11
   

Whither Football?

 
 
sozobe
 
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 12:32 pm
I adore football.

So it's been hard to read the long (and excellent) series of articles in the New York Times by Alan Schwartz about the very real dangers of football.

Then a really good article in the New Yorker ("Football and The Concussion Crisis") kind of summarized those findings and reinforced that it's a serious problem.

But now with Dave Duerson's suicide I'm again thinking, what should be done about this?

He shot himself in the chest specifically so his brain could be studied for signs of the football-induced trauma (chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE), which has been linked to depression, dementia and occasionally suicide among more than a dozen deceased players.

I know Dave Duerson, he was on the Bears when the Bears were my guys.

No amount of entertainment is worth someone's life.

Can football find a way to avoid these kinds of injuries?

If so, will it still be football?

What do you think?
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 12:36 pm
@sozobe,
One of the problems I just read about (where? dunno) was that it isn't just the brutal head collisions that are causing concussions, but the day to day smaller impacts that lineman accrue in a huge percentage of their plays (what percentage, I dunno).

So I had been thinking that changing the relatively recent head busting takedown culture, albeit not all that easy, would be a big help. Now I'm less sure about that.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 12:44 pm
@ossobuco,
You're right, the head-bashing in practices is part of the problem. But sounds like only part of the problem.

The New Yorker story is an excellent summary but at 10 pages I don't expect everyone to read it. Here's a meaty paragraph:

Quote:
What we now know, from reading Schwarz, is that retired N.F.L. players are five to nineteen times as likely as the general population to have received a dementia-related diagnosis; that the helmet-manufacturing industry is overseen by a volunteer consortium funded largely by helmet manufacturers; and that Lou Gehrig may not actually have had the disease that bears his name but suffered from concussion-related trauma instead. (Since 1960, fourteen N.F.L. players have had a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is about twelve more than you would expect from a random population sample.) In the manner of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Dr. Maroon has delineated four stages in the N.F.L.’s reaction to the reality of brain damage: active resistance and passive resistance, shifting to passive acceptance and, finally, in the past few months, active acceptance. “What we’re seeing now is that major cultural shift, and I think Alan took a lot of barbs, and a lot of hits, initially, for his observations,” Maroon said.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 12:51 pm
@sozobe,
Right, but this recent bit I read in the last day or two is re ordinary not major collision hits in and out of games..
well, I'll post it if I run across it.

I too recommend the NYer article.

I think it was Alan Schwarz that I read a few years ago re helmets..
0 Replies
 
Region Philbis
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 03:04 pm
@sozobe,
Quote:
Can football find a way to avoid these kinds of injuries?
not until someone designs a concussion-proof helmet.
the other major team sports are in the same boat.
justin mourneau (MLB), sidney crosby (NHL) and mike miller (NBA) are cuurently dealing with the after-effects of being concussed...
0 Replies
 
snood
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 03:45 pm
One suggestion I thought made some sense was that the helmets should be reverted in design back to the plain leather sheaths they used to have in the early days of pro football. The reason that so many tacklers lead with their head as if its a missile or spearhead is that it is so padded and reinforced that they feel safe in using their heads as a weapon. If they knew their heads are only covered by a thin leather helmet (so the reasoning goes), they would be less likely to lead with their heads and less likely to cause the catastrophic injuries we've been seeing.
Region Philbis
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 04:28 pm
@snood,

interesting.
i read about that possibly being applied to lacrosse.
unfortunately it wouldn't prevent the shoulder-to-head and arm-to-head hits, which are all too prevalent in the NFL...
Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Feb, 2011 04:29 pm
@Region Philbis,
or head to frozen tundra hits...

(insert hollow punkin sound here)
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  2  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 10:32 am
And here's yet another article:

http://www.gq.com/sports/profiles/200909/nfl-players-brain-dementia-study-memory-concussions

Excerpt:

Quote:
[Dr. Omalu] put the first slide from the new set under his microscope and looked in.

“What is this?” he said out loud. “Geez. Gee! What is this?”

Brown and red splotches. All over the place. Large accumulations of tau proteins. Tau was kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning.

This was why Mike Webster [former NFL football player] was crazy.

Omalu showed the slides to Wecht and to scientists at the University of Pittsburgh. Everyone agreed: This was a disease, or a form of it, that no one had ever seen before. Omalu wondered what to call it. He wanted a good acronym. Eventually, he came up with CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He wrote a paper detailing his findings. He titled it “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player” and put it in an envelope and sent it to the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Neurosurgery. He thought NFL doctors would be pleased when they read it. He really did. He thought they would welcome a finding as important as this: scientific evidence that the kind of repeated blows to the head sustained in football could cause severe, debilitating brain damage. He thought they could use his research to try and fix the problem.

“I was naive,” he says now. “There are times I wish I never looked at Mike Webster’s brain. It has dragged me into worldly affairs I do not want to be associated with. Human meanness, wickedness, and selfishness. People trying to cover up, to control how information is released. I started this not knowing I was walking into a minefield. That is my only regret.”



Region, I read that too re: lacrosse, that they have rules now to try to keep heads safe (a 7-inch "halo," penalties called if you breach that halo) and they worry about helmets actually making the game rougher and more dangerous.

I hadn't seen anything about that re: the NFL, I'm interested in reading that, snood.

It doesn't look like helmets can get to the point where they can really guard against concussions (as per the articles I've linked to above).

Osso, yes, repeated minor impact causes problems, too. It doesn't have to be just big smashes.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 10:38 am
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:

It doesn't look like helmets can get to the point where they can really guard against concussions (as per the articles I've linked to above).


I agree, re various bits I've read on it. Behavior change could affect the stats, though. But that would be in the face of the current collision culture.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  2  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 10:45 am
Here's another excerpt, kind of lengthy but addresses a few of the points we've talked about:

Quote:
“Here we have a multibillion-dollar industry. Where does their responsibility begin? Say you’re a kid and you sign up to play football. You realize you can blow out your knee, you can even break your neck and become paralyzed. Those are all known risks. But you don’t sign up to become a brain-damaged young adult. The NFL should be leading the world in figuring this out, acknowledging the risk. They should be thanking us for bringing them this research. Where does their responsibility begin?

“Look, there was a seminal study published by the University of Oklahoma two years ago. They put accelerometers, which measure acceleration, in the helmets of University of Oklahoma players. And they documented the g-force. So we know the g-force for a football player being knocked out is about sixty to ninety g’s. To compare, a fighter pilot will pass out at five or six g’s, but that’s over a long period of time. These football g-forces are just a few milliseconds, very brief—boom! And they found that in the open field, the dramatic cases of a receiver getting blindsided is about one hundred g’s. It knocks them out. Very dramatic, everybody sees it. But the linemen? They were actually getting twenty to thirty g’s on every play. Because they start out and they bang heads. Every play.

“Helmets are not the answer. The brain has a certain amount of play inside the skull. It’s buoyed up in the cerebral spinal fluid. It sits in this fluid, floats. When the head suddenly stops, the brain continues, reverberates back. So when I hit, boom, my skull stops, but my brain continues forward for about a centimeter. Boom, boom, it reverberates back. So you could have padding that’s a foot thick. It’s not going to change the acceleration/deceleration phenomenon. And a lot of these injuries are rotational. The fibers get torn with rotation. You’ve got a face mask that’s like a fulcrum sitting out here: You get hit, your head swings around. That’s when a lot of these fibers are sheared—by rotation. A helmet can’t ever prevent that.

“And have you seen helmets lately? In the old days of football, you had this leather cap to protect your ears. That was it. You’d never put your head in the game. You’d be knocked out after the first play! Even in the ’60s, the helmet was a light shell. The modern helmet is like a weapon.

“So I told the NFL, I said, ‘Why don’t you take the head out of the game? Just take it out of the game! Let the linemen start from a squatting position instead of getting down for head-to-head. Have them stand up like they do on pass protection. So there’s not this obligatory head contact.’

“Nothing. They had nothing to say. Who am I? I’m only a guy who has concussed hundreds of rats in the lab, a player for ten years, and a sideline doctor for twenty years. What do I know? Some stupid neurosurgeon.

“Instead of answering anything we bring to them, the NFL is ducking and shooting arrows at us. Criticizing us. Saying our work is a bunch of bunk. They have only attacked us.”


(Emphases mine.)

Do you (general "you") think that the head can realistically be taken out of the game of football?
Cycloptichorn
 
  2  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 10:48 am
@sozobe,
Quote:
Do you (general "you") think that the head can realistically be taken out of the game of football?


Nope.

I'm torn on this one - on one hand, I want the players to be safe. On the other, they know the risks when they sign up, and I think that every one of them who makes the pros knows that they will retire with health problems due to their choice - and that death or paralysis is a risk every day as well.

Cycloptichorn
sozobe
 
  2  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 10:53 am
@Cycloptichorn,
I think part of what's coming out is that they don't really know the risks. They know about the small chance of death on the field, and the large chance of bodily injury (a blown-out knee, a broken wrist, whatever.)

But the dementia stuff is really just emerging, and that's a whole other thing to sign up for.

(By the way, the above GQ article was posted by a friend on FB and I thought it was new, but it's actually from October 2009. The NFL has made some strides since then.)
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 11:00 am
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:

I think part of what's coming out is that they don't really know the risks. They know about the small chance of death on the field, and the large chance of bodily injury (a blown-out knee, a broken wrist, whatever.)

But the dementia stuff is really just emerging, and that's a whole other thing to sign up for.

(By the way, the above GQ article was posted by a friend on FB and I thought it was new, but it's actually from October 2009. The NFL has made some strides since then.)


I dunno. I have been reading stories about this stuff my entire life. I remember seeing interviews with guys who were at the Combine back in like, whew, 89 or 90? Where they were specifically asking the guys about the risks - and these guys fresh out of college knew the risks. A few books came out in the 80's which laid them out in detail, from former linemen, iirc.

Just dunno. I think that I would probably say that I didn't know the risks either - even if I did.

Cycloptichorn
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 11:02 am
@Cycloptichorn,
Dementia, though?

I can think of guys who seemed a bit slow and foggy.

But not going outright crazy and killing themselves.
Cycloptichorn
 
  2  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 11:13 am
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:

Dementia, though?

I can think of guys who seemed a bit slow and foggy.

But not going outright crazy and killing themselves.


To me, it's like professional boxers. They know that there's a risk and they do it anyway. I think it's wrong to assume that these guys are dumb; anyone who knocks their body around and hits their head constantly is at risk of brain damage and they know it.

The gladiator, short-but-bright lifestyle is a feature of humanity. Many choose to live a hotter life despite the consequences later.

The latest NFL changes to avoid head-to-head contacts can help some, maybe. Dunno about the linemen. It would seriously change the game to alter the way they play at this point, and it would be hard to enforce as well.

Complex topic, no easy solution.

Cycloptichorn
snood
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 12:20 pm
@Cycloptichorn,
One added sinister element in this situation in the NFL is the PR blitz that has been keeping pace with the rising body of knowledge about tackling collisions and brain trauma. The owners have their own stable of lawyers and doctors all ready to make the case that all of the evidence is anecdotal and overblown.
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 12:33 pm
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/toronto-doctor-proposes-brain-bank-to-study-hockey-concussions/article1389909/

there's been a lot of coverage of this in the last couple of weeks as a result of this donation

http://www.cbc.ca/sports/football/story/2011/02/23/sp-cfl-kuntz.html

http://www.torontosun.com/sports/hockey/2010/12/16/16579026.html
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 01:03 pm
@ehBeth,
Concussions in general are definitely getting attention. This article on Lindsay Vonn also made me wince:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/sports/skiing/14vonn.html

(It's Alan Schwartz again. Hope that guy gets a Pulitzer.)

The parent of one of sozlet's classmates is a sports medicine guy who is the official or unofficial (depending on the level) team doctor for many local sports teams. It's been interesting to talk to him about concussions and how things are changing. He's been a long-term advocate for treating concussions with a lot more respect that they've typically been afforded, especially in terms not of letting someone get back to a sport before the brain has fully healed (even if they're asymptomatic).
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2011 01:07 pm
@snood,
Snood, right, that's definitely one chilling aspect of reading all of these articles, especially the New Yorker one that can say things about Alan Schwarz that he can't say about himself in his capacity as a journalist.

Quote:
Schwarz may not have been out to get football, but he was clearly less emotionally invested in it than most of his predecessors and peers, who had helped build the sport into the de-facto national pastime with romantic coverage of heroic sacrifice. He was not a fan. “I’d been pitching this to reporters for years,” Nowinski told me, of the head-injury problem in general. “People in football told me, point blank, ‘I don’t want to lose my access.’ It literally took a baseball writer who did not care about losing his access, and didn’t want the access, to football.”

Schwarz’s math background came in handy, too, as he batted away the statistical objections about the unknown incidence of C.T.E. from skeptical doctors. And Schwarz had the backing of a news organization that did not see itself as having any symbiotic ties to the game’s economic engine. (ESPN, which drives the national conversation on sports, invests more than a billion dollars a year in football broadcasting.) “There’s certainly been a lot of tension between Alan and the N.F.L., and the N.F.L. and our editors,” Jolly said. “Their communications people made it clear that they were not happy with the reporting. Some of their folks were pretty brusque and not particularly eager to work with Alan.”


(Emphases mine.)
0 Replies
 
 

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