Join 3,557 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The "boy-killing, man-mutilating, money-making, education-prostituting, gladiatorial sport."
October 13, 2009 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Does american football unavoidably lead to brain damage over time? Does a culture favoring perseverance at the expense of well being begin in high school?
posted by phrontist (96 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
correct nyt link
posted by bhnyc at 9:01 AM on October 13, 2009


Up next: Boxing - Hitting the brain cage repeatedly, is there a chance for injury?
posted by cavalier at 9:09 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sure does, and I bet it's not good for the players either!
Thanks, I'll be here all week! Tip your waiter!
posted by entropicamericana at 9:09 AM on October 13, 2009 [14 favorites]


My grandpa always told me to stay away from football because it would mess up my knees. So I joined the marching band and messed up my knees.
posted by cimbrog at 9:11 AM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


That would be funnier if you were a bawdy female.
posted by mippy at 9:12 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


:)
posted by mippy at 9:12 AM on October 13, 2009


My grandpa always told me to stay away from football because it would mess up my brain. So I joined MetaFilter and ...
posted by mazola at 9:13 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've been drifting away from watching football for a raft of reasons... but one of the big ones is that as I get older and my body slllowly begins to break down, I just cringe thinking about what those guys must start to feel like as they approach 40. Cumulative brain damage just adds another terrifying layer to that.
posted by COBRA! at 9:13 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does a culture favoring perseverance athletics at the expense of well being academics begin in high school?

No.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:13 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I see. You meant 'Does playing American football unavoidably lead to brain damage?'.
posted by biffa at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2009


My grandpa always told me that football was bad for my brain so my grandfather brain bad told me football.

I played football.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2009 [37 favorites]


Football may also lead to conditions similar to Alzheimer's increasing the risks of depression and suicide.
posted by quin at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2009


If head injuries weren't enough, "by the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce."
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 9:20 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Does a culture favoring perseverance at the expense of well being begin in high school?

No, it "begins at conception".
posted by DU at 9:20 AM on October 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


Does a culture favoring perseverance at the expense of well being begin in high school?

It begins in infancy and permeates nearly every aspect of our culture. My grandpa always told me to stay away from culture. But I like cheese, bread, and beer too much. Not necessarily in that order.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:20 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It begins with a lack of understanding of applicable neurology in the general community which extends as far as hospital ERs and even some neuros. I was sideswiped on my bike by a van doing 50mph when I was 10... full concussion, massive road rash, the whole deal. It took a decade for me to figure out that while my body had healed my brain hadn't. The little weird things like forgetting basic words when I was tired, freezing mid sentence for a second, or odd decision making when I was hungry, just seemed like "me". I had to learn a lot to understand what was happening, and I still don't understand it well enough but I'm not getting migraines constantly now.

I started with the doctors asking why my headaches were getting more frequent as I aged and if they were migraines. Instead of understanding I just ended up with a few hundred needle sticks, dopey medications, scans, scares, and loads of "I don't know". Aspirin's been about for 150 years and only in the last 75 years or so have so many people been living so long that it's worth researching things like neurology in depth. It takes time to get this stuff figured out and out to the general populace. It's happening though, thankfully. For those that are interested, some of the science is in my link above.
posted by jwells at 9:24 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Can we please get some non-Americans in here to tell us how barbaric our sports are? Or that the word "football" actually describes a game where your primary point of contact with the ball is your foot? Something like that.
posted by Edgewise at 9:24 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


A more in-depth, recent article on the depression/ suicide links.
posted by quin at 9:25 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Absolutely football causes brain damage. And playing it is even more dangerous!
posted by GuyZero at 9:25 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


It certainly doesn't help that the networks like ESPN eat the NFL Blitz style big hits. They lead off shows like SportsCenter and are celebrated and haw haw hawed about in the same segments where the broadcasters make sad concerned faces about the older ex-players' health. In fact ESPN used to have some segment on its obnoxious NFL show called JACKED UP where the studio idiots would go BU HAW HAW and show clips of guys getting decimated.
posted by xmutex at 9:26 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Up next: Boxing - Hitting the brain cage repeatedly, is there a chance for injury?

I read somewhere that brain injuries in boxing were very low until they introduced gloves. Apparently, in bare knuckle boxing, there weren't a lot of hits to the head and if you went down you stayed down and the match was over. Because of gloves, boxers take many more hits to the head and thus sustain more brain damage.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:28 AM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Can we please get some non-Americans in here to tell us how barbaric our sports are?

Actually, the usual response is to mock us for calling it football when the ball is mostly carried, and to mock us for being so wimpy that we have to wear armor, unlike Rugby players.
posted by eriko at 9:29 AM on October 13, 2009


Does a culture favoring perseverance at the expense of well being begin in high school?
Are these things mutually exclusive?
posted by Electric Dragon at 9:30 AM on October 13, 2009


Not always, but it's easy to see how they can be in a contact sport.
posted by echo target at 9:31 AM on October 13, 2009


Funny, there was no such concern for brain cells during the last "...and let me tell you about my greatest acid trip" thread I read here on MeFi.
posted by rocket88 at 9:36 AM on October 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


Gladwell's article is significantly more nuanced than football is dangerous. It explores whether football has to be dangerous and what things can be done to prevent that. Kyle Turley story is really jarring and not because football players end up with severe head injuries soon after retiring, but because the causes leading up to this are really systemic throughout the NFL and even the players themselves. Playing through a complete drive and not remembering any of it? That's absurd and I'm sure any of us would say fuck it and leave after that, but not when it is your passion and you're constantly reminded that you're the best that there is, this is what you're suppose to do and with constant positive reinforcement to do the things that will, in the end, be the end of you.

What Gladwell really highlighted and was sort of the undertone of the article, changes are very unlikely to come from within the NFL. You can say that about any organization and our culture at large that there needs to be pain and suffering, to put in the hours, and doing any less will violate some sort of Puritan work ethic ingrained in all of us.

I've had several friends that played at the collegiate level and even went through the combines. They have absolute horror stories of passing out in stairwells, showing up to class and not remembering how they got there and the constant coaching of "playing through the pain." They both decided to pursue other careers and were smart enough, with enough experience, to realize there was life outside of football. For a lot of these kids, especially the poor ones who would not even be in college but for athletic scholarships, football is all they know. Complaining about constant fatigue? Well there's 10 other kids willing to take your place. What's the saying that steroids are worth it if you win a gold medal, but not for the millions of kids who'd take steroids and never have a chance at the Olympics? That sort of reasoning applies here and it is great that this is starting to get real exposure.

I remember last year hearing about an NFL player (for some reason I keep thinking of Mort Anderson though I'm pretty sure it is not him) who was at the time, trying to collect for former stars in their 50-60s who now need serious, expensive full time care (something the league has been dragging their feet on). He personally made calls all across the league seeking donations and came up with some paltry amount of $10k. I'm pretty sure any other cause would have netted more in donations, but it gives you an idea that players themselves are in deep denial.

NB it would be interesting, and easy, for the league to reform how the lineman take hits. It'll never happen of course, at most you'll see a "new" helmet that promises to solve everything.
posted by geoff. at 9:38 AM on October 13, 2009 [14 favorites]


American rugby player here. I've never actually played football, so I don't know all the ins and outs, but among people making the transition from other sports football players can have some difficulty. Although they seem similar, the tackling is different (no blocking, have to wrap when you tackle) and getting used to the lack of equipment leads to some initial injuries. The general consensus among players (and we do have a lot of ex-football players) is that the pads increase the force with which you can hit far beyond what the body can take, resulting in the long term debilitating injuries you see in ex-football players.
posted by electroboy at 9:40 AM on October 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


excellent commentary geoff.

Just noting that often the worst Coaching offenders in terms of making players "play through the plain" are often those who had limited playing experience, and ESPECIALLY those who are 2nd generation coaches and/or come from coaching families.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:43 AM on October 13, 2009


Believe it or not they've also found very similar results in head injury from soccer players (from the amount of headers they have to take it practices/games. A really big header can actually be just a damaging to the brain as a big tackle in football. hurts less, but still just as damaging to the brain matter.)
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, playing football is reaaaalllly fuckin' fun.
posted by kathrineg at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2009


Next year, this thread will be playing on Sundays!!!
posted by Danf at 9:46 AM on October 13, 2009


... pads increase the force with which you can hit far beyond what the body can take, resulting in the long term debilitating injuries you see in ex-football players.

That reminds me of barefoot running (another previous). It seems your body responds to impacts better if it can feel what is happening, instead of being padded for safety.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:46 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can we please get some non-Americans in here to tell us how barbaric our sports are?

Fortunately for you, Gladwell has got you covered, at least on the barbaric nature of football front, so you don't have to listen to any furriners.
posted by ssg at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2009


See also: dementia pugilistica.
posted by inoculatedcities at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2009


Sheesh, the pedants are out in force this afternoon (note: may not be afternoon in your timezone. Furthermore, in my GMT-5 timezone one could argue it is, in fact, "noon"). I'll write my posts in Lojban with a propositional calculus appendix on the [more inside] next time.

Are [perseverance and well-being] mutually exclusive?

I meant this in the context of the latter article, which describes players carrying on and hiding symptoms after injuries.

I read somewhere that brain injuries in boxing were very low until they introduced gloves.

That's one of those really appealing factoids that I can't help but hope is true. I'd love to see a cite if you can dig one up.
posted by phrontist at 9:48 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because of gloves, boxers take many more hits to the head and thus sustain more brain damage.

I think the other issue was that because of the gloves, boxers can hit harder. In bare-knuckled boxing, if you hit your opponent too hard, you could break your hand.

This is similar to the situation in football where, as helmets and safety equipment improved, the players started to hit harder because it didn't hurt them as much.
posted by drezdn at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


The average age of death for American males is 78 and the average age of death for those who played three years or more in the NFL is 57. Some of it is pure selection — you're not getting in the NFL unless, usually, you are a big, big dude, and being a big, big dude can come with a raft of health problems.

Let's not kid ourselves, though. This is a scarcely sublimated gladiator ritual, and the blood-craving crowds have little concern as to the health of the gladiators. Just give them a net and a trident, call it a day. Throw them a sack of gold after five wins. It would be more honest.
posted by adipocere at 9:52 AM on October 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


The general consensus among [rugby] players (and we do have a lot of ex-football players) is that the pads increase the force with which you can hit far beyond what the body can take, resulting in the long term debilitating injuries you see in ex-football players.

Very interesting. Thank you for sharing that. It reminds me of this point:

I read somewhere that brain injuries in boxing were very low until they introduced gloves. Apparently, in bare knuckle boxing, there weren't a lot of hits to the head and if you went down you stayed down and the match was over. Because of gloves, boxers take many more hits to the head and thus sustain more brain damage.

It's good for MetaFilter to have participants with a wide range of backgrounds and interests.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:52 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am troubled by that article for one reason.
The section discussing dogfighting, and how the animals are put into this situation to entertain, with the expectation they may be destroyed, doesn't quite chime with the rest of it. Dogs don't have the choice, the players do, and as was pointed out in the sentence before that paragraph - most players who suffer still say they'd do it again for the love of the sport.

I am also troubled by the problems that most players suffer in retirement, of course. Having gotten back into football in the last couple of years (a little obsessively) I struggle to see many ways you can change it to stop these problems without so fundamentally changing the sport that interest will be lost, and players will complain about not being to play the sport they love.

As for the comments about non Americans describing it as barbaric - the comment about Turley taking a knee to the back of the head is something that could easily happen in rugby, and they don't have the benefit of helmets. I'm one of the few Brits who won't for a second argue that football is wussy for being padded... The fact thay're playing a far more head-on game explains why you see more long-term injuries in football than rugby by and large, but that isn't to say that, as above, that injury in particular couldn't have actually been worse in other sports that no one is questioning.
posted by opsin at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2009


The thing I don't like about Gladwell's article is the comparison of football to dog fighting. Dog fighting is abhorrent not just because it's violent, but because the dogs can't say no.

No football player is compelled to play. We have an all-volunteer football system.

That said, we should do a better job of making the players aware of the long-term damage that football can do, and do what we can to reduce that damage.
posted by JDHarper at 9:58 AM on October 13, 2009


BTW, there are plenty of concussions in rugby. Head to head contact is fairly common, sometimes resulting in concussions. We do, however, have fairly restrictive laws concerning post concussion play/practice.

I've never personally been concussed, but I've had my bell rung pretty hard on occasion, and it's not a good feeling.

As far as I know, there's not a lot of evidence to back up the equipment/no equipment hypothesis on concussions. There have been some studies about concussions specific to rugby, but it's still a relatively minor sport in the US.
posted by electroboy at 10:07 AM on October 13, 2009


No football player is compelled to play. We have an all-volunteer football system.

The line between compulsion and uncoerced free choice is hardly clear cut. If you raise a kid to love football, in an environment where success in football means social success, to what extent is that choice "free"? Sartre says something like (serious paraphrase here): you choose to do what you want, but you can't choose what you want in the first place.

And what does it matter anyway? Just because someones's choice is freely undertaken doesn't mean one wouldn't be ethically wrong to be a party to it. If fratboy freely chooses to try to chug three bottles of vodka, the bartender would still be to blame for enabling him. The difference with football is just a matter of degree, and our culpability is collective, further obscuring the issue.
posted by phrontist at 10:09 AM on October 13, 2009 [10 favorites]


For a lot of these kids, especially the poor ones who would not even be in college but for athletic scholarships, football is all they know.

I'd say that sports are all they are given. Instead of practicing writing, math, or science, kids practice sports, and are supported in these endeavors. But reading doesn't hold much excitement over the potential to score goals and getting accolades.

That said, we should do a better job of making the players aware of the long-term damage that football can do, and do what we can to reduce that damage.

It's one thing at a college/university level, but some high schoolers have the goal of getting recruited and getting paid big bucks. When you get paid like a pro, you can hire people to fix you, so why worry, right? The future is pretty hazy when you're 16 years old, because 20 can sound old and 30 is ancient.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:09 AM on October 13, 2009


I'd say that sports are all they are given. Instead of practicing writing, math, or science, kids practice sports, and are supported in these endeavors.

Oh I very much agree, but no other sport is it a given that a certain position will likely develop dementia by mid-life. There's a special perversion in giving these kids an education with such baggage attached.
posted by geoff. at 10:15 AM on October 13, 2009


Also keep in mind that youth football and the NFL are apples and oranges. A tiny tiny minority of kids who play youth football ever play either in college or the NFL. The studies being discussed only look at NFL players. The vast majority of people who play youth football never play again after leaving high school
posted by electroboy at 10:18 AM on October 13, 2009


I'm an avid football fan and I strongly believe that more needs to be done to support players on and off the field with regards to their health. As players retire, it is vital that they get the same or greater level of medical care that they got while playing.

That said, I disagree that it's just football that drives young people to destroy their bodies in pursuit of an athletic goal. I think it's most sports. You are encouraged to ignore your body and work through the pain, you put your body through rigorous training and if you're lucky, you get a scholarship, maybe. My boyfriend played high school and college basketball and I was a gymnast, we both have some serious joint drama that's a direct result of our sporting adventures. However, both of us gave it up at a certain point because the injuries didn't outweigh the benefits. Some kids do, some don't. I'm not sure what the solution is or even if their needs to be one, other than better medical care across the board and greater understanding of how the booboos of youth become the agonies of old age.
posted by teleri025 at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2009


My boyfriend played high school and college basketball and I was a gymnast, we both have some serious joint drama that's a direct result of our sporting adventures.

Sure, but these sorts of injuries are nothing compared to having the substrate of your consciousness, your self, shot to hell. While crippling your body is nothing to sneeze at, you can lead a fulfilling life despite it. Serious neurological impairment is a whole different (ahem) ball game.

Maybe other people have different priorities (but how?! your brain is essential to having priorities in the first place!). The scariest story I've ever heard was Flowers for Algernon.
posted by phrontist at 10:27 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


If it were a factory job that resulted in these kinds of injuries, there'd be lawsuits aplenty, even if it paid hundreds of thousands a year. No amount of money makes up for dementia and early death. But it's not a factory job, it's the NFL, so we tolerate it.

I really don't understand that. I know that lots of people are fans, and a some people become filthy rich, and Superbowl Day is practically an American holiday. But once you know about these kinds of injuries, how can you continue to support the system that produces them?

In protest, I'm never watching another professional football game again.

Admittedly, not hard for me to give up, since I was on track to watch about six in my lifetime, based on my current NFL viewing habits.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:31 AM on October 13, 2009


Funny, there was no such concern for brain cells during the last "...and let me tell you about my greatest acid trip" thread I read here on MeFi.

That's because LSD has no demonstrated neurotoxicity, and in fact inhibits the neurotoxicity of drugs like PCP and ketamine (link).

Please ride your horse somewhere else, and maybe lay off on the football for a while.
posted by invitapriore at 10:33 AM on October 13, 2009 [19 favorites]


phrontist,

From the wikipedia article on boxing gloves:
"The impact of gloves on the injuries caused during a fight is a controversial issue. Most reputable studies have shown that gloved fights cause more severe and more long-term brain and eye injuries than bare-knuckle fights, although the incidence of superficial injuries (cuts, bruising) is reduced. In part this can also be attributed to more, shorter rounds in modern fights made possible by the use of gloves, which results in longer fights than earlier. Such research is often ignored by boxing promoters, as there is a feeling that the public prefer longer matches to shorter fights with early knockouts."

Wikipedia also links to a report by the British Medical Association (PDF) on this issue.

From an 1995 The Economist Article "Hang Up the Boxing Gloves":
But one change seen by some as making the sport more safe has made it more dangerous: ever-plumper boxing gloves. Heavy gloves (as opposed to mere mitts) were first worn in a world heavyweight championship fight in 1892 in New Orleans, when "Gentleman Jim" Corbett wrested the title from John L. Sullivan, who was famous as "the Boston Strong Boy" and infamous as a brutish drunk who on entering a saloon habitually roared: "I can lick any man in the house." Since then the regulation gloves have got heavier and heavier until today middleweights and above, like Gerald McClellan and Nigel Been, not only wear 10-ounce (283-gram) gloves but are also permitted to have each hand wrapped in up to 18 feet (5.5 metres) of bandages held in place by 9 to 11 feet of zinc-oxide tape.

This padding helps the hitter and hurts the hittee. Since the bones in a man's head are stronger than the bones in a man's fists, a bare-knuckle fighter risks damaging himself more than his opponent if he hits as hard as he can when he aims punches at the head. Unless he has unusually brittle hands, a boxer whose fists are protected by cushions has no such inhibitions. He can hit to the head with full force without much risk of injuring his hands -- and so add to the number of boxers who end up on the slab or with pugilistica dementia.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:34 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


It certainly doesn't help that the networks like ESPN eat the NFL Blitz style big hits. They lead off shows like SportsCenter and are celebrated and haw haw hawed about in the same segments where the broadcasters make sad concerned faces about the older ex-players' health.

Even more infuriating, I think, is how they'll whine because of the rules now in place to protect players from these sorts of devastating hits. "The rules mean you can't touch the quarterback! They should take the hits like they used to in the olden days!"

The problem, they say, is the owners want to protect their "investments" in the QBs. And duh, they do. A great QB can mean the difference between a profitable season and a losing one. At the same time, of course, no one mentions the dirty secret of NFL contracts -- the owner can walk away from them at any time and only pay the "guaranteed" part of the contract (which is usually the "signing bonus" that's mostly front-loaded).

But on the whole, it's frustrating to see players talk about how you have to "take your hits" and how the rules prevent that from happening. Every week I flip through the channels and see some defensive player level someone for no other reason but that he can be leveled. Here's Ray Lewis hitting a defenseless Chad Ochocinco and popping his helmet off. It was a dirty play that helped cost the Ravens a win. And yet, stuff like this is exactly what these rock-headed commentators want.
posted by dw at 10:45 AM on October 13, 2009


One of the kids in my high school broke his neck playing football. His family was dirt poor and I can only imagine how the rest of his life turned out. I hope everybody was entertained.
posted by 2sheets at 10:50 AM on October 13, 2009


The Increasingly Forgettable Work of Malcolm Gladwell.
posted by serazin at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2009


It would good for mankind to have a definite, updated list of human organs that get better when heavily used or stressed and organs that just wear out or are damaged without capability to rebuild themselves to stronger version. And what are the known conditions for effective regeneration.

It is appealing to think that since muscles get stronger with heavy use and soles of my feet thicker walking barefoot, something similar could happen in... liver, brain, skin (uv radiation), lungs, nerves in general, bladder, stomach, joints, colon, etc. There must be lots of dangerous false intuitions on how to treat our bodies based on "it gets stronger with use".
posted by Free word order! at 11:03 AM on October 13, 2009


I think my flippant comment above really didn't come off well. I have a personal distaste for Malcom Gladwell. There are better articles about this sad phenomenon.
posted by kathrineg at 11:03 AM on October 13, 2009


As far as I know, there's not a lot of evidence to back up the equipment/no equipment hypothesis on concussions.

On concussions, no. But we do know death rates in football have fallen considerably over the last 40 years.

I think what we might be seeing is something akin to the advances in battlefield medicine in the last 40 years. With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars we saw fewer deaths but more traumatic injuries -- amputations, brain injuries, etc. -- because we have far better treatment in the field than we used to. As well, the equipment has improved, with lighter weight but stronger armor and personal protection, advanced recon, and other things.

But are enemy combatants trying to hit troops with more force because they have more armor? I don't think so. Maybe they have better explosives, but a bullet is a bullet. I think it's something similar for football -- the linemen are bigger and heavier and stronger and faster, but I don't think they're hitting other players harder because they're wearing more padding. I think they're hitting harder because they're delivering more foot-pounds.
posted by dw at 11:10 AM on October 13, 2009


One of the kids in my high school broke his neck playing football. His family was dirt poor and I can only imagine how the rest of his life turned out. I hope everybody was entertained.

As if entertaining others is the only reason to play sports.
posted by electroboy at 11:10 AM on October 13, 2009


Brain injury researcher here. As others have mentioned, repetitive brain injury is associated with Alzheimer's-like symptoms, both cognitively and physiologically. This is pretty well known to occur in boxers. The link to football players is less well-established, but has been getting increasing scrutiny lately. The NFL was initially vehement in denying any connections, but was pushed for PR sake into funding some studies. There's still no definitive answers, but the evidence seems to be getting stronger.

The emerging consensus seems to be that mild, repetitive injuries can be cumulative over time, especially those received within short duration of each other. There's also some pretty significant genetic influences; certain alleles (such as the ApoE4) are associated with worse outcomes after brain injury, as well as a greater likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease.

I don't see this resulting in changes anytime soon. Dementia pugilistica has been known about since at least the 20's, and while there are periodic calls by scientists and doctors to ban the sport, it’s still very popular. Football is even more so, and there's a lot of money at stake. Even if the data becomes conclusive, I doubt it will keep any professional athletes from playing, much less fans from watching.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:11 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


> The line between compulsion and uncoerced free choice is hardly clear cut.

Indeed, and it's not just limited to contact sports. I almost lost a friend after a stumble in a bar (and a chin to a table) turned out to be a concussion. We offered to take her to the hospital, but at the time she was against the idea. Afterwards she went to the doc, got the story, and was pissed at us for NOT disregarding her statements.

And she wasn't playing for anything.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2009


Yeah, but man, Chad Henne looked great last night!
posted by kbanas at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2009


so wimpy that we have to wear armor, unlike Rugby players.

Story I heard was that we brought in armor because we were a lot more aggressive than Rugby players.

But that may have been a defensive line from an offended football player, I don't know. Me, I find the finer points of football and boxing utterly incomprehensible.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:16 AM on October 13, 2009


My husband is living proof Am. football ruins the brain. Our lower floor (split level house) is decorated in navy blue and silver with this border paper.

Help.
posted by stormpooper at 11:23 AM on October 13, 2009


GQ ran a story on this last month. It contains an interesting take on the NFL's resistance to any studies on the issue besides their own.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:23 AM on October 13, 2009


I've been drifting away from watching football for a raft of reasons..

Me too, and the danger is a big reason I don't like it anymore. I always used to laugh at my mom when she wouldn't let me play football when I was young, because I figured it's fine when you're young (i.e. everyone is smaller and not as strong).

After reading the stuff about C.T.E., I have to say, "Thanks, Mom."

(Though as far as concussions go, apparently world football is just as bad. I'm not sure about subconcussive trauma.)

there is little blood these days in Nascar crashes

Perhaps explaining why its popularity is slowly decreasing (no real data, just Google Trends).

The Increasingly Forgettable Work of Malcolm Gladwell.

I thought the dogfighting and NASCAR analogies were appropriate here. Both made sense to me. I realize that dogfighting/Vick is the "tabloid catch" here, but I think it fits. The NFL audience "loves" these players, yet consigns them to miserable lives. Sounds like dogfighting to me.

There is nothing else to be done, not so long as fans stand and cheer.

Amen. If you have a problem with boxing or football (or soccer), don't watch and don't contribute. I can understand the appeal (I used to love big heavyweight fights), but at some point I realized that I was the problem.

...

Um ... can anyone point me to the "greatest acid trip" thread? I have a couple really good ones and one really bad one.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:37 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


My husband is living proof Am. football ruins the brain. Our lower floor (split level house) is decorated in navy blue and silver with this border paper.

Help.


Don't blame football because you married a Cowboys fan. Watching with enthusiasm as young men consign themselves to lives of agony for my amusement is fine. Rooting for the Cowboys is an entirely different matter.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:42 AM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Apparently, in bare knuckle boxing, there weren't a lot of hits to the head and if you went down you stayed down and the match was over.

The first part is true, but my understanding is that, in the old bareknuckle fights, a round ended when a fighter went down, not the match. Then, they would stand him up, and if he could get to the line in the requisite time period, they would go for another round. This is why some matches had triple digit round counts.

These were the London Prize Ring rules, later superseded by the more recognizably modern Marquess of Queensberry rules. The more you know and all that.
posted by Edgewise at 12:15 PM on October 13, 2009


I was watching the Jets/Dolphins game last night. It was a great game. I'm not a fan of either team, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fourth quarter was everything a fan could want in a football game. Big plays, big performances, and big hits. There was a slo-mo replay of a "big hit" where a player's head snaps back on impact with an opponent's pads. It was a wonder the guy got up at all, much less bounced right back and trotted off to the sideline. Having read Gladwell's New Yorker article, I felt kind of sickened. Like I'd just watched someone's life get manifestly shorter and worse. The guys in the booth crowed, "Woo, what a hit! Smack! Woo!" I wondered if they'd just watched the same thing I had.

I love professional football. I love watching it, talking about it, rooting for my team (Go, Falcons!), reading about it. I'm usually among the first to leap to its defense in MetaFilter threads.

But something has to change. It's going to take changing the rules, changing the equipment, changing the culture of the game. But something, many things, must change.

I'm old enough to remember Darryl Stingley. I even remember that it was Jack Tatum that hit him. We've made progress since then. But not enough.

There are solutions that will fix these problems without destroying the game. I hope the NFL and the NFLPA act, soon.

Next month I'll be in Atlanta, in the Georgia Dome, wearing my #84 Roddy White jersey and watching my Birds demolish the Washington Redskins. It'll be fun. It better be. The tickets sure weren't cheap. It would be nice to think that at least a sliver of that money would be contributing to the players' health. We'll see.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:44 PM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


the tackling is different (no blocking, have to wrap when you tackle)

Well, they're supposed to wrap up in the NFL, too, but a lot of times they'll try to be badass and knock the other person down without wrapping up. What happens a lot is that they hit the other person around their shoulders, well above their center of gravity, and they don't knock them down and they run down the field.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:47 PM on October 13, 2009


But we do know death rates in football have fallen considerably over the last 40 years.

I think those are mostly attributable to rule changes, like not being able to spear with your helmet.
posted by electroboy at 12:53 PM on October 13, 2009


so wimpy that we have to wear armor, unlike Rugby players.

Story I heard was that we brought in armor because we were a lot more aggressive than Rugby players.


Yup. Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban football in 1905 unless something was done about the death toll (18 dead in that college season alone). In the wake of that you saw, among other things, the arrival of padding and a ban on the flying wedge.
posted by dw at 1:00 PM on October 13, 2009


But something has to change. It's going to take changing the rules, changing the equipment, changing the culture of the game. But something, many things, must change.

People used to love the big cross-checks in hockey too until that whole Todd-Bertuzzi-fractured-three-of-Steve-Moore's-vertebrae thing. At some point on-field aggressiveness becomes violence and it becomes acceptable within the culture of the sport to try to maim opposing players. And at that point, people will rightly pull their kids out and stop watching.
posted by GuyZero at 1:09 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The amazing thing to me is that the NFL has never had a player die during or shortly after a game from football-related injuries, while MLB has.

NFL, though, it's all about paralysis. Stingley, Utley, Byrd, Everett....
posted by dw at 1:19 PM on October 13, 2009


Story I heard was that we brought in armor because we were a lot more aggressive than Rugby players.

From what I understand, Rugby and American Football were more or less the same sport until the forward pass. Like in football, rugby banned the flying wedge as well.
posted by electroboy at 1:33 PM on October 13, 2009


Yeah, football worship is scary where I am. They have teams for preschoolers (peewee football starts at 3-5 yrs old here)...all kitted out and running into each other at full speed. One of my friends 7 year old lost both his permanent front teeth because of bad luck with a helmet and a hit. I won't let my son play football. Even if we lived somewhere where the climate wasn't as much an enemy as idiot coaches who don't allow for water breaks and force elementary school kids to run in 100 degree weather in full pads (god only knows what they make the middle school and high school kids suffer), there's just no way I'm going to let him be indoctrinated into that culture.
posted by Peecabu at 1:44 PM on October 13, 2009


Adding insult to injury Sports Illustrated reported that 78% of NFL players are broke or in financial stress within 2 years of retirement.

Plus, due to injuries and competition, few football players last more than 5 years. and there are so many other sports that one can do their entire life - at least in a recreational way - without having to organize and completely suit up. Football just seems to have bad percentages all around. [Except maybe flag football].

I can't speak for anyone who has every played football - but in some ways football fans get more out of football than the players.
posted by Rashomon at 1:51 PM on October 13, 2009


The star quarterback lies injured
Unconscious on the football field
Looks like his neck's been broken
Seems to happen somewhere every year

His mom and dad clutch themselves and cry
Their favorite son will never walk again
Coach says, "That boy gave a hundred percent -
What spirit! What a man!"

- Jock-O-Rama, The Dead Kennedys
posted by spoobnooble at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2009


The amazing thing to me is that the NFL has never had a player die during or shortly after a game from football-related injuries, while MLB has.

Are you comparing events in 1920 to present-day issues? Why that's a Metafilter Straw man!
posted by xmutex at 2:18 PM on October 13, 2009


Metafilter: has no demonstrated neurotoxicity
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:21 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sophomore year, you rushed for an average of 8 1/3 yards per carry
All eyes were on you
Junior year, you blew your knee out at an out of town game
Nowhere to go to but down down down
Nothing but the ground left for you to fall to

By July, you'd made a whole bunch of brand new friends
People you used to look down on
And you'd figured out a way to make real money
Giving ends to your friends, and it felt stupendous
Chrome spokes on your Japanese bike
But selling acid was a bad idea.
And selling it to a cop was a worse one.

The new law said that 17-year-olds could do federal time
You were the first one, so i sing this song for you,
William Stanaforth Donahue
Your grandfather rode the boat over from Ireland,
But you made a bad decision or two
Yeah.

- The Fall of the High School Running Back, The Mountain Goats

posted by mrgrimm at 2:49 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


From what I understand, Rugby and American Football were more or less the same sport until the forward pass

I think Rugby League has more in common with American Football than Rugby Union, mostly because the structure League has - six tackles then you turn the ball over. I'm not sure when the rules for Union and League diverged.

Having the extra equipment makes a big difference to some of the techniques - a correct tackle in Rugby usually involves keeping your head behind the runner and dragging them down, in American Football you should put your head in front of the runner and drive them back. This is partly because of the structure - a yard or so generally matters a lot more in American Football than Rugby (10 yards for a first down compared to it basically not mattering apart from the last yard of the pitch) - but also because there's fewer qualms about sticking your helmet in front of someone rather than your bare head.

Can we please get some non-Americans in here to tell us how barbaric our sports are?

Non-american here, I play American Football and not Rugby (or Soccer). It's a bit more of a nerd game in the UK, mind you :) I didn't like Rugby much when we played it in school, some of the rules seemed kind of silly (not being able to jump out of tackles, not being able to pick the ball up when it was lying on the ground, but that may just have been the teacher not explaining it right...), plus I didn't fancy a sport where one of the fundamental roles for 'big' guys was to lie, defenceless, at the bottom of a pile of bodies and be stamped on by guys wearing steel studs.
posted by robertc at 3:46 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sartre says something like (serious paraphrase here): you choose to do what you want, but you can't choose what you want in the first place.

schopenhauer said this, in german, long before sartre had the great misfortune of being born.

and to cap off my first ever mefi post: i'm all for getting rid of gloves for boxing and MMA. bare-knuckle boxing is just.. stupendously bloody, from what i hear. unfortunately, the increased bloodiness might prevent the adoption of what could be an actual improvement in safety.

i've taken (and delivered) hits on the forehead during boxing practice that no one would dare land without gloves on, for fear of a broken hand. from this, i tend to believe bare-knuckle boxing would see fewer knockouts and concussions, but more broken hands/jaws (and bloody faces).
posted by edguardo at 5:37 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thank you dw!
posted by IndigoJones at 6:09 PM on October 13, 2009


> ESPN used to have some segment on its obnoxious NFL show called JACKED UP where the studio idiots would go BU HAW HAW and show clips of guys getting decimated

Eponhysteria notwithstanding, ever since reading World War Z, I grit my teeth every time this word is used incorrectly. (I'm starting to worry about my teeth).


Sorry, had to let that out. /derail
posted by Decimask at 6:34 PM on October 13, 2009


i've taken (and delivered) hits on the forehead during boxing practice that no one would dare land without gloves on, for fear of a broken hand.

Panantukan. Some times called Sunantukan. Look it up. It is essentially the continuation of pre-Queensbury but still post-Mendoza bare knuckle boxing systematized by the Filipinos.

And you will see a significant difference in how punches are thrown. Wild hay makers are much absent. The fist is held vertical (or upturned completely) for most hooks. And sometimes held verical for straights to prevent the wrist collapse. Though straight punches with a horizontal fist was common because you achieved more cutting.

But the key is in defensive posture. Destructions. Headbutting and elbowing the opponents hands.

All that fancy slipping becomes less relevant unless you want to grapple. All you got to do is get the other guy to throw a bomb. Once his power hand is injured. He's fucked.

The first thing I notice when guys gear up to spar is the more gear the harder guys throw. Forget head gear. That's like an invitation to have some guy go Globe Trotter with your brain.

You know what boxing is with out gloves? Wrestling. Old school boxing had chancery throws, head locks, and chokes. Becuase inevitably somebody busted a knuckle.

When Thai boxers spar they usually spar with minimal gear and it's like a slap fight. Almost nobody get's hurt. The more weapons at your disposal the more you have to cool it. (though: MMA schools have yet to learn this).
posted by tkchrist at 7:04 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this a "red state / blue state" thing?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:04 PM on October 13, 2009


Homer: Ow, my brain!
posted by bwg at 8:41 PM on October 13, 2009


I think Rugby League has more in common with American Football than Rugby Union, mostly because the structure League has - six tackles then you turn the ball over. I'm not sure when the rules for Union and League diverged.

Ugh. League. Worst sport ever. But most of the "hardest rugby tackles" videos on youtube are usually league, because yardage matters in league, whereas in union possession is what wins games. League players tend to be smaller too, since the scrum isn't really prominent in league.

But even union has changed significantly since I started playing. In college, we learned that the proper response to a tackled player holding the ball was to put the boots to him. These days that'll earn you a yellow card. There's also more players wearing scrum caps and shoulder pads, which used to be widely ridiculed. Sport changes over the years for a lot of reasons, sometimes it's safety, sometimes it's to make it more watchable on TV.
posted by electroboy at 8:54 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It's the most perfect feeling in the world to know that you've hit a guy just right, that you've maximized the physical pain he can feel," says Giants All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan. "It feels like every muscle in your body is working in unison, and all your energy goes into his body. You feel the life just go out of him. You've taken all of this man's energy and just dominated him."

The Big Hit
posted by stargell at 10:17 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think Rugby League has more in common with American Football than Rugby Union

Well, yes and no. American football is a direct descendant of rugby football, but the first college American football was played in 1869 -- before the codification of rugby union and over 20 years before rugby league broke off. While American football has more in common with league than union, league's changes developed (mostly) independent of American football's evolving rules. (And then you have Canadian football, which is a little more like rugby union than American football but is still very distinct from union or league.)

What you essentially had in the public schools of the UK and the private Northeastern colleges in the US was a set of basic ideas for ball games being pulled and stretched in their own way. Some schools pulled heavily from association football, others from rugby football. Eventually, they all mashed into American football, and then someone came up with the idea for the forward pass....
posted by dw at 11:03 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can we please get some non-Americans in here to tell us how barbaric our sports are?

I've played co-ed soccer for years. I've played touch rugby, field hockey, handball, waterpolo and been fouled off in basketball. I'm normally one of the most physical players on the field. The last couple of weeks, I played two games of flag American football, and holy crap it wiped me out. It was a co-ed social league (I'm a girl), and I had no idea what the rules were, so I played centre. In offense, I snapped the ball back to our quarterback, then tried to stop the opposing girl from getting to him before he threw it. In defense, I was trying to get to the other quarterback. There were 7 guys and 2 girls on the field. Guys were not allowed to 'rush' girls, and somehow I still ended up feeling like I'd been beaten up (down to the dark blue bruises on my face and arms where someone must have caught me with an elbow or shoulder).

Of course, probably the moment that most pissed me off was when I was off on the sideline and some guy randomly threw a football to his friends - hit me straight in the head and knocked me sideways. That's probably not part of a normal game, but even so: barbaric is a good word for the rest of it. I can't imagine what it's like when you're not just playing flags.
posted by jacalata at 11:49 PM on October 13, 2009


Believe it or not they've also found very similar results in head injury from soccer players (from the amount of headers they have to take it practices/games...)

Came here to say that. So I'll just second it instead.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:17 AM on October 14, 2009


And you will see a significant difference in how punches are thrown. Wild hay makers are much absent. The fist is held vertical (or upturned completely) for most hooks. And sometimes held verical for straights to prevent the wrist collapse.

Is that why the Notre Dame mascot is holding his fists at such weird angles?
posted by COBRA! at 7:41 AM on October 14, 2009


The thing I don't like about Gladwell's article is the comparison of football to dog fighting. Dog fighting is abhorrent not just because it's violent, but because the dogs can't say no

A) This presumes a specious libertarian conception of "free will". I highly doubt 80% of NFL players become broke, brain damaged, and depressed almost immediately after retiring because they "chose" such a life. The responsibility is primarily shared by the audiences and the organizers which facilitate the violence in both cases. Wave enough money and fame in the faces of young men and many will do whatever you want. That doesn't make it ethical. Gladwell makes a moving comparison in the end of the article; dogs can opt out by submitting, but are manipulated into fighting by their filial loyalty.

B) "Abhorrence" needs to be graded on a curve. Humans are much more important than dogs. Sorry dog lovers. In some countries they eat dogs, because they are animals with no more inherent value than the other animals humans eat.
posted by dgaicun at 8:29 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is that why the Notre Dame mascot is holding his fists at such weird angles?

Actually, Probably.

The comical sort of old school bare-knuckle posture with the knuckles facing out? Where they keep the fists circling. Well. Yeah. When the knuckles face out like that and a dude punches, you look what he's likely to hit. The bones of your forearms. Bone shielding.

The down side of this style is that it is slow and too upright. It telegraphs like crazy. So now defensive posture is hunched more, using the chin tucked under the cover of the shoulders, with arms up and palms facing mostly in — showing the opponent the bottom part of your fists (hammer fist). But we do use that cover, sometimes called "Crazy Monkey" but we grab our own head (makes a solid structure rather than letting your arms just float out there) and aim our elbows at the in coming punches. It's a give and take. Doing that kind of cover too much makes you a punching bag.
posted by tkchrist at 5:49 PM on October 14, 2009


The more weapons at your disposal the more you have to cool it.

Hence my sensei's normal refrain prior to randori: "We are all friends here. You don't hurt your friends. If you start hurting people, they won't show up next week."
posted by rodgerd at 7:55 PM on October 14, 2009


The comical sort of old school bare-knuckle posture with the knuckles facing out? Where they keep the fists circling. Well. Yeah. When the knuckles face out like that and a dude punches, you look what he's likely to hit. The bones of your forearms. Bone shielding.

Awesome, and thanks for answering... I started thinking a while ago that I probably sounded like I was joking, but it really did hit me that bare-knucks fighting sounded a lot like Fighting Irish Guy.
posted by COBRA! at 11:29 AM on October 15, 2009


« Older Karen Gaffney swam Boston Harbor to raise awarenes...  |  Since SRI and Xerox invented t... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments