The NFL is making big strides in player stafety, but the older players are basically screwed. At least the rumour is that the new CBA that is being hammered out contains up to $1b in aid for retired players.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:35 AM on July 20, 2011


Fascinating stuff. I wonder if there is a name for the concept of safety measures backfiring in this way. Moral hazard is the closest thing I can think of.
posted by Acey at 10:39 AM on July 20, 2011


Yea, like I said above: I'm for the removal of the facemask as an effort to see if it could help.

Do I think it will happen? Nope. Like Threeway said, people are intrenched and, on top of that, it's counter-intuitive.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:40 AM on July 20, 2011


Hell, boxers have been getting their brains pulped since forever and most people just shrug, because they don't know any boxers. Boxers tend to come from the lower class, another reason why nobody cares. Football is different, because your son may play football. I don't see how things can't change, as a result. Once the NFL starts hearing about how moms are keeping their sons out of high school football, they won't have any choice.
posted by Edgewise at 10:46 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Football is a dead sport walking.

When this stuff gets better known, no parent in their right mind is going to let their kid play high school ball.
posted by jamjam at 10:46 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


This isn't the article I've read but Paterno seems to agree about removing them being beneficial:

"I have been saying [it] for 15 years,” Mr. Paterno said. “Then, you would get back to shoulder blocking and shoulder tackling and you wouldn’t have all those heroes out there. Guys would have to worry about broken noses, knocked-out teeth, which we would like to prevent, but you don’t get anything for nothing."
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:46 AM on July 20, 2011


Of the 50 cases that have so far been diagnosed as having CTE at the brain bank, no fewer than 10 of them killed themselves, while others died in strange and violent ways such as wild car chases, gun accidents or drug overdoses.

Damn.
posted by peep at 10:47 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, the theory goes that it would make people less reckless and all out with their hits, tackles, and blocks and therefor reduce the severity of impact damage on the players brains that face these obstacles day in, day out.

What is the difference between long term damage for american football players and those who play similar sports but without protection, such as rugby?
posted by Jehan at 10:52 AM on July 20, 2011


Has anyone done any injury comparisons between US football and rugby? When some friends of mine joined a rugby team for a while I asked weren't they likely to get hurt because of the lack of pads and helmets, and they said actually the lack of those things helped prevent injuries because you tackle differently without them.

(Of course, one of those friends went on to break his collarbone, and other ruptured his spleen, but otherwise...)
posted by dnash at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2011


Are there any comparable stats for rugby? That's a violent game played helmetless isn't it?
posted by TorontoSandy at 10:54 AM on July 20, 2011


What is the difference between long term damage for american football players and those who play similar sports but without protection, such as rugby?

I do not have a cite but I have heard this discussed by professionals and my understanding is that rugby is a much safer game.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:55 AM on July 20, 2011


@Jehan: I speculate the difference lies in the fact that they're not dressed as tanks with armor and actually do, as Paterno said, have the constant menace of disfiguring harm/injury leering over their head that deters the type of behavior that causes so much trouble inside the skull years down the line.

I would also suppose that playing time, season length, and career length would also be a huge factor but don't know those facts about other contact sports like rugby.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:55 AM on July 20, 2011


Culturally, how hard would it be to reform american football to make it more similar to something like rugby with regards to safety? Surely, if players could see that other sports use less shielding but are safer, they may support such a move. I suppose this is wishful thinking.
posted by Jehan at 10:59 AM on July 20, 2011


Yea, the few rugby friends I had were always beat up and scratched up, sometimes to the point of "D*nm! What happened to you! That looks awful". But I can 100% see how you'd function and carry yourself differently without pads on every bodypart and a wire grill between your face and everything else.

To me it's like parents with a newborn saying "Oh, we simply must have this [Hummer, Expedition, LandRover, *insert large SUV type vehicle here*] so that our child will be safe while traveling". Putting aside use cases and other reasons for owning such a vehicle, the conscious decision to place the safety of yourself and/or your child above the safety of others (by choosing to drive a mini-Sherman Tank on daily commutes) is something I cannot condone. /derail.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:00 AM on July 20, 2011


When this stuff gets better known, no parent in their right mind is going to let their kid play high school ball.

No, the demographics will shift to being from the ranks of the poor. Rich and middle class kids will have other options, the poor will not, so they'll continue to risk their kids or themselves.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:00 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I speculate the difference lies in the fact that they're not dressed as tanks with armor and actually do, as Paterno said, have the constant menace of disfiguring harm/injury leering over their head that deters the type of behavior that causes so much trouble inside the skull years down the line.

Paterno, of course, played in the days when players were lucky to have a scrap of leather cushioning their head.

I think reducing padding and helmet proctection could well reduce long-term damage to players, but at the cost of a much smaller number of more immediately severe injuries on the field. You take away facemasks and some guy's going to get his eye gouged out and there's going to be a lot more blood on the field in general. It's a tradeoff I'd probably be willing to make for the long-term health of the players, but there are some downsides as well.
posted by Copronymus at 11:03 AM on July 20, 2011


boxers have been getting their brains pulped since forever

As boxing gloves have gotten heavier and added padding, to protect the hands from injury, head punches and brain injury have increased.
posted by peeedro at 11:06 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


America needs to get down with some soccer, lacrosse and rugby. Those are some badass sports.
posted by Theta States at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


RolandOfEld : I've heard some people propose the removal of the face-mask from the helmets used today. Sounds counter intuitive right?

Edgewise : Hell, boxers have been getting their brains pulped since forever and most people just shrug,

Interestingly, as I understand it, there is a connection here; much as helmets have encouraged rougher play in football, so have boxing gloves increased the chances of death or serious injury in the ring. Gloves protect the puncher's fists to such a degree, that they feel much more confidant in delivering full force blows with no fear for the safety of their hands. Apparently, in bare knuckle matches, the odds on being severely injured are a bit lower, because the person delivering the punch has to be concerned with the real threat that a poorly landed blow could break their hand and will pull their punches accordingly.

So, counter-intuitively, it would seem that the safety gear is actually putting people more at risk in the long run.
posted by quin at 11:12 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


When this stuff gets better known, no parent in their right mind is going to let their kid play high school ball.

No, the demographics will shift to being from the ranks of the poor. Rich and middle class kids will have other options, the poor will not, so they'll continue to risk their kids or themselves.
posted by Brandon Blatcher


High school ball doesn't pay its players, Brandon.

The "ranks of the poor" who are that desperate either drop out and work or make money on the street, or in the best case, work jobs after school, none of which are compatible with football.
posted by jamjam at 11:15 AM on July 20, 2011


Bring back bare-knuckle boxing!
posted by adamdschneider at 11:16 AM on July 20, 2011


I've heard some people propose the removal of the face-mask from the helmets used today. Sounds counter intuitive right?

Not really. That's the reasoning for women's lacrosse having much less protective equipment than the men's version.

Removing the facemasks will never happen. People get set in their ways.

Meh. There was resistance when facemasks were introduced.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:19 AM on July 20, 2011


Professional hockey player didn't used to wear helmets. Amateur ranks made it mandatory, and as those kids became draft age, the NHL required *new* players to wear helmets. They didn't bother trying to convince existing players to wear them. Any changes to equipment in pro sports would have to be made that way, I think.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:19 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is a name for the concept of safety measures backfiring in this way.

The general behavior is called "risk compensation".
posted by floam at 11:21 AM on July 20, 2011


Not to be a buzzkill, but haven't we done this?

That said, more attention is good.
posted by nickgb at 11:21 AM on July 20, 2011


High school ball doesn't pay its players,

They'll be thinking long term, of the big dollars to come later on.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:21 AM on July 20, 2011


Bring back bare-knuckle boxing!

It basically has been brought back? And the explosive growth of mixed martial arts in the US over the last ten years is a really good test case for the measures being talked about here. Compared with a boxing match the average MMA fight has extremely few regulations and the fighters wear very little in the way of protective gear; to many observers the fighting seems incredibly brutal and yet nearly always both fighters walk out of the ring unassisted at the end of a fight, and as far as I know no MMA fighter has ever been killed in the ring in the US. Boxing kills people all the time, and not just with excruciating long-term brain damage but right there in the ring, every year. The more you wrap someone up -- whether in shoulder pads and helmets or boxing gloves or oversized SUVs -- the more you insulate them from the true costs of their actions and the more dangerous they become to others.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:25 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been reading about this and listening to interviews and I am really starting to question my love of football. It's so fun to watch but these guys just literally kill themselves.
posted by zzazazz at 11:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, and the way the NFL buried this issue when they knew it was a problem is shameful.
posted by zzazazz at 11:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I played rugby in college and you learn pretty quickly that those who lead with their heads end up with spinal injuries. I'm a big proponent of going back to leather helmets.
posted by any major dude at 11:35 AM on July 20, 2011


Seventy-five former players are suing the NFL, claiming the league intentionally withheld knowledge of the damaging effects of concussions for 90 years.

Gregg Easterbrook has been drawing attention to this for months in his typically obnoxious fashion.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 11:35 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Ivy League is cutting (NYTimes link) the number of full-contact practices allowed per-week because of this (to 2, NCAA limit is apparently 5). Granted most Ivy players aren't exactly NFL-bound, nor are they getting scholarships for playing at all, but it's an interesting start -- and there's a quote from a Penn State sports medicine person saying she hopes something like that happens there.
posted by brainmouse at 11:37 AM on July 20, 2011


oops, reading fail... it was a Princeton person talking about Penn State.
posted by brainmouse at 11:37 AM on July 20, 2011




You're right, there are definitely some great Ivy players... should have said more like "by and large" or "comparatively".
posted by brainmouse at 11:45 AM on July 20, 2011


I can't find it now, but wasn't there an article a while back about how footballers are more likely to go bankrupt than any other group? It was related to them being paid insane amounts of money and being unable to let go of the lifestyle once they had passed their prime.

I'm beginning to think more and more that celebrities, royals, sportsmen, etc, exist for society's collective perverse enjoyment, like the gladiators of old. They may be rich, celebrated, and admired (hence why people generally feel no sympathy for them), but I honestly think it's a curse.
posted by Acey at 11:47 AM on July 20, 2011


as far as I know, no MMA fighter has ever been killed in the ring in the US

True, no MMA fighter has died in the ring in the USA, but two have died from injuries sustained during their fights.

When my friends and I played tackle sandlot football back in our youth, without any sort of protective gear whatsoever, there usually weren't any hard tackles. You always wrapped up and brought down rather than launching yourself at a person. This sometimes meant that you had to let the guy who played running back do as he wished if he weighed upward of 200 lbs and had a head of steam, but it also meant that your QBs and WRs weren't getting absolutely destroyed by hits from people they never even saw coming.

I don't see the NFL or college games walking back from their current approaches. It's rather sad when you read the comments (yeah, I know) on any ESPN story about this issue. Many of the commenters seem to feel that since the players are paid millions of dollars and "know the risks"(which I doubt: not a knock on the intelligence level of players, just acknowledgement of the fact that we humans are usually poor at risk assessment), fuck 'em, don't do anything beyond what they're currently doing to protect them because the fan's entertainment is more important that the players' safety.

Before all this concussion data came out, my wife and I used to argue about whether our then-future son would be allowed to play football. Not anymore.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:47 AM on July 20, 2011


I don't know how much faith I'd put in rugby as the light at the end of the tunnel; as I understand it the difference between the two sports right now is data, we have it for football, but not really for rugby. Given the extent to which the CTE problem is caused by frequent low intensity hits, rugby might not be much better.

Football is a dead sport walking.

When this stuff gets better known, no parent in their right mind is going to let their kid play high school ball.


Maybe. I know that if I have a son who wants to play a sport, I'm going to try to steer him away from football. On the other hand, my hypothetical son is not very likely to need a football scholarship.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:49 AM on July 20, 2011


When Duerson walked off the field that final time, he was still plenty competent to lead a very good life.

If the NFL has the wisdom to save itself, it'll put its efforts into figuring out why the brain continues to deteriorate after the period of traumatization is over, and how to arrest that deterioration, not all this twaddle about helmets.
posted by jamjam at 12:05 PM on July 20, 2011


Thanks, good article.
posted by Gwynarra at 12:06 PM on July 20, 2011


jamjam: I have said the same thing many times to My Guy, who watches a fuckton of football. I find myself looking away all the time-- I love the zombie movies, the horror videogames, the the wholly pretend violence, but real-live bloodsport nauseates me.

He thinks I'm wrong that increased awareness of the brutality will end the sport, however, simply because of the vast wealth involved in the American football industry. He's probably more right than I am, but I prefer my wishful thinking. Man, what is it about the US that we manage to make everything grotesque, brutal and destructive because it manages to hand vast sums of money to a handful of people?
posted by crush-onastick at 12:22 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the NFL has the wisdom to save itself, it'll put its efforts into figuring out why the brain continues to deteriorate after the period of traumatization is over, and how to arrest that deterioration, not all this twaddle about helmets.

From what I can tell from the various articles and podcasts I've read, it's the build up of tau protein in the brain. From what I can gather, this process takes time. It's just an inevitability if you've been prone to "more concussions than [you] can count" as many football players have.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:23 PM on July 20, 2011


lord_wolf said:
"True, no MMA fighter has died in the ring in the USA, but two have died from injuries sustained during their fights."
I did a little searching around and found that one of the two fighters, Michael Kirkham, was given an automatic 30-day medical suspension following a TKO loss. Two days after the suspension ended, without following up with a doctor, he fought his last fight and died soon after.

The real interesting part is this:
[Dr. Joe Estwanik said] "From a few days to three-to-four weeks after somebody suffers a significant blow to the head, a second blow can trigger an overwhelming response by the body that we still don't really understand. Even a minor blow could result in massive swelling of the brain and there's up to a 50 percent chance of dying."
When one looks at the fight frequency of MMA fighters in the UFC, even with a win, a fighter has to wait 3 months or more between fights.

It seems to me that, at the very least, a concussed player in the NFL should be given an automatic medical suspension with a medical follow-up.

This is currently not the case.

This is why NFL players die.
posted by lemuring at 12:32 PM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, what is it about the US that we manage to make everything grotesque, brutal and destructive because it manages to hand vast sums of money to a handful of people?

The US isn't alone, they just have better marketing.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:33 PM on July 20, 2011


lemuring: just re-reading this article, the fact he was 6'9" and fighting at 155 surely played into too. There is no way on earth that was anywhere near his natural weight and the dehydration incurred by cutting down can not have been good for him. Just looking at that picture, I'd have had a hard time watching that fight; he looks sickly.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:36 PM on July 20, 2011


jamjam: "When this stuff gets better known, no parent in their right mind is going to let their kid play high school ball."

Have you *met* high school (or for that matter gradeschool) sports parents? "Right mind" is not a description that's even in the same, forgive the pun, ballpark.
posted by notsnot at 12:47 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Similar previously -

The Brain on Trial

I am really enjoying these brain injury related links. Thank you for the link.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 12:54 PM on July 20, 2011


I have a hard time getting worked up about this. Are you telling me that people thought a sport which is entirely played by throwing your body into the bodies of others repeatedly on both sides of the ball was ever though to be totally safe? People accept doing incredibly dangerous work for any number of reasons: daring, pride, boredom, fame, money, adventure, etc etc. Why should we stop them because it's, well, dangerous? It's their choice to make, and it's our choice to make whether we want to watch that.

Football is dangerous. It's always been obviously dangerous. Changing it significantly as to remove the danger is to end the sport.
posted by xmutex at 12:57 PM on July 20, 2011


Football is dangerous. It's always been obviously dangerous.

Considering the relatively new amount of attention being paid to brain injuries, I think you're missing the point.

Yes, it's a known fact that your body is going to be put through a grinder; that was pretty much a given since there's little other outcome to expect when you have 300-pound monsters ragdolling each other.

That said, it's not obvious at all the correlation between head injuries and late life decline. It took this long to get anyone to pay attention. It wasn't called "punch drunk syndrome" because it alliterated nicely; people seriously thought that shit only happened to boxers.

In everything there is risk; what we're talking about here is a matter of degree. Bones heal, brains don't.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:02 PM on July 20, 2011


I have a hard time getting worked up about this. Are you telling me that people thought a sport which is entirely played by throwing your body into the bodies of others repeatedly on both sides of the ball was ever though to be totally safe? People accept doing incredibly dangerous work for any number of reasons: daring, pride, boredom, fame, money, adventure, etc etc. Why should we stop them because it's, well, dangerous? It's their choice to make, and it's our choice to make whether we want to watch that.

Seriously? This nonsense? The problem with football(and hockey and boxing and maybe rugby) is not the dangers that are obvious and have been accepted. We've reduced many of the immediately apparent dangers; it's the dangers that you don't see on the field that are the problem. Do you honestly believe that people were watching football players and thinking "well, you can tell that the buildup of tau proteins will cause dementia, danger behavior, and depression? Because if you think that you're wrong, completely, totally wrong. We're just learning about these consequences, so it's pretty hard to imagine that some guy in the NFL knew about them 20 years ago when he started playing football.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:03 PM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, counter-intuitively, it would seem that the safety gear is actually putting people more at risk in the long run.

Reminds me of the current trend towards "barefoot" running. The concept is very similar: without extensive heel padding, runners change their stride so they strike with the midfoot instead of the heel.

Compared with a boxing match the average MMA fight has extremely few regulations and the fighters wear very little in the way of protective gear; to many observers the fighting seems incredibly brutal and yet nearly always both fighters walk out of the ring unassisted at the end of a fight, and as far as I know no MMA fighter has ever been killed in the ring in the US.

I have always viewed MMA as much safer than boxing. Getting a direct full force hit to the head with a boxing glove will ring your bell like nothing else. Not only that, but let's not forget that in boxing, when a fighter gets knocked on his ass, as long as he's able to get to his feet in ten seconds, they put him back in! If there is no three-knockdown TKO rule, he can be brutalized indefinitely until the final time his defenses falter and he takes that really nasty direct hit to the brainbox. In MMA, as soon as a fighter is genuinely stunned, it's game over.

I love watching boxing -- it's unbelievably elegant. But I can no longer stomach watching highly skilled poor people giving each other brain damage. Remember Bumfights from a few years ago? Their problem was that they didn't have a governing body to make it look civilized.

I hope they can find a way to make football less dangerous to participants. There really isn't any sport on this planet like it.
posted by Edgewise at 1:06 PM on July 20, 2011


Do you honestly believe that people were watching football players and thinking "well, you can tell that the buildup of tau proteins will cause dementia, danger behavior, and depression?

I honestly believe people have always thought getting your head hammered was probably horribly bad for you, and I honestly believe people have always seen football players willingly having their heads hammered for fame and money. Yeah. If you don't "honestly" believe this, I'm concerned for your powers of observation.

If people want to have their brains hammered for fame and money, I see no reason to stop them from doing so.
posted by xmutex at 1:08 PM on July 20, 2011


Why should we stop them because it's, well, dangerous? It's their choice to make, and it's our choice to make whether we want to watch that.

The threat of government crackdowns (or whatever it is "we stopping them" means) isn't what should have the NFL worried. The NFL should be worried that in 20 years football will be what boxing is today, i.e. basically irrelevant because it can't attract top tier athletes or a significant number of spectators. In other words, lots of people are making exactly the choice you're talking about right now, and if the sport doesn't change itself soon, and what then?
posted by Copronymus at 1:08 PM on July 20, 2011


The NFL should be worried that in 20 years football will be what boxing is today, i.e. basically irrelevant because it can't attract top tier athletes or a significant number of spectators. In other words, lots of people are making exactly the choice you're talking about right now, and if the sport doesn't change itself soon, and what then?

I suppose it's that I don't care too much: if society doesn't want to watch people having their heads bashed in every Sunday, then they will stop watching and football (of the NFL variety) will go away. If the NFL wants to remove the danger from the game, then they will ruin and dilute their product and people won't watch, and then football of the NFL variety, again, will go away. I'm not sure I see much of an option. What I find objectionable is this "omg football is dangerous let's stop adults from making their own decisions." Of course it's dangerous. It's always been.
posted by xmutex at 1:15 PM on July 20, 2011


I honestly believe people have always thought getting your head hammered was probably horribly bad for you, and I honestly believe people have always seen football players willingly having their heads hammered for fame and money. Yeah. If you don't "honestly" believe this, I'm concerned for your powers of observation

The problem seems to be a your lack of understand of what people are actually talking about here. We are not talking about getting your head hammered being generically "bad for you." We are talking about getting hit in the head causing a specific debilitating condition years after the hits stop. Because it happens years after the hits stop, the connection isn't an obvious one, and even the little hits, the ones that don't hurt or give you a concussion can contribute to the problem. Hell, you need an autopsy to know if you have it; so yeah to say that its obvious to a teenager at his first football practice is idiotic.

In the future, it might be better to read a little bit before you go blindly declaring that you don't have sympathy for people suffering from a nightmarish condition.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:18 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I honestly believe people have always thought getting your head hammered was probably horribly bad for you, and I honestly believe people have always seen football players willingly having their heads hammered for fame and money. Yeah. If you don't "honestly" believe this, I'm concerned for your powers of observation.

We're talking about athletes here. I mean, maybe you're new to this whole issue, or didn't look into it very thoroughly, but concussion education is basically non-existent; even Chris Nowinski, a hardvard graduate, admitted he has no idea what actually constitutes a concussion.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:23 PM on July 20, 2011


Boxing and MMA is apples and oranges, comparing them really doesn't get you far. Boxing is, obviously, far more specific and strict, but those are also it's strengths. The biggest problem with boxing is the repeated blows to the head and I believe they found that there is an average of X amount of fights before there are signs of brain damage. I would find it hard to believe the sport of MMA ever runs into that problem as it is not nearly as specific and strict, which are it's strengths. Plus, in MMA matches the refs are always quick to jump in and stop them when it's clearly over.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:23 PM on July 20, 2011


...admitted he had no idea what actually constituted a concussion, until he spoke to a head trauma doctor.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:23 PM on July 20, 2011


I wonder if the growing profile of the apparently brain-safer sport of MMA will actually put pressure on boxing to make its rules safer as well -- knockouts being called instantly etc.
posted by Anything at 1:24 PM on July 20, 2011


In the future, it might be better to read a little bit before you go blindly declaring that you don't have sympathy for people suffering from a nightmarish condition.

All I see between the lines is "stupid jocks, fuck 'em."
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:25 PM on July 20, 2011


I wonder if the growing profile of the apparently brain-safer sport of MMA will actually put pressure on boxing to make its rules safer as well -- knockouts being called instantly etc.

All I can say is, giving someone a standing 8-count isn't by any means a favour.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:26 PM on July 20, 2011


Thanks for the follow-up, lemuring.

I'd heard that getting a concussion makes one more susceptible to subsequent concussions, but I hadn't known that there was a window wherein you're at a greatly increased risk of death.

Would it really be that bad if I have to talk about American football as it is currently played as a relic of our past to my kids when they reach their teenage years?

"Dad, did people really used to care more about satisfying their own bloodlust than the safety of the players on the field?"

"Yes, little wolf, they did."

"Wow, no wonder some historians say the Dark Ages didn't really end until the invention of the first working replicator a few years ago."
posted by lord_wolf at 1:30 PM on July 20, 2011


I wonder if the growing profile of the apparently brain-safer sport of MMA will actually put pressure on boxing to make its rules safer as well

Such as?
posted by P.o.B. at 1:44 PM on July 20, 2011


Such as?

Oh, let's make it so in boxing you're not allowed to punch the other person.
posted by xmutex at 1:47 PM on July 20, 2011


I wonder if the growing profile of the apparently brain-safer sport of MMA will actually put pressure on boxing to make its rules safer as well
Such as?


That's a somewhat odd question considering that my immediately following words described one such suggestion.

I wonder if the growing profile of the apparently brain-safer sport of MMA will actually put pressure on boxing to make its rules safer as well -- knockouts being called instantly etc.

posted by Anything at 1:55 PM on July 20, 2011


That's a somewhat odd question considering that my immediately following words described one such suggestion.

It was a somewhat odd suggestion because I have never seen a knockout not called instantly, so I was asking for a little clarification.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:58 PM on July 20, 2011


OK, I was referring to the ten second count in boxing as opposed to the instant end to the fight in MMA as soon a participant cannot defend himself.
posted by Anything at 2:06 PM on July 20, 2011


So stop the fight as soon as someone is knocked down or dazed? They don't even stop MMA fights when that happens. I don't know the physiological depth between knockout and a little tipsy but it's probably highly subjective from person to person and event to event, depending on all sorts of things. There is no way to institute an objective stopping point in a boxing match, besides an obvious on the floor "lights out". Beyond all that, plenty of boxing matches happen all the time when one fighter is given a ten count and then comes back to win the fight.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:19 PM on July 20, 2011


On comparisons with rugby:

>> Rugby doesn't have the "line" of gridiron, insofar as the point of contact in a rugby scrum is on the neck and shoulders of the front row players (the hooker and two props). The point of contact in the gridiron line is often the head. In rugby, the head is a no-go zone for everyone (on pain of being sent off the pitch).

>> In rugby, the tackling style is designed to bring the player down by grasping the attacking player with the arms and dragging to the ground using the weight of the tackling player's body. When I tackle you, my head should not take any shock or direct impact (unless it connects with your thigh, elbow etc.). This is not to say this tackling style is not used in gridiron, but defenders in gridiron will also simply launch themselves, often headfirst, at an attacking player with the intention of knocking their target off his feet. This is almost unheard of in rugby, being incredibly dangerous without a helmet. As someone said upthread, doing this in rugby is a fast route to a spinal unit.

>> As others have mentioned, the absence of helmets in rugby dictates a completely different style of play and personal protection. It's as tough as gridiron, and you can come off the pitch as beat up and physically exhausted, but again, the head is off-limits.

>> The big risk in rugby (as mentioned) is the damage to spine and neck, particularly for forwards, but this is an acute, on-field risk (as opposed to something that develops over time) and in recent decades there have been rule changes which have nearly eliminated the risk of spinal damage at the top level (you still hear sometimes of injuries at schoolboy level).

Hope this useful.

There is also some research into the risk of impact-related long-term brain damage for football (soccer) players who head the ball regularly.
posted by bright cold day at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Putting aside the injury issue of repeated knockdowns and counts, why should the boxer who's gotten himself to this weak position be given the advantage of getting a break for recovery? I know that those are the rules but I don't know precisely why that should be so.
posted by Anything at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2011


P.oB.:
The ability to institute an objective stopping point depends on having highly-skilled referees and the sport itself. As Anything noted, if a fighter can no longer himself in an MMA fight, it's over. This is in large-part, due to fighters being able to follow up a knockdown (not a knockout) with a barrage of punches. Boxing is strictly a stand-up sport, so it can't adopt similar criteria.

What -can- be done in boxing is shortening the ten count and getting rid of today's massive boxing gloves; wrist injuries are a lot better than brain injuries. Both these rules haven't changed since they first appeared in 1867.

I think that's something Boxing has to realize about itself: It's not a modern sport. It's ancient. And in the interest of the safety of professional boxers, it may have to reconsider some of its century-old rules while preserving the spirit of the sport and its character.

MMA evolved in a very short span of time primarily out of legal necessity. I think it's the widespread acceptance and indifference to the rules of the NFL and boxing that end up hindering their development.
posted by lemuring at 2:52 PM on July 20, 2011


Because it's not a count for the boxer, it's a count for the ref to determine whether or not the boxer can continue. That's why at the end of the count they always shake the gloves to check for reaction and look into their eyes to see if anyone is in there. Also, boxing has grown from the time when it was acceptable to beat the other guy into the ground. Literally. So there's a separation and the count.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:54 PM on July 20, 2011


Boxing is strictly a stand-up sport, so it can't adopt similar criteria.

Right, apples and oranges like I said, but the stopping points for MMA and Boxing for being dazed and confused are still quite similiar so I'm not sure what is in contention here. The ten count probably isn't going away, and I'm not sure heard a real reason as to why it should.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2011


I think reducing padding and helmet proctection could well reduce long-term damage to players, but at the cost of a much smaller number of more immediately severe injuries on the field. You take away facemasks and some guy's going to get his eye gouged out and there's going to be a lot more blood on the field in general. It's a tradeoff I'd probably be willing to make for the long-term health of the players, but there are some downsides as well.

Wait, why are we trying to save this sport again? And you would be willing to make this tradeoff?

Well, that's very generous of you, the guy not getting his eyes gouged out or his brain damaged.
posted by emjaybee at 3:02 PM on July 20, 2011


Tackle football is brutal. Absolutely brutal. When I'm in charge, we'll replace professional tackle football with professional flag football. Way more fun to play, faster paced, no injuries, and emphasizes speed and dexterity in the same way soccer does.
posted by zardoz at 3:14 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Way more fun to play, faster paced, no injuries, and emphasizes speed and dexterity in the same way soccer does.

SO BORING.

Brutality please.
posted by xmutex at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2011


Wait, why are we trying to save this sport again? And you would be willing to make this tradeoff?

Well, that's very generous of you, the guy not getting his eyes gouged out or his brain damaged.


I said probably because it's something that would require consideration. Getting your eye gouged or nose broken is pretty bad indeed, but the long-term effects of CTE are also really horrible. I'm not the Overlord of Football, and thus am not in a position to be either generous or harsh to any hypothetical football players by speculating about rule changes.

As for why we're saving a sport with such potential for great harm in the players, that comes down to the fact that it makes a ton of money for a ton of people and that it brings joy to an even greater number of people. Have no fear, the sport is teetering on the edge of an existential crisis, and I'd say it's very, very likely that it won't exist in the form we have right now in 25 years. Whether that's because someone finds a way to play that doesn't result in brain damage or because no one is willing to play it is all that's left to find out.
posted by Copronymus at 3:29 PM on July 20, 2011


Are you people out to stop people from doing anything that might at all be possibly dangerous?
posted by xmutex at 3:31 PM on July 20, 2011


Tackle football is brutal. Absolutely brutal. When I'm in charge, we'll replace professional tackle football with professional flag football. Way more fun to play, faster paced, no injuries, and emphasizes speed and dexterity in the same way soccer does.

I've actually advocated them doing that for the Pro Bowl (all-star game) for years.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2011


Are you people out to stop people from doing anything that might at all be possibly dangerous?

Stop with this fucking strawman already. People are saying that watching football makes them uncomfortable, they are saying they wish it would be safer, they are saying it might well die out as a sport, the only person who is claiming that anyone wants to ban football or keep people from playing it(other than their own children) is you.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:39 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you people out to stop people from doing anything that might at all be possibly dangerous?

If you look more closely at what I've written here, you'll see that I don't think it will take anyone stopping anyone else from playing football for it to die out. If the sport stays exactly the same as it is right now, young people will stop playing on their own. That's all it would take for football to stop being a sport anyone cares about. Take a look at what's happened to boxing over the last 50 years for what I'm talking about.
posted by Copronymus at 3:50 PM on July 20, 2011


Related: The NFL's Official New Concussion Awareness Poster

"Remember, Everyone is Watching You!"
posted by Rhaomi at 3:58 PM on July 20, 2011


let's make it so in boxing you're not allowed to punch the other person.

But then we wouldn't have epic bouts like this one.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 4:00 PM on July 20, 2011


R.I.P. Duane Duerson and best wishes to his friends and family.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 4:02 PM on July 20, 2011


DAVE!!! Dave Duerson! My Kingdom for an Edit Window!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 4:02 PM on July 20, 2011


That's all it would take for football to stop being a sport anyone cares about.

People care about money, that's why American Football and Boxing are not going anywhere. The rules change to make game play safer but they are also there to make the sport more watchable. You can look at all the rules instituted in MMA over the past twenty years and most have been instituted to give a better show.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:04 PM on July 20, 2011


"Violent ground acquisition games such as football is in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war."

~Derek; Back to School
posted by bwg at 5:10 PM on July 20, 2011


If you look more closely at what I've written here, you'll see that I don't think it will take anyone stopping anyone else from playing football for it to die out. If the sport stays exactly the same as it is right now, young people will stop playing on their own. That's all it would take for football to stop being a sport anyone cares about. Take a look at what's happened to boxing over the last 50 years for what I'm talking about.

I totally agree with this.
posted by xmutex at 5:12 PM on July 20, 2011


Well, all the guys that would have been boxers ended up in football. 50 years ago Ray Lewis would have been trading punches with Patterson, Liston and Ali.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 6:08 PM on July 20, 2011


SO BORING.

Brutality please.


The football fans that I know don't give a damn about the welfare of the players. "They get paid plenty!" is the usual comment, as if money makes up for a porridge brain by the age of 40.

And when they "cheer the players on," far too often the cry is one of "KILL HIM! Kill the B*tard!"

This isn't about sports or safety. It's violence, grotesque and unbridled violence, and the same sadism and prurience that makes folks watch NASCAR races for the wrecks. For me, this is about the greed and violence underlying far too much of American culture.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:13 PM on July 20, 2011


It's violence, grotesque and unbridled violence, and the same sadism and prurience that makes folks watch NASCAR races for the wrecks. For me, this is about the greed and violence underlying far too much of American culture.

For me it's pretty much you being a wuss.
posted by xmutex at 8:06 PM on July 20, 2011


Are you people out to stop people from doing anything that might at all be possibly dangerous?

Are you out to stop all debate that might possibly be fruitful or interesting?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:03 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


When my friends and I played tackle sandlot football back in our youth, without any sort of protective gear whatsoever, there usually weren't any hard tackles.

I was in marching band in high school. We used to have semi-regular football games at a local park on the weekend. The tackling was brutal, full-contact. I remember getting thrown around a lot. Not much head contact- definitely injuries involved but people avoided head contact out of instinct. Mostly. I do seem to recall one or two intentional head butts. We were usually drunk.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:05 PM on July 20, 2011


I wonder if the growing profile of the apparently brain-safer sport of MMA will actually put pressure on boxing to make its rules safer as well

The boxing line on MMA is to talk it up as a brutal trash sport for low-lives and scum to enjoy. That seems to be the line from sports columnists and more than a few fans time and time again. So I don't see any particular reason to assume boxing will think it has anything to learn.

For me it's pretty much you being a wuss.

Trolling or too many concussions. Hard to tell.
posted by rodgerd at 3:36 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I read that part about Duerson's suicide where he shot himself in the heart (most gunshot suicides are head shots) and in his suicide note he had a last request for his brain remains to be scanned for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, chills went down my spine; and I have never played a single down of organized tackle football. I do not think there are many fates worse than dementia.

I am pessimistic that much will be done for these folks beyond token measures. It is really not possible to remove head trauma from football and still have football. The people in this thread who are voicing comments similar to this one:

> People are saying that watching football makes them uncomfortable,

are very wrong, in my view. Look at the television ratings. The top rated show of the year is the Super Bowl. Several of the other top rated shows of the year are National Football League games. People love this stuff, and I like it enough that I think I understand why they love it. It is a great show. It is very costly for the participants' neurological health, but we are likely to see that there ain't all that much that can be done about the participants' neurological health.

The idea that playing football messes you up permanently and makes you old fast is not a new one. When I was in high school many years ago it was common knowledge that it was dangerous, and this was an essntial part of its glamor. In 1975 people of my parents' age were talking about returning to their twenty-year high school reunions and the star football players being all messed up.
posted by bukvich at 7:10 AM on July 21, 2011


Also:

Of the 45 shows on this list:

* 21 are Super Bowls


The only shows on that list in this millennium are Super Bowls.
posted by bukvich at 9:00 AM on July 21, 2011


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