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Is Football Too Dangerous?

posted by Scot McKnight

A recent report in Time.com suggests so, and I personally believe it is … so what to do? More education about what is actually happening to the brain and more rules that prevent head injuries. What do you think?

Check this article clip out:
On Feb. 7, some 90 million people will watch the Indianapolis Colts play the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. Perhaps the Roman numerals are appropriate. Although football hasn’t quite reached the bloodlust status achieved at the ancient Coliseum, the path to Super Bowl XLIV is strewn with the broken bodies and damaged brains that result when highly motivated, superbly conditioned athletes collide violently in pursuit of glory. The more we learn about the human cost of this quintessentially American sport, the more questions are being raised regarding the people who run it and play it. More than 3 million kids play football at the youth level, and an additional 1.2 million suit up for their high school teams. So football’s safety issues reverberate far beyond the NFL. From within the NFL, and without, a consensus is emerging that reforms are needed to keep football from becoming too dangerous for its own good….

Repeated blows to the head, which are routine in football, can have lifelong repercussions. A study commissioned by the NFL found that ex-pro players over age 50 were five times as likely as the national population to receive a memory-related-disease diagnosis. Players 30 to 49 were 19 times as likely to be debilitated. Of the dozen brains of CTE victims McKee has examined, 10 were from either linemen or linebackers; some scientists now fear that the thousands of lower-impact, or “subconcussive,” blows these players receive, even if they don’t result in documented concussions, can be just as damaging as — if not more so than — the dramatic head injuries that tend to receive more attention and intensive treatment.


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dopderbeck

posted February 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm


I enjoy watching football. I’m looking forward to our neighborhood Superbowl party this weekend. And yet…
The issues raised in this post and the previous one on sports have been knocking around in my head for a while. What would Augustine have said about American Football? There’s little doubt but that Football is our gladiatorial games, though thankfully usually without immediate death.



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E.G.

posted February 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm


Hmmm, football is bad enough, I suppose (although I love to watch it).
But, for absolute gladitorial excess, you need to watch a bit of NHL – or even minor league – hockey.
See this… and associated video (if you can stomach it):
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/cormier-hit-gives-hockey-a-chance-to-learn-valuable-lesson/article1443754/



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Peggy

posted February 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm


Having a 14 year old football player, I am right in the middle of this debate. And it does follow the earlier post, in that the mentality of the coaches and players is to “kill ‘em” or “take ‘em out” and there is less and less of the wonderful beauty and finesse of talented athletes doing what they do … without seeking to maim each other.
My son is a quarterback, and so is the “prize” take-down coveted by so many … second only to whomever he gets the ball to!
I also have three sons whose heads have all be rung a few times … and that’s just playing around at home! Fortunately, we have some fabulous doctors who are in the know about how to deal with concussions and related brain issues.
The rule in our house is that they may play sports offered at school … and we do a lot of talking about priorities (going back to the previous post).
With the current opinions suggesting that the frontal lobe is not fully integrated until the mid 20s, it is all the more frightening that our children are being thrashed before they can make some of those “should I” calls, and are, rather, being taught to let the “wild” part of the brain run the show.
Parents have to show more restraint in their own enthusiasm and with regard to their children’s safe participation in sports.
…I am just grateful that I did not live in ancient Sparta (have you seen the movie “300″, Scot?)….
…and the similar discussion about sports “enthusiasm” over at the Internet Monk really is very interesting.



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Derek

posted February 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm


It looks like were the frog in the proverbial pot with this issue. If the effects were immediate we would jump out but since it takes a while there is some boiling going on.
It would be interesting to compare football with rugby as far as head injuries are concerned. I hope that solutions are found. Roll Tide!



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Marcus

posted February 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm


I think that it’s a good question to ask. Perhaps a good move, like Malcolm Gladwell suggests in this exchange, is to have a weight limit at each level of football. While it wouldn’t eliminate head injuries, it certainly would reduce the force of many of the hits.



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Matt

posted February 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm


The world’s best sport (hockey) is also wrestling with the same issues.



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Kenton

posted February 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm


When I was young, the big NFL players were 240 lbs and could run a 4.7. Now they’re 320 and can run a 4.5. The hits are a lot harder and the long-term effects are a lot worse.
And I love the game of football.
Weight limit is not my favorite solution. There are combination helmet-shoulder pad sets that can take impact and transfer it to the shoulders and torso, instead of the head. I don’t know if they’re ready to implement, or need to do more testing, but I wish they would implement that kind of equipment change. They say they make players look like aliens. If that’s the case, I’d like to start seeing alien-looking guys play football.



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Michael W

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm


In response to your tweet “Have Christians turned sports into idols?”
not necessarily sports, but sports stars who are Christians.
I can’t stand Tim Tebow.



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Ken

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm


Some years ago tv announcers started glorifying the ferocity of the hit, rather than the fact that the ball-carrier was prevented from any further downfield progress. It is always “the hit” as opposed to “the tackle” in the booth. “Punishment” and “making him think about coming into your zone” has taken the true nature of sports out of the game for many. I (almost) always rejoice when a player who could have made a simple tackle misses the big hit and watches the ball go for a score. Even rule changes seem not to have deterred players from making theses kinds of plays; then we have the color man in the booth decrying the change, preferring to them “play.” It’s hard to believe that this doesn’t have an effect on the youth coaches and players tuned in.



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Scott Eaton

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:29 pm


Yes, football has risk. But so does crossing the street at a busy intersection.
How many teenagers die every year in car accidents? Suffer serious, life-altering injuries? Compare this to injuries (or death which is very rare) resulting from football and I think this is much ado about nothing.
I applaud the continued engineering of helmets and pads to make the game safer. I think the increased medical presence at all levels of the game is outstanding. And coaches attitudes toward injuries seem to have changed over the years too. But when are we going to realize that life can never be made completely safe and that ALL activity involves some kind of risk.



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Randy Siever

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm


Just make ‘em play without helmets. That would pretty much reduce the head trauma stats overnight. Nobody would ever lead with their head. Some will get hurt for sure, but glancing blows will be the most common incident…not full on collisions. They used to play without helmets in the early years, then with leather helmets, then fiberglass, then faceguards. The better the helmet, the more guys would use them as weapons.
Another suggestion: Put rounded foam (fingerless) gloves on all linemen so they can’t grab anything. That will eliminate holding calls.



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SFG

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:39 pm


This article from the New Yorkers is very scary reading for anyone who played football or is thinking of playing football. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/19/091019fa_fact_gladwell



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schinizel

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm


Football dangerous? Yes, so what? What is all the fuss about with dangerous things? Is there anyone holding a gun to your head telling you to go play?
There are dangerous things in the world, and I am not saying we should just permit any kind of activity, but really…let’s just say it is a very dangerous sport, here are the risks, go play if you want, if not, then don’t.



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Derek

posted February 1, 2010 at 8:19 pm


“Compare this to injuries (or death which is very rare) resulting from football and I think this is much ado about nothing.”
I think mach ado about nothing is a bit strong.
Yes playing football is dangerous. That does not mean it cannot be made safer. The problem here is that we are becoming more aware of how dangerous it can be in the long term. And with awareness there can be corrective action to make it less dangerous. I don not see anything wrong with that.
Car racing is dangerous. Having soft walls makes it less so and it is well worth installing them so that it is safer.



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James-Michael Smith

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:12 pm


That’s why I stick with safer sports…like MMA! :)
JMS
The Discipleship Dojo



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SAMTICKLE MD

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:22 pm


SCOTT
KEEP UP THE PRESSURE THE MEDICAL LITATURE IS CLEAR FOOTBALL DISTROYS BRAINS AND MEN. MAKING YOUR KID PLAY FOOT BALL WILL NOT MAKE HIM A MAN. IF HE IS QUEER GOD MADE HIM THAT WAY..SO GET OVER IT. IT IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE RISK
SAM TICKLE MD



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dura mater

posted February 1, 2010 at 11:22 pm


Repeatedly striking, shaking, and flinging a delicate organ about the consistency of firm Jello is not good for the organ, and I am delighted that the public is being made aware of it. I hope that we can make some headway (pardon the pun!) in preventing kids frpom suffering head injuries. As for professional players, I think the issue is not so much that they are bashing their heads and losing IQ points while making million of dollars, but that we enjoy watching them do it. Yikes. Kinda like the Romans watching gladiators kill each other.



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Chuck

posted February 2, 2010 at 8:05 am


I am really glad to see some high profile attention being given to this issue. Because of the money being made in football at all levels we cannot depend on the industry to carry this cause. The medical community will have to do so and Dr. McKey may be the pioneer to do so.



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PJ

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:29 am


It is a sport in which people launch themselves at other people who both are running at high speeds.
How more people haven’t died playing it, I don’t know.
I heard a report on NPR today about how Congress wants to regulate the helmets and such. That is a horrible idea.
If we allow the NFL to self-police they will probably find a good answer. They are concerned with player safety and health. That said this is a sport, specifically to the NFL, where grown men who are at the peak of their physical conditioning are obligated by their contracts to seek the physical domination of another man. It is modern day gladiatorial combat…with pads.
Well hockey…well that is a thinking man’s football league…



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Peggy

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:20 pm


Scot,
Today’s local paper had an article about this, with an expert saying that kids 18 and younger who experience a concussion should not play for 3 months. Boy, that would rock youth football. I can think of a number of good things … like developing more quarterbacks, for starters.
Amazing….



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Beau

posted February 2, 2010 at 4:46 pm


That does it. I’m pulling my kid from football and putting him into cage fighting. You can never be too careful…



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Michael Harris

posted February 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm


Yes Sir. That’s me. I played football from the time I was in the second grade through high school. I was an all-conference and all-area linebacker, as well as playing offensive line. I played angry and did a lot of spear-tackling. I was offered a free ride to play in college but turned it down as I’d already had so many concussions. I can’t tell how many thousands of times I bashed my head. Today, I can’t engage in anything resembling physical contact because I’m so susceptible to concussions that I’m like Muhammed Ali: if I sneeze too hard I might get a mild concussion. I now suffer from memory loss, depression and insomnia.



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Michael Benz

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:45 am


I understand why this is being mad a big deal, but the players on the field knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed up in high school. With the pros making millions off dollars, I’m pretty sure they aren’t complaining about a little headache. Besides, it is a contact sport…there is a risk involved and they knew it.



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