The NFL’s Big Brain Injury Problem That We Don’t Give A Damn About » VSB

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The NFL’s Big Brain Injury Problem That We Don’t Give A Damn About

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$6 billion in revenues and a product that’s consistently the most watched show on television led me to believe the NFL was untouchable. Then came the study released to the public Friday September 12th by actuaries as a result of the proposed concussion settlement.

The actuaries expect 14% of all former players to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, about that many to develop other forms of dementia over the next 65 years and another 50 or so to develop ALS or Parkinson’s. That means that of the approximately 19,000 people that have played in the NFL, about 6,000 will develop a neurocognitive disorder. More jarring is the fact that these players are at two times the risk of the average person to develop Alzheimer’s, ALS, and dementia between the ages of 20-60.

After weeks of re-hashing the actions of a small handful of players, I kept waiting on the deluge of outrage over the fact that this game is irreparably damaging the brains of its employees. I never saw it lead any sports shows; never saw a business threaten to revoke its sponsorship, no national outcry for the NFL to “lead” on the subject of brain trauma (despite the actual connection to the product they produce).

This isn’t to downplay the justified anger over domestic violence in this country, or besmirch those attempting to have honest conversations about child rearing. But the high profile criminal acts of a few players have overshadowed a near criminal act each NFL player can fall victim to.

I’m not the only one that noticed this report. The settlement discussion that spawned the study is worth over $700 million for goodness sakes. But the release of this report and subsequent muted national response reminded me of this Deadspin article about the curious ESPN coverage of the chain of custody regarding the Ray Rice tape.

It seems an odd juxtaposition of interests to detest the off-the-field legal issues of a player but be unflinchingly indifferent at some of the awful consequences they face in their personal lives that will resonate with them for much longer then their NFL careers’ duration.

Alzheimer’s is a soulless and unrelenting disease. It takes the very essence of a person and renders it sickeningly silent. The happiness and highlights of the person’s past are stolen from them as the future is summarily erased to reveal only a bleak, blank slate. It’s a disease with a gun and mask that painfully steals the memories of the inflicted, and taints those of its victims’ friends and family. It kills a human from the inside out, destroying everything recognizable as a person while leaving their outward appearance untouched. It quite literally leaves a person a shell of their former selves. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon openly talks about large gaps in his memory, and contemplation of suicide. Hall-of-fame running back Tony Dorsett has mentioned the fact that his kids are afraid of him, as he has begun to show signs of CTE; the same degenerative condition that led to safety Dave Duerson’s suicide. And the same degenerative condition that appeared in the brain of Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City Chief who murdered the mother of his child before killing himself.

How much money is worth breaking apart a family? Keep in mind, the vast majority of NFL players aren’t the private jet-owning, heavily endorsed superstars on TV. They are the ones with the short careers (average approximately 3.5 years) and unguaranteed contracts. And moreover, these players weren’t aware of the consequences. The information emerged as a result of the concussion settlement talks, the same settlement that resulted from the civil action between former players and the NFL; the one where the League itself disclaimed knowledge of the results of head trauma until relatively recently.

So what is there to do moving forward?

The NFL recently announced that concussions are down league-wide, presumably as a result of the rules changes implemented. Perhaps this will serve as the first step towards a safer product on the field. Of course, in light of recent NFL actions, it may be difficult to take the findings of an internal investigation at face value.

This should be a scary story. This should frighten people. The results surely frighten me. Have I cheered on a player as he endangered his mental health? Has a player irreparably harmed his future (and that of his family’s) as I delighted at the big hit? I’ve already made the decision that any child I may have won’t play the sport, but what of the cognitive dissonance of taking him to a football game? Now that the information is slowly coming out about football and head injuries, we all become culpable for our actions of support. There are no easy answers about our relationship to this violent and exhilarating game. But with a number attached to the lives in jeopardy after every kickoff, it’s feeling more and more uncomfortable to enjoy America’s most popular game.

Brenden Whitted

Although W. Brenden Whitted acquired a JD and Sports Certificate from Tulane University, he will always self-identity as a Howard Bison. You can hear him rant at www.thesportsshopradio.com or read his football analysis at catcrave.com.

  • Renegade04

    Fact is the only way to be sage is not play. That’s why there’s no outrage. The only there end result is to end football and even all contact sports. Who really wants to do that?

    Best the NFL can do is try and make isbtafer as they are now, and make sure players are aware of the risks. The choice is yours.

  • The head injuries and the results of them have not stopped me from watching or enjoying football. The off the field violence on the other hand has given me pause. Why one and not the other? Well, it’s just one of the black boxes I use to separate things.

    “There are only murderers in this room.”

    The head injuries are horrendous and the league probably has known about the results of them for years in the same ways the all combat/contact sports have. To some extent the players have known the what the results of their choice of profession will do to them.

    Yes, the NFL is negligent on how it’s handled, the welfare of its former players, head injuries head or otherwise in the past and they need to make amends for that. Yes, I think the many of those involved in the lawsuits are using it as a money grab which again is not helping their cause.

    Men play football on high levels because it affords them opportunities for upward movement from their current situations. Whether, it be a college degree or an NFL contract they will roll the dice. Like boxing, most men with options don’t get involved on a high level. Yes, it exploits many but many professions do.

    Will I stop watching? No. Not because of head injuries.

    • Val

      Did your team hire a coach yet?

      • Not a a permanent one. Tony Sparano is in charge for now. Raider dysfunction at its finest.

        • Val

          I’m (really) surprised the GM (especially considering his skin tone) still has a job. Things have only gotten worse during his tenure.

          • The Raiders in all of their dysfunction has been minority friendly in the front office and coaching arenas. A woman was the CEO for a while. Mark Davis admittedly isn’t a football guy and tries to stay hands off unlike his dad so I think that’s why Reggie is still there. That eight and eight year was a bright spot but Hue Jackson’s trade for Carson Palmer doomed him. I also don’t know if Jackson is a good head coach but more of a head coordinator.

            To Reggie’s credit he’s cleared a ton of cap space and drafted a good QB and and good defensive player but we’ll see how this goes.

          • The Raiders are actually the most progressive spurts franchise in terms of hiring practices at all levels.

            • First Latino coach, black coach, female execs. Al was a weird dude who was also pro-labor and pro-civil rights as well as out of his mind.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    What always surprises me is that wrestlers are working longer than all professional athletes (302 days a year) and as often as many get hit in the head or end up in a botched move….the relative total of brain damage cases compared to NFL is quite low. And these people get hit in the head with blunt objects.

    That simply means to me, the sport was always dangerous from the beginning but the money always spoke louder than the screams of pain. And I wouldn’t expect the American public to care much, because at the base level, we are blood thirsty savages. We don’t want to get our hands dirty, but we love to root for those who do. How is football that much different from the Roman Coliseum games except for armor, refs, and minimized death? So in the end, the public is just as complicate as the NFL in what these athletes are reduced to.

    • Freebird

      Wrestlers have all kind of issues as well. Head trama. Drug addictions as a result of the pain they live with. And I agree with you about the public.

      • Val

        Yeah, a lot of ‘wraslers’ have died young presumably because of steroid use.

        • add painkillers and vodka to that mix too.

          • Sigma_Since 93

            Jim M gets off scott free because he claims the wrestlers are 1099 employees.

            • Subcontractors always get screwed.

            • The Rock walked away for a reason.

              • Sigma_Since 93

                He had inside knowledge from his daddy. The money was better but the afterlife is the same.

                • He had that knowledge from both sides of the family. Is his ex-wife still his business partner?

                  • miss t-lee

                    Yup.

              • RewindingtonMaximus

                The Rock walked away because the Hollywood money paid him more with 2 movies than he made for 7 years with WWE. After that his managers told him his body would be at risk. When he came back last year and wrestled John Cena for the title at WrestleMania, he suffered a pulled groin. From there on, he won’t be doing any more matches, because his movie career is too precious to afford getting hurt.

                Next on that list is Batista. They didn’t realize how big of a hit Guardians of the Galaxy would be, and now they people like his character, he won’t be wrestling any time soon, because Marvel has a huge interest in his well being.

                • Like I said, he had a reason.

                • Neptunes presents The Clones

                  That was Batista,who knew. What happened to Stone Cold

                  • RewindingtonMaximus

                    Stone Cold has never fully recovered from a broken neck, so he stopped wrestling while he was still on top in 02. He does DVD movies, has a podcast, and does appearances. He’ll be fine with money for a long time.

          • Val

            Painkillers are a huge problem in the NFL too.

            • yes. Secretly I think that’s why many NFL owners are hoping for weed legalization. I’d rather my quarterback toking than on pills.

              • RewindingtonMaximus

                Hence why Seattle won this year maybe?

                • I thought all of the Sea Hawks were Adderall junkies?

                  • RewindingtonMaximus

                    Perhaps, I’m under the assumption at all times that athletes are abusing something

                    • Val

                      Team doctors are part of the problem too. They are injecting serious pain killers before, during and after games.

                    • RewindingtonMaximus

                      The show must go on right? Except when your own lights are turned off.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            I’ve never understood why a company like WWE or TNA would have no drug policies when a wrestler will be in pain for months on end. Aspirin aint gonna cut it, that’s why they develop drug addictions unless they are popular enough to receive alternative treatments.

        • Freebird

          and they have a real domestic violence issue as well….BUT….no outrage there.

          • Val

            If I remember correctly more than one ‘wrasler’ has killed their SO/ spouse in the last decade or so.

            • RewindingtonMaximus

              Chris Benoit. And that’s a shame because WWE doesn’t want to acknowledge what happened.

              • Val

                I remember that name from news reports.

                • RewindingtonMaximus

                  He was one of the best wrestlers of all time. Period. And no one wants to do the research to find out what made someone as disciplined as him snap.

                  • Freebird

                    Up there with Flair as one of the best to ever do it.

                    • RewindingtonMaximus

                      Man the day Ric passes on to the pearly gates will be a sad day. There’s no showman quite like the Nature Boy.
                      YOu know you’re the best when 30 years after the prime of your career, rappers use your old interviews for skits about how awesome a man has to be.

              • miss t-lee

                Yeah, they basically tried to just gloss right on over that.

            • Freebird

              i watched it growing up. you tell no lie!

              Rip Miss Elizabeth

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            The domestic abuse rates for wrestlers are down from the 80s but they all clearly have issues. I just think that as long as the company can afford it, they have to keep an eye on their wrestlers to prevent them from going off the deep end.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I’m not denying the issues wrestlers face. They have a real dark history that companies like WWE don’t like to talk about (Chris Benoit for example). I’m just stating in regards to the amount of head trauma they face as opposed to NFL players, its a bit staggering.

    • I remember reading something where they compared the health issues of the participants of Super Bowl XXV to the wrestlers from wrestlemania that year. The wrestlers were, as a group, way more disabled.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        The wrestlers had been working way more than all of the NFL teams combined, so that fact wouldn’t be surprising. But my statement wasn’t about overall health, I am well aware wrestlers are in way worse shape than NFL athletes, they use more of their body for longer periods of time.

        I’m specifically speaking on head trauma.

  • Neptunes presents The Clones

    When people cheer when someone takes a hit..it would be disingenuous to expect the League to show interest in something that would hurt the bottom line

  • Freebird

    – I started reconsidering football after hearing Malcolm Gladwell talk about banning the sport. While I understood his thinking, there was a part of me that I could not deny, and I had to look at myself: I like the violence in football. When I played in high school I lived for the moments where I would wipe someone out or run someone over. I remember standing over a kid – proud and uncaring – I hit who needed a stretcher, and I remember being stood over after being knocked senseless. I loved when a teammate wiped someone out and we bonded over it. I bond with folks now over what I watch every Thursday, Sunday, and Monday. I wanted to join a fantasy league this year as well.

    – I spoke about this on a VSB post a few weeks back when the Ray Rice issue became the topic of the moment. I agree with everything said. The problem is that some people and groups have their agendas and narrow vision, and as a result do not see the connections that can be made between some social problems. Jovan Belcher and his fiancé’s story is one folks should know about.

    – How do folks think the NFL is going to give a fcuk about the safety of women when it has done nothing – while being informed by concerned men and women for at least 20 years – about the damage done to the brains of it’s players?

    – PBS had a good special on this topic. Folks should check it out if they have time.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Steve Sabol brain washed a generations of men into the glory of the violence. You combine violence with team building and you have a lethal combination.

      • Neptunes presents The Clones

        Are you saying sports has been militarized to a certain degree

        • Sigma_Since 93

          I need to mull that one over

          • Neptunes presents The Clones

            Mull away..in the mean time,let me try and find Val on IG

        • It’s the same concept. Esprit de core among teams exist on many of the levels I would guess. In lieu of setting up ambushes you are blitzing quarterbacks. Neither works unless every team member does their job. Guys who are odd or don’t socialize easy more often than not don’t do well in either setting but if they do they have a hard time of it. Google Staff Sgt Ty Carter

          Football is heavy with military based language- Flankers get behind the opponent to open up things offensively. Blitzes are the same as shock and awe. “Sacking” the quarterback speaks for it’s self.

      • Freebird

        classic. one of my favorite comics ever.
        the truth, violent truth, made funny. thanks for this.

      • Agatha Guilluame

        I loved him too bad. I had tickets for his very last show before he went into the hospital. I remember him from way before he was anyone. Him and Rasheed (google that guy). They were going to be the next greatest.

        • Freebird

          Yoooooooooo…Last night I read your response to the dude from Trinidad being dismissive about identity and how it is important for some folks. You just broke it down perfectly, called him out on his BS, and just….handled it. The new cat avy is kind of scary….but the way you handled that ninja right there….*whispers* was s exy as h ell. That is all….I’m mostly harmless.

          • Agatha Guilluame

            Lol thank ya Free. Wasn’t he just talking pure nonsense? Made me vex.

            *looks at avi*

            I’ll change my avi when you get an avi. Chuh!

            *kisses*

      • miss t-lee

        Mayne. Miss this dude something serious.

    • Detroit Skater

      that documentary has been on three times in detroit and i’ve watched all three times….very good.

  • Damon Young

    Not sure if this has been brought up yet, but I wonder if the apathy about the brain health of NFL players has a racial component. Actually, I don’t wonder at all. I’m sure it does. Although 64% of the NFL is Black, most of the stars — the quarterbacks, coaches, and, weirdly, owners — are White. And those White “stars” tend not to be the people most susceptible to brain injury, the ones colliding at high speeds a thousand times a year. The Black players — the ones who usually are at positions with the highest risk of serious injury — are essential, obviously, but replaceable. But as long as the stars are (relatively) safe, the injury issue isn’t that big of a deal

    • Steve Young and Troy Aikman bowed out early due to head injuries but qb’s and the offense as a whole wasn’t as protected via the rules during their era.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        Jim McMahon too.

        It’s trending the way you’re talking about Champ. I’d start with the linemen to see if there’s a trend there. We know there’s definitely a trend with the skilled positions.

      • miss t-lee

        True.

    • In Against Football, Steve Almond writes “What does it mean that the most popular and unifying form of entertainment in America circa 2014 features giant muscled men, mostly African-American, engaged in a sport that causes many of them to suffer brain damage?… What does it mean that football fever tends to run so hot in those states where slavery was legal and Jim Crow died hardest?… Can anyone really watch the NFL Combine – in which young, mostly African-American men are made to run and jump and lift weights for the benefit of mostly old white coaches and us coach potatoes – and not see visual echoes of the slave auction?”

      And so forth.

      • Damon Young

        “What does it mean that football fever tends to run so hot in those states where slavery was legal and Jim Crow died hardest?”

        Interesting. I never thought about that connection before.

      • I’ve made the slave auction comparison before. Aesthetically it looks like a slave market but the potential life changing money is where that comparison ends.

        “What does it mean that football fever tends to run so hot in those states where slavery was legal and Jim Crow died hardest?”

        On the some levels in high school and most of college this is true. The northeastern corridor and rust belt keep the mighty NFL going just as much.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          Football fever was always there. It took an integrated team from USC whupping Bama’s azz to bring folks around to lettin dem colored boys play on the team in conjunction with what was going on at Texas Western. Those two events = the death of the Golden Era of HBCU sports.

          • This is true.

            Another overlooked aspect of why southerners love college football is that there is nothing else to do on a Friday or Saturday night in rural areas.

            • Sigma_Since 93

              College football was always the vehicle to strike a blow against the North.

              • Which is odd because the balance of football power more geographically distributed back in the day.

                • Sigma_Since 93

                  Because 90% the bowl games were in the South. The requirement was to participate you must leave your negros at home.

  • Epsilonicus

    Imma throw on my anthropologist hat.

    Almost every single culture in history has some sort of ritualized violence. Almost every single one. Now some has been more gruesome as others. For example, activities at the Roman Coliseum were downright UGLY. Gladiator fights, re-enacting naval battles, mass executions. In modern times, ours is sports and martial arts. I am not saying it is right or wrong, it just appears to be a necessary part of the human experience.

    I played football (in high school) and did boxing (in undergrad) and also dabbled in traditional ju jitsu, knowing all of the risks. Not having specific data points but realizing that getting tackled, punched in the face, and slammed to the floor probably puts you at higher risk for brain damage than playing golf just because of the nature of the sport. But I liked the aggression of the sport. I liked the physical exertion. I liked the way both sports pushed me to my mental and physical limits.

    I love football. It can create a healthy camaraderie if done right. We take risks everyday that could affect our physical and emotional well being. I want the NFL to make the game safer. And am willing to press them to do so.

    • “We take risks everyday that could affect our physical and emotional well being. ”

      My issue with the NFL is that I don’t believe that these players are are well-informed of the risks, nor do I believe it’s fair to ask a teenager to consider that he may be shortening his life by twenty years to make a responsible decision about those risks. (And NFL players are teenagers who started playing and kept going)

      • Epsilonicus

        “nor do I believe it’s fair to ask a teenager to consider that he may be shortening his life by twenty years to make a responsible decision about those risks.”

        Two things:

        1. It should not take an adult too much thinking to recognize the dangers of football. It is blatantly obvious by the nature of the sport.
        2. That is why teenagers have parents. So that they do not make the decision solo.

        I am not excusing NFL behavior, but lets not pretend players do not know the deal. They were and are making more money than the average person and decided to make a decision.

        • What you’re talking about is a Utopian world. We all can think of someone whose parent wasn’t around to help them make decisions and asking an adult to switch from a career that he may have invested his entire childhood and adolescence playing (with eggs in no other baskets) seems a little too late.

          • Epsilonicus

            But very few kids are playing sports without their parents knowing. They know. They might not come to games or practices, but they know.

            “asking an adult to switch from a career that he may have invested his entire childhood and adolescence playing (with eggs in no other baskets) seems a little too late.”

            Never late. Once they have the info, its up to them to act.

            • AlwaysCC

              not only do they know, but they have to sign all kind of consent forms for a child/teenager to play. the problem isn’t the knowledge or lack thereof. they know – they’re just willing to gamble/take the risk that it won’t happen to them.

              • Epsilonicus

                “they’re just willing to gamble/take the risk that it won’t happen to them.”

                Exactly.

          • Meridian

            It isn’t Utopian to say majority of kids have parents influencing their decision making. The kids who don’t have that structure usually find brotherhood and leadership in sports/football and it’s a great alternative to the other things they can seek comfort in. I don’t see why you would even need to ask someone to change that. It seems better to ask amateur leagues to be more supportive of their safety if anything.

    • Meridian

      You know, I never considered martial arts to be violent. It also never dawned on me that it’s a sport for some reason. When I watch martial arts it really is like watching performance art to me and I’m usually in awe of it.

      • That’s because the end result of what we see is the practice of discipline and restraint. When used with their originally designed purposes, it’s violent.

        • Meridian

          I think this is exactly it.

      • Epsilonicus

        Martial arts – martial:: relating to war.

        As someone who has done ju jitsu. It is very violent. With my training, which is not much, I can seriously hurt you or leave you permanently disabled. And even in practice, you can get seriously injured if you and your partner are not careful.

    • BreezyX2

      “I played football (in high school)”…Nope!

      • Epsilonicus

        Explain?

        • BreezyX2

          Eye don’t believe you. Didn’t you go to some Quaker/Amish/Jewish/Catholic school?!

          • Epsilonicus

            Yup. Quaker. We had football but no cheerleaders. And our team was all in the choir so they sang the national anthem for the other teams.

            • BreezyX2

              *crien* This just made me laugh so hard.

            • Agatha Guilluame

              HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

            • Meridian

              Waymen waymen waymen! You went to a Quaker school??! So is that like private school for Amish kids, or?…

              • Epsilonicus

                Quaker == Amish. At all. Not even close. The Amish would consider Quakers the biggest sinners in the world.

                • Meridian

                  lol, I know. That’s pretty hilarious and interesting though.

            • Sigma_Since 93

              No cheerleaders at my school as well. Somebody would just put on the National Anthem record. The funniest moment was when someone replaced the regular version with the Jimmy Hendrix version; mind you this is a military school so the brass was beet red and demanded the name of the culprit.

              • Epsilonicus

                I would have loved to see that!!

    • Sigma_Since 93

      +1

      I still have dreams about my football days. I miss the guys, I miss those moments that made me rejoice and the ones that made me cry. I’m fortunate to have been sparred any major injuries but I would do it all over again if I had the chance. Many former players feel the same way.

      • Freebird

        i messed my knee up and broke more than a few fingers….but i would play again as well.

  • BreezyX2

    *

  • BreezyX2

    Interesting topic *yawn*

    Lissen. I have a question for the ladies:

    http://a.disquscdn.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/1354/661/original.jpg

    • Rachmo

      GAH NO NO NO

    • Agatha Guilluame

      Is he seeing anybody?

      • BreezyX2

        I dunno. You want me to find out?

        • Agatha Guilluame

          Yeah find out. And if he is, gimme her number so I can ask her “what the fuck?”

          • BreezyX2

            I mean did he wear a waist trainer to achieve this look?

            • Agatha Guilluame

              A$$ so phat, he look like a model.

              • BreezyX2

                BOL!!

    • I don’t see the question! :(

      • BreezyX2

        It’s on the bottom of the picture D :)

  • CamCamtheGreat

    You can’t “injury-proof” football. You just can’t. It’s the nature of the game. The only way to prevent brain inuries in football is to get rid of football. And that won’t happen. So…

    • miss t-lee

      I know for a fact I don’t wanna watch flag football so…

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