76 of 79 Deceased NFL Players Found to Have Brain Disease
October 1, 2014 5:29 PM   Subscribe

76 of 79 Deceased NFL Players Found to Have Brain Disease
As the NFL nears an end to its long-running legal battle over concussions, new data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined.

...

To be sure, players represented in the data represent a skewed population. CTE can only be definitively identified posthumously, and many of the players who have donated their brains for research suspected that they may have had the disease while still alive. For example, former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson committed suicide in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest, reportedly to preserve his brain for examination.

Nonetheless, Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the brain bank, believes the findings suggest a clear link between football and traumatic brain injury.

"Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE," said McKee, a neuropathologist who directs the brain bank as part of a collaboration between the VA and Boston University's CTE Center. But "playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk."

An NFL spokesman did not respond to several requests for comment.
More coverage from Mother Jones and The Verge

(NFL and CTE previously on MetaFilter: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
posted by tonycpsu (85 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love my Seahawks, but it's getting harder and harder to get fired up about football. :(
posted by xedrik at 5:35 PM on October 1, 2014 [14 favorites]


Let me just say this: Holy crap.

And let me add this: If you take the first date any of those players played and look at every player who has played since then, how many have died? Let's say that number is 300 (so about 1/4 of players are donating brains). Then if we assume that NONE of the non-donors had CTE, then 76 out of 303 dead NFL players had CTE. This provides a method for coming up with a conservative estimate of what proportion would have it, and it's still a crazy high number. This method eliminates different tendencies to donate as a source of bias in the number. It doesn't eliminate different death rates as a source of bias, of course.

So...300 was just a number I pulled out of my butt. How would one figure out what the actual total number of dead NFL players is?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:35 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Bye-bye high school and college football, don't let the doorknob hit you in the sacrum on the way out.
posted by Renoroc at 5:42 PM on October 1, 2014 [14 favorites]


The U.S. will be an international soccer powerhouse within 20 years and will never look back.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:47 PM on October 1, 2014 [40 favorites]


So I realize this would never happen, but why doesn't it happen that when any pro team plays a game Occupational Health and Safety doesn't show up, do an inspection (Look! People Getting hit in the head!) and shut it down. Hitting people in the head obviously violates most health and safety codes, I would think. Employers can be fined if employees are pulling carts instead of pushing them, if a safety harness isn't buckled right, and for a million other things. This is the case EVEN IF employees agree to work under those conditions. Consent isn't a defense for violating workplace safety standards. So why does the NFL get a pass on the tackling and head hitting?

There are obviously political reasons, but is there a legal reason they don't have the authority to do this, or do they not do it just because there would be an uproar if they did?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:51 PM on October 1, 2014 [13 favorites]


Anyone who thinks this means football is going anywhere is kidding themselves.
posted by holybagel at 5:51 PM on October 1, 2014 [20 favorites]


Really not feeling bad at all for basically losing interest in American football these days. Club and international football aka Soccer has me completely hooked to the point of watching horrible streams of club matches at crappy hours just to get my sporting fix. I have no doubt club football has it's own scandals but it doesn't seem to actively destroy the lives of athletes.
posted by vuron at 5:52 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: don't get too excited.
posted by MillMan at 5:53 PM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Anyone who thinks this means football is going anywhere is kidding themselves

Not right away, no. But, as a fan of combat sports, I'm more and more beginning to think a lot of contact sports are not going to survive in their current forms. It may take decades, but a shift will happen — barring medical breakthroughs.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:53 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Boxing hasn't gone away and people have known the dangers of that for decades. There's too much money to be made to think that this is going to change anything.
posted by holybagel at 5:55 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Who could have guessed that subjecting people to massive head trauma on a regular basis from pubescence into early middle age would cause them long term problems?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 5:56 PM on October 1, 2014 [15 favorites]


Pro and even college football will be around for a while because it's a huge money making venture but I suspect high school football will be sued into oblivion because school districts can't fight all the lawsuits that will be showing up and waivers aren't going to be enough to protect them.
posted by vuron at 5:56 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


To be sure, players represented in the data represent a skewed population.

Horribly skewed, because the reason many of those brains were donated was that there was previous signs of mental illness and who'd played football. It tells us CTE might be very high in the football playing population, or that CTE may be a lot more common than we thought, or something else, because we are looking at a cherry picked data sample -- former football players with mental health issues.

What we need to see now is a couple of hundred men, who also suffered from mental illness and died but did not play football or other sports with a history of head trauma, *and* a couple of hundred men who *did not* suffer and played, *and* then a couple of hundred more who did not suffer from mental illness *or* play the sports, and then compare the rates of CTE and other physical brain damage between the four populations. I say "men" here because the current evidence is exclusively male. You get all those brains, you test all those brains, and we get the rates of CTE in the…

1) The former football playing population with mental health issues post-career/midlife.
2) The Non-football playing population with mental health issues in midlife.
3) The former football playing population without mental health issues post-carrer/midlife
4) And the control, not former foot players, no midlife health issues.

And then you compare. You may well find that CTE is much more common than previously believed. You may find that CTE is a fact in mid to late life mental health issues. You may find that there's little difference between the four populations. Or you may find that almost all former NFL players with late life mental health issues have CTE.

If you did this -- 200 brains in each category -- and it showed that category 1 was by far the most likely to have CTE, then you compare two rations

1) Former NFL players with and without mid-to-late-life mental health issues
2) Non former NFL players with and without mid-to-late-life mental health issues

If the first ratio is higher after discovering that most former NFL players with mental health issues have CTE? Well, then you ban the game, frankly.

But on this evidence? Scientifically? It only proves that CTE is prevalent *in this limited population, largely self selected.*

What we have here is the same as digging up a plague pit and then declaring, based on tests you've run on 100 people, that everyone in the middle ages had bubonic plague. You need to dig up people not buried in that plauge pit and test them before you assert that everyone had it.

This is real evidence, it's evidence that demands further investigation, but it is *in no way* scientifically conclusive. You have to disprove the null hypothesis, and if all you test are former NFL players with mental health issues who chose to donate their brains, you're saying nothing about the general NFL population, or the risk that the NFL puts on you *over the normal background* -- there are plenty of ways to get repeated concussions without playing football, or hockey, or soccer. You're not testing the null hypothesis -- what if CTE is not a factor? You're proving that very sick former NFL players are suffering from CTE. But until you compare that to people showing the same illnesses who didn't, and compare the rates of those illnesses between the playing and non-playing populations, that's all your proving.

Prove that there is a *much* higher rate of mental illness in former football players than the general population, then show that there is a much higher rate of CTE, and then show the correlation between the two, and you've nailed it. Football will be done.

This is just step one, and there are countless theories that looked great after step one, and were completely proven to be chance in step 4.

Science is hard, esp. for our pattern-matching bias friendly brains.
posted by eriko at 5:58 PM on October 1, 2014 [45 favorites]


surely this
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:03 PM on October 1, 2014


Pro and even college football will be around for a while because it's a huge money making venture but I suspect high school football will be sued into oblivion because school districts can't fight all the lawsuits that will be showing up and waivers aren't going to be enough to protect them.

I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I doubt college football can survive without high school football, and considering that only a few colleges actually make serious bank from football, I can't imagine they'll want to be sued any more than the high schools. Football needs a pipeline from a very young age.

I don't know if the NFL is going to suffer from all of this, but I do kind of hope something else becomes America's favorite sport. I used to like football and the actual sport itself is fun to watch, but it just seems like a fractal turtle-pile of assholes and exploitation all the way down. I just don't like any of the people involved.

(And I am aware of my hypocrisy as a basketball lover; there are just as many assholes but somehow it just doesn't seem as cheap and tawdry and wrapped up in sticky jingoistic bullshit.)
posted by selfnoise at 6:04 PM on October 1, 2014 [12 favorites]


Prove that there is a *much* higher rate of mental illness in former football players than the general population, then show that there is a much higher rate of CTE, and then show the correlation between the two, and you've nailed it. Football will be done.

You will also have to prove that new equipment and new rules and sideline neurologists and other safety measures designed to make football Completely Safe are completely ineffective. When will the proof of that ineffectiveness arrive? In a couple of decades, by which time they'll have come up with new upgrades that will make football Completely Safe and need to be disproven.

It would be easier to remove Jesus from rural America than football. If the multi-multi-billion dollar industry doesn't keep it going, the millions who believe their sons' Manhood[tm] depends on playing it will.
posted by delfin at 6:05 PM on October 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


Boxing hasn't gone away and people have known the dangers of that for decades.

Compared to where it was in the 1950s? Yeah, boxing has gone away. It's been replaced by football.

Plus, people always knew the dangers of boxing. Boxing is at least 5,000 years old, and probably as old as sentient beings had time on their hands. It hasn't even been 200 years since anyone floated the idea of limiting rounds. For 95-plus percent of boxing's history, the entire point was beating the other man into unconsciousness. There may have been people who didn't believe in the cumulative long-term effects of boxing, but dementia pugilistica was first described scientifically in 1928. Boxing's heyday was well after that -- its decline took generations of parents not letting their kids box and having something else (baseball, then football, possibly soccer next) for them to occupy their time.
posted by Etrigan at 6:07 PM on October 1, 2014 [25 favorites]


jeff-o-matic: "Who could have guessed that subjecting people to massive head trauma on a regular basis from pubescence into early middle age would cause them long term problems?"
Yet in a series of scientific papers from 2003 to 2009, members of the NFL's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee wrote that "no NFL player" had experienced chronic brain damage from repeated concussions. The committee, first formed in 1994, asserted that NFL players were different than boxers, whose susceptibility to brain injuries caused by the sport has been documented since the 1920s.
I would expect that at least part of the motivation for these kinds of studies is to counteract the NFL's own self-serving misinformation and propaganda.
posted by mhum at 6:09 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Highest paid athlete in the world is a boxer. Perhaps in America boxing isn't as popular as it used to be but worldwide it is booming.
posted by holybagel at 6:12 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


FTA: While the settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing, actuarial data filed in federal court this month showed the NFL expects nearly a third of all retired players to develop a long-term cognitive problem, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as a result of football.

One-third of all players. As predicted by the NFL. Wow.
posted by compartment at 6:20 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think football could become marginal. Not a completely minor sport, like hurling or something, but maybe like hockey in reverse: popular largely in the South.

It's harder to enjoy a sport that you've never played yourself, and if most young athletes are routed away from football into other things they'll be interested in those other things instead. Soccer? Lacrosse? Ultimate? Back to baseball?

I also think football could adapt. It has before, when too many deaths from head trauma led President Roosevelt to push for the forward pass. Except I don't know what the rule changes would be; it seems like getting hit over and over causes damage even if the hits are relatively gentle. I don't see anyone going for flag football.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:22 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Interesting math, If only I had a penguin, but since people with TBI might die earlier (I'm guessing), you might want to look at total of number of players in those years rather than just those who have already died.
posted by amtho at 6:23 PM on October 1, 2014


The problem is, symptoms usually don't show for the high school or even college football player. Some parents may pull their kids but those parents were probably already concerned. I mean 20 years ago my parents put me in soccer instead of football.
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:25 PM on October 1, 2014


Growing up in Birmingham Alabama in the 60s and 70s, I was seen as some sort of weirdo, a genuine freak, for never EVER playing football. In Alabama, football was God, plain and simple. But the plain fact was, besides just being completely uninterested in doing it or watching it, I was scared of it, for chrissakes! I was seeing guys get broken arms, broken legs, collarbones, ribs, you name it. Fractures, concussions… I thought these guys were insane! And… they were!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:27 PM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


Highest paid athlete in the world is a boxer.

Nope.

But let's say it was true, anyway. I can name, just off the top of my head, 10 football and 10 baseball and 10 basketball players that make north of $20 million per year. Can you name even five boxers that do the same?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:30 PM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


I also think football could adapt. It has before, when too many deaths from head trauma led President Roosevelt to push for the forward pass. Except I don't know what the rule changes would be; it seems like getting hit over and over causes damage even if the hits are relatively gentle. I don't see anyone going for flag football.

Right now, both the NFL and the NCAA are taking steps to try to minimize _some_ of the danger, cracking down on helmet-to-helmet hits, banning horsecollar tackles and trying to protect quarterbacks. (Unglamorous positions like linemen are largely left to their own concerns.)

And yet we still have scenes like the Brady Hoke debacle last weekend. Just imagine what happens in games that AREN'T televised. (Hoke is STILL the coach, by the way.)
posted by delfin at 6:34 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Amtho: Yes, that's why I said that it removes the self-selection from the bias, but not the differing tendencies to die. Still, removing one source of bias in the number is removing one source of bias in the number, which is nothing to sneeze and worth doing given that it can be done relatively easily I would think.

I'm not convinced by ericos method, which by sampling based on mental illness comes dangerously close to sampling on the dependent variable (since the CTE could be the cause of the mental illness), a huge statistical no-no. I would adapt ericos method (if we're doing research from scratch now and not just trying to improve the existing number) to just take a sample of people who have played football and a sample of same-aged men who have not. Maybe match it even better by choosing men who are similar as possible but just happened to go to high schools that didn't have football programs. Wait for them all to die and then check their brains. I don't think there's anything to gain by selecting your sample with quotas for mental illness, though of course if you sampled by some other method you could still measure mental illness in those you'd sampled.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:38 PM on October 1, 2014


Empires in decay really do need their gladiatorial death sports.
posted by Go Banana at 6:48 PM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember when football wasn't even popular enough to be major league baseball's ball boy. Then the doping scandals killed it. Big changes always do eventually happen. Whether or not football will finally start losing eyeballs over this--I don't know. It's a serious addiction for a lot of people now.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:51 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


This slow-motion avalanche of information around TBI has caused me to notice how much time is spent, as a fan of the NFL, worrying about injuries. This is something that I've internalized to the point where I didn't even realize what was going on, but now that I've started paying attention, the game is decided as often on the basis of arbitrary injuries to key players as it is to the actions of the players themselves. This is sustainable when you don't think about that, about what it means, and about the consequences of those injuries. It's harder and harder to watch human beings wreck their bodies for my entertainment. You might get hurt playing baseball or basketball, but it's just not the same, injuries in those sports are on a different, lower level.

It feels like the process of becoming a vegetarian, like I've seen how the sausage is made and don't want to eat any more.
posted by feloniousmonk at 6:53 PM on October 1, 2014 [16 favorites]


I put my money on declining popularity for football due to societal pressure, beginning over the next decade and snowballing at some point. If not that, then the pipeline will dry up from parents routing their children to alternate sports. I have numerous college football players in my family, but no kid of mine will ever play tackle football. And starting this season I won't be watching.
posted by sallybrown at 7:09 PM on October 1, 2014


Just go back to Rugby Union. It'll be fine. You'll get just as excited, once you're used to it, and there will still be stoppages for advertising.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:11 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think football could become marginal. Not a completely minor sport, like hurling or something, but maybe like hockey in reverse: popular largely in the South.
I don't see it going anywhere in the Midwest, or at least not in the part of the Midwest in which I currently live. I think it's perfectly plausible to think that even if it were proven conclusively that football caused traumatic brain injury, many parents would think that it was an acceptable trade-off. I'm not really exaggerating when I say that football is like a religion here.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:15 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Highest paid athlete in the world is a boxer.

Nope.


Yep.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:18 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


delfin, I saw the video of that and was horrified. I cannot believe Brady Hoke still has a job.

Morris took a leg injury and was limping and already reeling, and Hoke kept him on the field. Morris took a helmet-to-helmet hit after that which left Morris swaying on his teammates and Hoke kept him on the field. Then he takes him off, gives him three plays of rest, and Hoke sends him back out to hand off the ball! All my words are swear words.

I mean, if that last play (and Hoke let him back on the field, he kept him on the field after that first leg injury, what the FUCK) had gone even a little bit wrong, if Morris hadn't handed off the ball successfully, he would have been flattened in the scramble, and he was probably seeing quadruple at that point, let alone able to brace himself against any hits at all. He could have been seriously, colossally injured.

How the fuck is this supposed to inspire any confidence in the NFL? "Oh, yes, there's all this awareness, oh, yes, everybody's aware something is wrong, the commentators are calling my actions ATROCIOUS, I don't care I'm going to let him run himself into the ground anyway".

They had to take Morris off the sideline in a cart. And Hoke still has a job.
posted by E. Whitehall at 7:18 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


The problem is, symptoms usually don't show for the high school or even college football player. Some parents may pull their kids but those parents were probably already concerned. I mean 20 years ago my parents put me in soccer instead of football.

Honest question I am asking because I don't know the answer, not to try to stir the pot or to advance an idea that Maybe Things Aren't That Bad: has anyone studied how many boys who play football in high school then stop are developing these brain injuries? How many men who stop at college ball are developing these brain injuries? Yes, they get concussed, yes, even high school football is dangerous (and college ball isn't much different than the NFL, in the big leagues), but I'm wondering if there's a systemic difference that starts accumulating when a overall career lasts 12-20 years rather than 4 or 8.

And again, lest anyone misunderstand - I don't want my boys playing football regardless. They're in the band, and we have witnessed horrific injuries in *JR* high ball.

/of course, about 5-10% of our marching band has a cast or is on crutches for one fool thing or another, so there you go...
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:25 PM on October 1, 2014


(Hoke is STILL the coach, by the way.)

Only because nobody trusts the athletic director to hire a new coach, so they're waiting until they get a rid of the AD before Hoke gets canned too. (Please please please says this Michigan alum).

Football will either evolve and get safer or become marginalized as something that "civilized" people don't really support. If the latter happens, it won't be the lack of fans that kills it; it'll be the lack of corporate and state support. Proctor and Gamble doesn't sponsor boxing, and taxpayers won't fund new stadiums. I can't believe that the NFL and NCAA will let that happen. There's too much money at stake.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:26 PM on October 1, 2014


as i've pointed out before, participation in high school football is declining to the point where schools that used to field teams have had to cut middle school, junior varsity and even go to reduced number of players for the main team

i'm not even sure that health worries are the major reason, although they're a factor
posted by pyramid termite at 7:28 PM on October 1, 2014


A lot of people I know (I live in the Southern US) believe that pro football isn't going anywhere, like some of the commenters here. But nothing is forever. At one time, boxing and horse racing were, along with baseball, the only sports in America worth talking about. But the society changed. They always do.

Once insurance companies tire of paying out big settlements, and schools from middle school to high school to universities get tired of paying big premiums, the bloom will most assuredly be off the rose. Without that steady flow of bodies coming through all those athletic programs, the gig will be up. And this will certainly happen, because there's very likely no way to preserve the kinetic, compelling parts of the game while at the same time making it safe enough for children to play.

And all this for something that is a cost for virtually every school that fields a team. It's instructive to remember that very, very few colleges make money directly off their football programs; the money comes, instead, through donations by alums that want to keep remembering the good old days. The whole edifice is insupportable. I think in a hundred years, it will be viewed as a curiosity, like chariot racing, or as an obsolete and barbaric blood sport, like bear-baiting...
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 7:29 PM on October 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


Maybe time for a memorable George Carlin routine: (it loses a lot without Carlin's amazing vocal inflecions, but you can always catch the YouTube vid.

"Football is technological; baseball is pastoral.

Football is played in a stadium; baseball is played in the park.

In football, you wear a helmet; in baseball, you wear a cap.

Football is played on an enclosed, rectangular grid, and everyone of them is the same size; baseball is played on an ever-widening angle that reaches to inifinity, and every park is different!

Football is rigidly timed; baseball has no time limit, we don't know when it's gonna end! We might even have extra innings!

In football, you get a penalty; in baseball, you make an error - whoops!

The object in football is to march downfield and penetrate enemy territory, and get into the end zone; in baseball, the object is to go home! "I'm going home!"

And, in football, they have the clip, the hit, the block, the tackle, the blitz, the bomb, the offense and the defense; in baseball, they have.. the sacrifice."

--from SNL transcript, http://snltranscripts.jt.org/
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 7:32 PM on October 1, 2014 [20 favorites]


There's a fairly simple solution to this, though it'll never happen because Americans don't deal with change very well. This analogy is pretty apt, I think--in a small German town (as well as other places in Europe), the officials are taking down street signs and traffic lights. People go through intersections super slowly because they are aware it's a kind of free-for-all. And the number of accidents has gone down dramatically.

That's what football needs to do--instead of traffic lights, they need to take away all the padding.

Players put in a mouthpiece, and wear a rugby helmet, and that's it (well, their uniform, too). The game would change, sure, but injuries would drop overnight. Basically take it back to how football was played 100 years ago or so. As the body armor technology has gotten better and better over the decades, it's forced players to become bigger and bigger. And the effects of injuries, especially brain injuries, to be all the more insidious. Get rid of all that stuff, and players have to be more cautious.

I'm also a fan of flag football, but harbor no illusions that it could replace the tackle variety.
posted by zardoz at 7:38 PM on October 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


Highest paid athlete in the world is a boxer.

Nope.

Yep.


So I got curious and did some control-F-ing.
Sport - Players in top 100
Baseball - 27
Basketball - 18
Football - 17
Soccer - 15
Tennis - 6
Racing - 6
Golf - 5
Boxing - 4
Track - 1
Cricket - 1

I'm missing one person, and I have no idea how many boxers there are, compared to, say, football players, but as it is it doesn't seem like it necessarily matches up with these other major sports.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:50 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


in a small German town (as well as other places in Europe), the officials are taking down street signs and traffic lights. People go through intersections super slowly because they are aware it's a kind of free-for-all. And the number of accidents has gone down dramatically.

I think this is partially cultural. There are places like India with intersections without lights or signs where the death rate is measured by the week instead of by the year. I don't think it would work in the US either. It requires drivers to actually care about safety.

Back to sports:
Rugby also has a concussion problem.
That leaves
Australian Rules Football for the win!
posted by eye of newt at 7:58 PM on October 1, 2014


My point was boxing has not gone away, that in many parts of the world is as popular or more popular than ever, including first-world countries like Germany and the UK, and this is a sport people have known for at least 50 years is incredibly dangerous. Boxing worldwide hasn't gone anywhere and football--a sport that is considered a rite of passage in a way boxing never was, and backed by a coherent organization dedicated to perpetuating the money machine--definitely isn't going anywhere.
posted by holybagel at 8:06 PM on October 1, 2014


Serious question: Let's just say someone at the NHL did look at this and decide they couldn't live with it on their conscience. Say, for example, a team owner. What happens if a team owner decides to shut down their team-owning business. If I own a store, I can just say "Well....turns out these cigarettes I've been selling kill people. I am going to close my store." Can a team owner do that or would/could they somehow be forced to sell the team instead of closing it?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:18 PM on October 1, 2014


Considering that even a mediocre NHL team is worth several hundred million dollars, I highly doubt an owner would simply shutter his team over a crisis in conscience. Moreover, though I don't know the NHL bylaws, I'm sure the league would either 1) sue an owner who tried to close a franchise under such circumstances or 2) assume stewardship of the team, as the NHL did with the Phoenix Coyotes when their owner declared bankruptcy. As for moral bankruptcy, each of us will have to make our own call.
posted by stargell at 8:29 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've quoted this before, but I think maybe Robert Downey Jr's character in Back to School was onto something.
Derek: [explaining his "anti-pep rally"] Violent ground acquisition games such as football is in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war.
Football will probably become even more high-dollar once the teams and owners have to compensate players for slowly killing them. But I don't know at what point we finally say, "enough."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:42 PM on October 1, 2014


Wait, how did we start talking about the NHL?
posted by bgal81 at 8:49 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Aww, it looks like Australian Rules Football also has a concussion problem.
posted by eye of newt at 8:52 PM on October 1, 2014


I'll offer a slightly different take: It's not just the violence that keeps football around, it's also the numbers.

Football has the most specialized division of labour of any major sport (perhaps any sport), and I have a half-baked theory that the extreme of specialization and centralized control, by producing a surfeit of numbers, is part of what gives it its unique place in the American psyche.

There are football players who never touch the ball their entire careers. There are football players who only ever touch it with their right foot. There are football players who only touch it just before they snap it back between their legs. There are football players who only touch it after they've caught it, and there are football players who only tackle the players who've just caught the ball.

Even the thinking is subject to a division of labour. The coach does the bulk of the thinking for virtually every play; the quarterback is allowed a bit of thinking on the fly; everybody else is allowed at most a few seconds of free thought before the players are brought back to order and the coach can do their thinking for them again. (The fact that it's almost always white men doing the thinking and black men who are given the jobs of pure execution and instinctual reaction has some interesting sociological significance, too.)

Having that specialization allows every action, every second, by every player, to be tallied. American sports fans love to measure every action by numbers. I don't know why; they just do. Baseball comes in second in that regard.

Given that overwhelming production of numbers, I don't know what American sports fan would turn to if they didn't have football accounting to obsess over.
posted by clawsoon at 8:54 PM on October 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think CTE will turn out to be curable; all we will need to do is remove (or reprogram as protective) the clones of immune system cells -- B cells and T cells -- which are attacking brain tissue because trauma has knocked brain tissue antigens out of the brain where they were previously mostly sequestered.

But football has a real vulnerability in the timing of understanding how to do this: if a cure comes while football is still a going concern -- while the engine is still running --football will emerge largely unscathed; but if it comes after things have ground to a halt at any level from peewee through college because of safety concerns, it'll be hard to get it going again.

I shouldn't, and I wouldn't if I were a better person, but I laugh as the NFL hunkers down and goes into denial, because that's exactly how they could kill their sport; whereas complete openness and pouring billions into research is their best chance of saving it -- and, of course, the thing they are least likely to do.
posted by jamjam at 9:02 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


That specialization gives me an idea to shortcut some of the epidemiological challenges of the study: Do the hardest-hitting roles show up more often in the donated, diseased brains than they show up on the field? Are there more linebackers and running backs on the list than wide receivers and quarterbacks? Are there any kickers on the list?
posted by clawsoon at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2014


How the fuck is this supposed to inspire any confidence in the NFL?

besides using the college teams as a sort of minor league, i'm not sure why what michigan state does has anything to do with the nfl.
posted by nadawi at 9:11 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


jamjam: I think CTE will turn out to be curable; all we will need to do is remove (or reprogram as protective) the clones of immune system cells -- B cells and T cells -- which are attacking brain tissue because trauma has knocked brain tissue antigens out of the brain where they were previously mostly sequestered.

That's an interesting possibility. Hypothermia is already a proven treatment for limiting brain damage from birth asphyxia, though it has shown mixed results for adults. It would be interesting to see if some way to prevent the cascade of apoptosis and necrosis in injured adult brains could be developed, too. Professional football and boxing should be all over that, as should the armed forces.

Hmm... perhaps they should be forced to fund research into that as a condition of being allowed to continue to exist...
posted by clawsoon at 9:16 PM on October 1, 2014


Wait, how did we start talking about the NHL?

My bad. I'm Canadian. My fingers just type that.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:28 PM on October 1, 2014 [17 favorites]


Baseball comes in second in that regard.

Baseball has much more accounting than football does. Baseball is a dream from a simulation point of view, gameplay has a finite set of discrete states that can be cycled through. There's only one hitter and one pitcher on every play.

Football has 22 guys on the field, and generally only QBs, RBs, WRs, and kickers are quantiatively tracked in any sort of detail. How do you measure how effective an offensive lineman is at creating holes for the running back to run through? When a cornerback covers his receiver well enough so that the QB doesn't throw to him, how is that measured? When a QB hits a receiver who then breaks a tackle and ends up with a big play, how do you divide credit between the QB, the WR, the defender, and the offensive line protecting the QB so that he has time to make the throw?

Football does generate a lot of gambling revenue though.
posted by leopard at 9:55 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Very few ball sports will have no head-related trauma. A lot of old-time 'soccer' players had brain related issues due to heading leather footballs so frequently during a game, particularly when they'd soaked up rainwater and had become even heavier.

I'd question whether the parents who are pulling their kids out of American football and pointing them towards soccer are really removing risk, if they're stopping them being punters, kickers, long snappers, cornerbacks etc and turning them into centre halves who make heading the ball part of their regular job.
posted by dvrmmr at 11:02 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's harder to enjoy a sport that you've never played yourself, and if most young athletes are routed away from football into other things they'll be interested in those other things instead. Soccer? Lacrosse? Ultimate? Back to baseball?

It'll be cricket. Test cricket. Mark my words.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:33 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's really not a concussion problem. Or. It *just* a concussion problem. Repeated sub-concussive hits cause CTE, too. There's no way to take CTE out of the game.

It also shows up in HS football players, though the data aren't very complete there.

It also most certainly will show up in soccer players. Headers.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:01 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


A lot of old-time 'soccer' players had brain related issues due to heading leather footballs so frequently during a game, particularly when they'd soaked up rainwater and had become even heavier.

Yes, but current soccer balls aren't made of leather anymore, so I don't think current soccer players get brain injuries from headers. I think most soccer injuries are knee and ankle injuries.
posted by Pendragon at 1:04 AM on October 2, 2014


The NFL won't go away. With the help of FOX and other broadcasters, it has been fully militarized and is a profitable, albeit strangely tax-exempt part of the national propaganda machine. Televised soccer, baseball, hockey and golf do not lend well to being marketed with flashy "NFL on FOX"-style animated robots firing missiles, running into each other, and generally tearing shit up like American badasses are wont to do. About as close as this kind of rebranding exercise got with ice hockey was a glowing puck, which nearly lead to bread riots in towns near the Canadian border. The NFL and public will sooner wait to have players don themselves in protective military mech suits from the year 2040, than have the sport go away.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:03 AM on October 2, 2014


Wait, how did we start talking about the NHL?

You should be. Ice Hockey is absolutely loaded with concussions. They happen in Baseball and Basketball, but rarely and usually as part of a play gone very wrong, but in Hockey and Football, concussions happen as the part of normal play.

How do you measure how effective an offensive lineman is at creating holes for the running back to run through?

Analytics is just staring in the NFL, and those are hard questions to put into numbers. However, what the NFL has is something very few sports do have -- literally millions of feet of film of games, explicitly taken to evaluate the play and the performance of the players. Game film has always been huge in football and one of the fast tells that somebody was involved with coaching football would be their skill with loading and running a projector, because they did that all the time.
posted by eriko at 3:58 AM on October 2, 2014


Really, the best thing to do is to ignore the NFL. Stop watching the games, stop going to the games. The NFL runs on your money and attention. Stop giving it to them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:09 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Players put in a mouthpiece, and wear a rugby helmet, and that's it (well, their uniform, too)

The issue. Both Football and Rugby have the start from scrimmage -- the normal snap in Football, the scrum in Rugby. But there's a huge difference between them.

In a scrum, the players lock together, in full contact, in a *very* specific way. When the play starts, they start pushing, but they're already in contact. They don't get moving very fast.

Football starts with a one yard neutral zone. When players make contact, they're moving at some speed. Kinetic energy is one half mass times velocity squared.

The reason Football in the US has helmets is that linemen were dying of skull fractures, caused by the extra energy. The reason we don't see much CTE amongst lineman is while they hit often, they don't get going that fast -- they only move a few feet.

Defensive Backs (Safties/Corners) and Offensive backs (RB/FB/HB/WR and to some extent QB) see the most force, because they tend to get hit at full speed, and often with both players moving at full speed. QBs are a lot more protected by the rules, WR are to a lesser extent, but running backs aren't at all, and they have the shortest careers.

Note that the famous QBs we see with mental issues and dementia related illness (Terry Bradshaw and Jim McMahon leap to mind) played in an era where the QB had much less protection by rule. Being a QB before the mid nineties could be a very hard life. Well, that and Jim McMahon celebrating by slamming helmets with teammates.
posted by eriko at 5:26 AM on October 2, 2014


It gets harder every year to cling to being a fan. My first real experience of following football was the superbowl Bears. I've only ever been to Bears home games. Even now, so far away from home, I go through ridiculous lengths to still watch the games, but, well, Dave Duerson. One of my heroes from the team I first fell in love with shot himself in the chest so his brain could be examined for CTE. I've been a football fan since I was nine, and it's not all that easy to just walk away from, but damn, it's hard enjoying it like I used to.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:51 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's what football needs to do--instead of traffic lights, they need to take away all the padding. Players put in a mouthpiece, and wear a rugby helmet, and that's it (well, their uniform, too). The game would change, sure, but injuries would drop overnight. Basically take it back to how football was played 100 years ago or so.

So your advice is to return the game to the way it was played 100 years ago, when there were more injuries and indeed even lethal injuries, as a way to reduce injuries in the modern iteration of the game.

This is an airtight argument.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:06 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Will Smith is currently filming a movie about this issue here at ground zero in Pittsburgh. Smith is playing the pathologist Bennet Omalu who did the examinations of former Steelers Mike Webster and Terry Long and made the definitive connection between concussions and their CTE. It'll be interesting to see if the film as any effect on the NFL's credibility.
posted by octothorpe at 6:24 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nope.

That list is really interesting for two reasons:

(1) The bucks go to football (no, not this football), tennis and basketball
(2) Blake Griffin is not only the #7 ranked athlete, but also the #47 ranked athlete on the list
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:26 AM on October 2, 2014


I've loved pro football since I was a teenager shivering in the cold of Yankee Stadium watching the Giants play but I'm starting to find it very hard to watch. Every time a player gets hit I cringe.

Even if you ignore the current domestic abuse scandal (and you shouldn't), the NFL has a real problem on its hands and simply pretending it doesn't just won't work.
posted by tommasz at 6:34 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just don't understand how anyone who has ever heard of, read about, watched, or played football could be in any way surprised by this news. Barbarism.
posted by thejoshu at 6:41 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have little sympathy for anyone who struggles to give up watching football after recognizing its destructiveness. Unless you are a player, an owner, or a coach (or a Packers shareholder), football is just a television show. A brutally violent tv reality show. It's Survivor with CTE.

Sunday afternoon in the fall: how hard is it to find something else to do? Turn off the TV and go for a hike. Go out and play football with your kids (probably not tackle). You're not missing anything, except for the televised spectacle of disintegrating bodies and minds.
posted by hhc5 at 8:05 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: I have little sympathy for anyone
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:08 AM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


The ISD I live in no longer has elementary or middle school football teams. Now, don't get me wrong, jr high and high school are big in to football, with the ISD spending stupid amounts of bond money to build a ridiculous stadium....but; in this tiny rural Texas ISD of all places, there is no sanctioned school football before 7th grade. (Our previous ISD had football that started in K or 1st grade.)
posted by dejah420 at 8:17 AM on October 2, 2014


I'm pretty sure that high-school football is going to have to be pried from the cold dead hands of Western Pennsylvania.
posted by octothorpe at 9:29 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


After the Ray Rice thing, I'm done with football, and this just solidifies my resolve. Besides, the best time to go grocery shopping around here is during the Packers game. Doubly so if they're playing the Bears.
posted by desjardins at 9:42 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's looking like three high school football players have died just in the past week (in NY, AL and NC) from tackles on the field.

In a way I'm grateful to be in D.C. because our NFL team's indefensible name just makes it that much easier to step away from the whole godawful mess.
posted by argonauta at 10:48 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a whole lot of wishful thinking in this thread from people who obviously despise football and always have, and frankly those who go on about how "I used to love football but can't watch it any more because I'm morally offended," I don't really believe are what I would call actual football fans.

I lived in Pittsburgh for many years. Football isn't going away in Pittsburgh. Neither is it going away in Chicago, or Dallas, or New York, or Green Bay, or Cleveland, or (insert name of virtually all NFL cities here).

Violence is an integral aspect of the game. The fans like it that way - the NFL's "big hit" videos have always sold well. Yes, the players are modern-day gladiators, and like gladiators, few of them suffer from the illusion that they'll be able to avoid injury. **IF** professional and college football in America "goes away," it will only be because of a lack of talent being turned out by high school program - but for every lily white type who turns up his or her nose at the idea of being involved in something so barbaric, there will be others hungry for a way out, skilled at the sport, who will still show up for practice.

Stop seeing the NFL as some grand example of (insert pet cause here). It's entertainment. It's sport, it's spectacle. That people should be quivering with moral outrage over the fact that 300-pound men who slam into each other several dozen times per game sometimes wind up with debilitating injuries demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what football is and is supposed to be. Those players know what they signed up for.

And in any event, there will always be other violent sports waiting in the wings to supplant football were it ever to disappear. Or haven't you noticed the rising popularity of mixed martial arts?
posted by kgasmart at 11:22 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


A brutally violent tv reality show.

It's not a "reality show." It's a televised sport. God, is that term being overused. Everything without actors or scripted plots or talking head hosts is not a "reality show."
posted by sweetkid at 11:32 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


kgasmart: Those players know what they signed up for.

This must be the fifth time I've read this justification for something this week. Nevermind that it's never true -- employees never know exactly what they're in for when they take a job -- but even if it was true, it's not a justification for allowing it to occur. The same logic could be used to defend televised fights to the death, because we'd certainly find people willing to do it if we paid them enough.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:45 AM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't really believe are what I would call actual football fans.

something something no true scotsman

Those players know what they signed up for.

I'm not sure a teenager can really appreciate the prospect of long-term mental and physical damage. They're notoriously bad at risk vs reward calculations. (I say teenager because I doubt there is a single pro player that didn't start in high school.)

Also, it's not an individual decision. The players likely have family and friends encouraging them, and there's the money, and the prospect of fame, and the exalted status of athletes. Sure, some people would still do it without the fame and money, but not as many.

And in any event, there will always be other violent sports waiting in the wings to supplant football were it ever to disappear.

And this can be said about any objection to anything ever. Even if we solved homelessness, there would still be hungry people! Might as well just not do anything.
posted by desjardins at 11:47 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


That people should be quivering with moral outrage over the fact that 300-pound men who slam into each other several dozen times per game sometimes wind up with debilitating injuries demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what football is and is supposed to be. Those players know what they signed up for.
No. Just no. They really didn't know what they signed up for. An occasional broken bone, maybe some knee problems later in life -- I'm sure that's something that football players who have thought about their sport have accepted as something they're willing to risk. Some have probably also considered the chance of a much more serious career-ending injury.

But permanent crippling loss of brain function, leading to complications such as suicidal depression, reduced ability to control violent outbursts towards loved ones, and a future of severe cognitive impairment are not things that were understood to be part of the risk when the players who are now playing committed their lives to football. They're only being discovered to be serious systemic risks at this very moment. To say that players in the system have considered the risks we are discussing and made an informed choice about them is profoundly disingenuous. Or maybe evidence of having taken a few too many hits, if you know what I mean..
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:52 AM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure a teenager can really appreciate the prospect of long-term mental and physical damage. They're notoriously bad at risk vs reward calculations. (I say teenager because I doubt there is a single pro player that didn't start in high school.)

Also, given that we're just now learning the extent of the damage and that there is probably MUCH more room for study, how can anyone know what they "signed up for?" It's like one of those things where it's like, "duh, there is a danger, let's just not discuss this at all" whereas the exent/nature of the danger is exactly what should be discussed, otherwise how would anyone know?
posted by sweetkid at 11:57 AM on October 2, 2014


TBI researcher here. I am very glad this issue is becoming more mainstream.

Some of the BIGGEST problems to date, are that 1) doctors don't have a single standard of care post-TBI 2) doctors don't have great biomarkers to show long-term damage post-TBI 3) pre-clinical researchers (like me) are only just beginning to develop good models of TBI and the long-term effects-hampering a good mechanistic understanding of neurological disease post-concussion.

Altogether, this means treatments for long-term deficits from concussion are virtually non-existent.

We have a long way to go. Unfortunately, we don't really understand why repeated concussions causes neurological deficits 20-30 years later in people.
posted by nasayre at 9:05 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Prove that there is a *much* higher rate of mental illness in former football players than the general population, then show that there is a much higher rate of CTE, and then show the correlation between the two, and you've nailed it. Football will be done."


Okay, not quite this, but perhaps the closest we yet have to this. Here is a *very* interesting manuscript, which details the history of a homeless population in Canada. In the general population, the rate of TBI history is apx. 3-5%. In this homeless population, the proportion of people who had TBI in their medical history was 50%. Most before they became adults or were homeless.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553875/

I would be interested in what people make of this--whether it seems relevant that the approximate incidence of TBI is 5% in the general population, but significantly higher in a class of people who arguably are unable to function in society-and notably, that those people were injured when they were young or before they became homeless.
posted by nasayre at 9:41 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is Football Dying?

Nothing really new in this article but the fact that it's written by a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports writer seems like a huge thing. Football is a pretty serious religion here and for a well known local writer to write that is pretty significant.
posted by octothorpe at 4:47 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


« Older The Elon Musk Mars Interview   |   Ghost Gunner Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments