ESPN's Outside the Lines has reported that promising 24-year-old football player Chris Borland, who was drafted last year by the San Francisco 49ers as a linebacker, will retire as a "proactive" move to avoid the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma. [more inside]
The much-anticipated Frontline documentary "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis" premiered on PBS last week. In August, ESPN pulled out of the project, reportedly due to pressure from the NFL (as previously discussed on MetaFilter here), while the NFL itself only days later announced a $765m settlement with over 4500 former players for claims of concussion-related disability. Reaction to the Frontline program was unsurprisingly mixed from factions involved with the issue, but generally well-received by journalists and TV critics. [more inside]
J.R. Moehringer's essay discusses the end of football, the immortality of football, head injuries, and why what the sport means to America and to him.
Does Football have a Future?: Football players are anywhere from five to nineteen times more likely than a member of the general population to suffer from a dementia-like illness. This is likely a result of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (picture), neurodegeneration caused by receiving multiple concussions or even subconcussions that are not detectable around time of impact. CTE has been linked to other mood and behavior changes, including suicidal depression (a great review of the medical literature generally), and has been found in football players as young as 21. And, of course, there is the sometimes debilitating physical disability (either acutely or later in life) from playing a hard-contact sport. The NFL has a long history of adjusting safety standards in bits and pieces (e.g., legalization of the forward pass) to meet public concern over potential injury and disability from playing the sport, though still to some degree publicly denies a connection between football and brain damage. New Yorker writer Ben McGrath talks to football players (past and present), their families (often left behind by untimely death or dementia-twilight), franchise heads, and doctors to explore this history, the crushing legacy of sports injuries, and the question of whether it is possible to reform the rules to minimize the risk of concussion and thus the risk of CTE (if any such risk is acceptable). Would it still be football if such changes were to tone down the violence? (Yes, No [from iconoclast Buzz Bissinger]) And, uncomfortably: is the sport of football unethical for its players, even if entered into on their own volition? (previously in the New Yorker; previously on MetaFilter 1, 2, 3) [more inside]
American football player John Mackey has died at 69. Mackey, who scored a 75-yard touchdown for the Baltimore Colts in their victory in 1971's Super Bowl V, suffered from dementia. His wife Sylvia petitioned the NFL to create the 88 Plan, a program that pays for health care for NFL veterans with dementia. By 2007, Mackey, then 65, could not recognize former teammate Ralph Wenzel or distinguish coffee from soup. When the 88 Plan (so-named after Mackey's jersey number) was implemented in 2006, the NFL maintained that the plan, and the 97 players who then qualified for its assistance, "doesn't imply any link between football and brain damage". [more inside]
Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals player who died last December, was found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), almost certainly as a result of his football career. Many other deceased NFL players are known to have suffered from CTE, but Henry was the youngest diagnosed thus far. Henry was infamous while alive for his repeated legal troubles and erratic behavior, and other notable NFL concussion victims, such as Ben Roethlisberger, may also be exhibiting symptoms of CTE. This news will only increase scrutiny of the NFL's much-criticized concussion policy, although the problem is not limited to football players. (Previously)