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The Death of Football?

[ 112 ] January 22, 2013 |

The news that you can scan for CTE in living football players is a pretty big deal. Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it will lead to the end of football. I am skeptical. I think it might lead to the end of upper class white kids playing football. But I do not think one can overestimate how ingrained football is in American culture. I am sure that plenty of players would continue playing, even if they knew they had brain damage. And while one can argue that the government can step in and end such a violent game, that’s not going to happen. It’s possible that it could lead to shorter professional careers, some people dropping out of the game before they suffer damage, etc., but there will be hundreds of people to step in their place. The overall quality of the game could theoretically drop, but I doubt it. Coates uses the decline of boxing as an example that this can happen. But while it’s remarkable how quickly boxing fell off the sporting map, it’s replacement by ultimate fighting certainly suggests neither the appetite for bloodsports nor the willingness of poor people to engage in them has waned at all. The decline of boxing is complicated and more related to factors ranging from a decline in compelling American heavyweights to corruption and mismanagement than an existential crisis that led to its end.

Comments (112)

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  1. DocAmazing says:

    Halftime: from Up With People back to “Morituri te salutant!”

  2. Vance Maverick says:

    I think TNC agrees with you. He asks, for example, how big a deal college-level boxing is. In other words, “do we let the kids whose brains we care about do this?” This was a reminder, for me at least, that boxing remains a big deal, and that boxers these days are black and Hispanic.

    In counterpoint, I would remember that we now routinely give lip service to the idea that the brains of minorities matter. Maybe the constant nagging of our conscience will begin to affect our pay-per-view as well.

  3. firehat says:

    There’s a simple solution here: ban face masks. Face pain is immediate and coincident with what causes these longterm occult injuries.

    • john says:

      Or get rid of helmets entirely. The first thing they teach kids in football about tackling is to get your head across the body. Anyone who ever made the switch to Rugby later on then had to unlearn that. Without a helmet, you want your head as far away from potential contact as possible.

      • witless chum says:

        When they played without helmets, people died on the field. Take away most of the shoulder pads (we were always taught that your shoulder pads were your weapon) and maybe the face mask, but you’ve got to leave somethign protecting the skull.

        • Alan Tomlinson says:

          There are and have been soft helmet designs that provide better protection than current helmets at the cost of making the helmet useless for offensive goals. The problem is using the head as a weapon; if that were forbidden, developing head protection would be relatively trivial.

          Football dying out would be fine with me.

          Cheers,

          Alan Tomlinson

          • Kurzleg says:

            I’m not so sure about this. There are plenty of non-football players who’ve experienced concussion syndrome from non-contact plays. Corey Koskie and Denard Span are two of them. Concussion syndrome may not be the same as CTE, but one has to wonder if the mere jostling of the head that comes with playing football (especially the contact of the head with the ground) isn’t as big a factor as the big hits are.

            • Anonymous says:

              I think you could determine this with some confidence statistically. Defensive players are more likely to lead with the head to initiate contact. Receivers and QBs are more likely to be on the receiving end of blows to the head which they do not initiate, or sudden accelerations of the head which do not involve direct impact, like whiplash. Running backs are probably more evenly divided.

              If the long-term brain injuries are showing up primarily in defenders, changes which stop tacklers from leading with the head might be sufficient. If the problem is showing up in receivers and QBs too, drastic changes to the game might be necessary.

              • njorl says:

                whoops, above was me.

                • Kurzleg says:

                  This sort of analysis would be a good start, but what would be involved? Should all current NFL players have scans? Would the NFL allow it? Would players agree to participate?

                • Kurzleg says:

                  I’d add that it’s not just the stuff that happens in the games that is problematic. The NFLPA has rightly fought to reduce the number of “padded” practices in order to lighten the physical load on players. But then you have coaches like Mike McCarthy who in part blamed the lack of padded practices for the Packers’ inability to stop Kaepernick. He claimed that players don’t get game-speed preparation without pads, and I think there’s some truth to this.

            • povertyrich says:

              As I understand it from a Sports Illustrated report on the issue, it’s not the big, concussive hits that are the issue respecting CTE, but the repeated lower level hits that occur on every play, especially at the line of scrimmage.

              Also, early on, it wasn’t the lack of helmets or pads that was particularly dangerous, but the style of play. Football at the turn of the 20th Century was a very different game. The banning of the flying wedge and not allowing players to get forward momentum before the snap, among other rule changes, attempted to alleviate the risks. To what affect? It’s still a dangerous game, but as pointed out above, sports are dangerous in general.

              I will never forget the image of Kirby Puckett lying in the dirt bleeding from his face after taking a pitch off his cheek to end his career.

            • mpowell says:

              It’s certainly true that you can get concussions and eventually CTE from stuff besides playing football, but it’s hard to imagine that using soft helmets and restricting the use of shoulder pads wouldn’t dramatically reduce the magnitude of the problem.

              The problem with modern day football is that whatever BS the league puts out about form tackling and whatever people who don’t know what they’re talking about think about proper tackling, the most effective way to tackle some one is to hit them really hard with your head and shoulders. You can deliver the most power that way and delivering power is the most effective way to knock them off balance, disrupt their running motion and get them to the ground. If you can wrap up? All the better. It helps to finish the job. But just try to get your arms around the legs of a NFL RB and stop them that way. It’s not going to happen. NFL LBers, who are obviously the best tacklers in the league, are really good at generating power on their initial contact without needing a substantial running start. This is what, fundamentally, make them good tacklers. They are hard to juke because they don’t need a big wind up and they still hit really hard so the ball carrier goes down.

              If you want to reduce concussions and CTE in modern football, you have to fix this dynamic.

              • Sherm says:

                But I believe that the most recent research is suggesting that its not simply the violent hits which cause brain damage, its the repetitive trauma experienced on nearly every play by linemen, linebackers, and running backs. Those thousands of small traumas over a long period of playing tackle football come at a cost.

            • actor212 says:

              Koskie played hockey in college, tho, and probably all his life in Manitoba. Clearly, his fall was the primary cause of his problems, but a guy born in 1973 probably played plenty of pee wee hockey helmetless.

      • LPP says:

        I’ve always thought that. Tackling in rugby tends to superior to what you see in football because it is imperative that you do it in a way that protects you as much as the other player. More wrapping and less head to head stuff. Of course, as a woman, neither me nor my team mates had bad habits to unlearn.

        I’ve always thought that pads and helmets give football players a false sense of security and encourage them to use their bodies as weapons and/or tackle by throwing their body at the opponent rather than wrapping their legs.

        I’ve always wondered what the statistics of head/neck injury and CTE are in rugby vs football.

        • actor212 says:

          Tackling in rugby doesn’t have the same objective it does in football. It doesn’t stop the play dead, it’s more about forcing strategic changes and altering momentum. Indeed, in rugby, forcing the turnover is a higher priority, or at least that’s my observation after watching it on TV for decades, and that creates a different form of tackling where wrapping up the ball carrier and slamming him to the turf is less productive than arm-tackling and being able to slap at the ball.

  4. somethingblue says:

    “The [Vietnam] war … was like pro football, in that mostly niggers and rednecks and Slovenians fought it and the rest of us watched.” – Roy Blount, Jr., Being from Georgia

  5. wengler says:

    The rise of popularity of American football has more to do with marketing of ‘the big event’ than anything else. Substitute some other sport that small towns deem worthy of watching on a Friday night and it will fall off the map.

    • N__B says:

      Rollerball. My money’s on Jonathan E.

    • povertyrich says:

      I’ll bet on jai alai.

      It’s not that simple. Granted, the rise of the NFL correlates with that of television, especially Monday Night Football, but college football and town football were huge before that. It’s tribal. It’s martial. It’s visceral. Americans love it, and it’s not going anywhere soon.

  6. Green Caboose says:

    Having spent some time hanging around a weight room with players I’m not sure this will make much of a difference. There is basically zero concern about potential future negative side effects of any PED -the only concern is getting caught. And testing in the pros doesn’t detect what was taken during the muscle-building years before that.

    I don’t know the exact stats, but the average weight of linemen has skyrocketed since steroids became widespread. I remember a comparison of the 1982 “hogs” (the huge OL of the Redskins) with the smallest team OL in 1992 and it was stunning. Remember when the “Fridge” showed up in 1985 and everyone marveled at at 310-pound (some said 325 – he later ballooned far above that) “running back” and how he far outweighed the DL? Now 325 lb is commonplace.

    So, back to brain injury – what 22 year old hyped on dreams of NFL stardom – who is literally risking a potential quadriplegic injury with every game – is going to worry about what will happen to him due to brain problems 2 or 3 decades from now? Why would they when they don’t worry about any of the other long-term consequences of their chosen profession?

    • Uncle Ebeneezer says:

      I don’t think the argument is that the 22 year old is gonna give up their dream early, it’s that the player who gets diagnosed and is told, “here’s what you have already, here’s what you can expect if you continue playing” will be more likely to cash out early (especially if they’ve already had some success and $) and avoid greater damage.

      • drkrick says:

        The other argument is that the parents of an 8 year old are going to be willing to give up the 1 in hundreds of thousands chance of a scholarship or the 1 in millions chance of a pro contract in the face of far higher odds of brain damage and premature death. A 22 year old with a chance at the pros won’t worry about this at all.

        • Karen says:

          Interesting you mention that. I live in suburban Austin, where you would think that everyone sees Longhorn scholarship $$$ in their sons’ futures, but while a lot of kids play Pop Warner, very many fewer play in middle and high school. Also, the players aren’t anywhere near the campus gods I remember from bring that age. Fewer suburban parents are willing to risk brain damage for the .0000002% chance of a pro career, since most of our kids will go to college anyway.

    • gmack says:

      One argument my father likes to pitch is to go back to single-platoon football. Like soccer, in other words, one would put major restrictions on substitutions. Now, this wouldn’t fix the “using one’s head as a weapon” issue, but it would almost necessarily reduce the size of players. If one had to play every snap on offense, defense, and special teams, one couldn’t be 350 pounds.

      Anyway, I generally agree that increased knowledge about head injuries probably won’t discourage people already playing from continuing. The issue is that, in the long run, it is possible (perhaps even likely) that fewer and fewer children are going to be funneled into the system. One might see increasing regulations not of the NFL but of pee-wee leagues and so on, all of which might lead to less interest in the game over time.

      • chris says:

        On the other hand, if fewer players play in high school but football is still a big funding source for colleges, an individual player’s chances of scoring a football scholarship go *up*. For people who can’t afford to go to college any other way…

    • actor212 says:

      Yes, but right now, on both the brain injury and PEDs front, there is precious little education.

      Imagine if, for instance, before you could sign up for high school football, you had to take a short course in either. I would imagine it would instruct and inform your behavior over the course of the season and as you got more and more of these indoctrinations, the message would slowly sink in.

  7. mark f says:

    As someone genetically susceptible to both early-onset Alzheimer’s and brain aneurysms, I’m beginning to think playing high school football was possibly a bad call on my part.

    • actor212 says:

      Like you, I tested positive for two Alzheimer’s markers. I’ve been hit in the head with thrown baseball bats (twice), and goodness knows how many hocket pucks I took to the face and head when I would be the warm up goalie in practices. And that’s before the usual bumps and knocks a person of my height (6’3″) takes in an ordinary day.

      But still, with all that, I’m not too concerned about developing broccoli curdle monkeypiddle.

  8. Lige says:

    People mine coal and smoke cigarettes and both pay a lot less than playing in the NFL.

    • mark f says:

      This here’s a company town, for the most part. My granddaddy was a Bengal, my daddy was a Bengal, now I’m a Bengal. Most of the guys I did my schooling with are Bengals too, ‘less they went in the service. Lotta those guys even come back to be Bengals after a couple-a years. Hell, my wife works in the Bengal office with my sister. Figure I’ll die a Bengal or least not long after I retire. Ain’t had a vacation in seven or years at least.

  9. LDJ says:

    Hmm

    Skiing, motorcycle riding ( I had a helmet split open during a motocross race 30 years ago….couldn’t see straight for hours), bicycling, falling out of trees and swing sets… Many of us have taken hard hits to the head over the years. It will be interesting to see where this information leads us…….on many fronts.

  10. max says:

    I’m with Vance. If this leads anywhere immediately, it’ll be the end of ‘good kids’ playing football. They’ll be like George W. Bush: yell leaders. I very much doubt any black kid that admires the legend of Ali is going to be put off by Parkinson’s. (And given the possibilities they tend to have in front of them, I’m not sure that’s irrational.)

    My suspicion is that incessant repeated head hits lead to CTE. I wonder if anyone has done a study of the prevalence of CTE (and other neurological issues) among different positions? I’d suspect that players from the defensive secondary don’t quite do quite as bad as say, offensive linemen. On the other hand, it may be tackling positions that matter. (How many kickers/punters have gotten it?)

    max
    ['Are there lower levels of damage that people just write off as 'jocks being stupid'?']

    • john says:

      “I’m with Vance. If this leads anywhere immediately, it’ll be the end of ‘good kids’ playing football. They’ll be like George W. Bush: yell leaders. I very much doubt any black kid that admires the legend of Ali is going to be put off by Parkinson’s. (And given the possibilities they tend to have in front of them, I’m not sure that’s irrational.)”

      Oh please, the blackest pro sport in America is the NBA, the whitest is the NHL. And motor sports and extreme sports tend to be as white as hockey. There is no shortage of white kids willing to risk future health for current glory, and there is no shortage of white parents right behind them, encouraging them along the way.

      • Pestilence says:

        ‘good kids’ and ‘white kids’ are not a one-to-one matched pair.

      • actor212 says:

        Yea, but I bet, if you took the television money out of them, most of those sports would just go away, leaving hockey as the closest thing to an extreme sport there is.

        • john says:

          There isn’t a whole lot of money in extreme sports. And most extreme sports spend years in obscurity before they reach a sort of critical mass and cross-over into mainstream.

  11. Mark says:

    Eric, you should learn more about Mixed Martial Arts — it is not called “ultimate fighting” — before you state that it’s a “replacement” for boxing. In fact, for most of modern MMA’s existence there has been little overlap between MMA fans and boxing fans. MMA fans tend to overlap with professional wrestling fans, not with boxing fans.

    Since the history of modern MMA starts in 1993, we don’t know yet how dangerous it is relative to boxing. However, it’s likely that the chance of brain injury in MMA is less than in boxing, owing to the greater diversity of techniques and differences in the rules. MMA has no standing eight-count, for example.

    With reference to Vance Maverick’s comment about college boxing, college-educated wrestlers have been competing in MMA almost since the beginning. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of MMA, but casually grouping it with boxing and assuming that all the same socio-economic factors are in play, and in the same way, is just not accurate.

    • Josh G. says:

      Isn’t boxing particularly dangerous because of the gloves, which allow people to hit harder without injuring their hands? My understanding was that bare-knuckle fighting caused more superficial injuries and bleeding, but less long-term brain damage because people weren’t being struck as hard. If that is the case, then MMA may indeed be less dangerous than standard heavyweight boxing.

      • ouch says:

        except for the spinning kicks and knees to the face

        • McAllen says:

          I admit I don’t follow MMA so I might be wrong, but I would think that the vast majority of kicks are hitting the opponents legs or body, not the head.

          • Mark says:

            Based on observation I’d say this is probably right.

            • JKTHs says:

              But there are also elbows which (at least ostensibly) aren’t legal in boxing. I’m more familiar with boxing but I’d figure MMA is safer simply because there are fewer blows to the face than boxing.

        • Cody says:

          It’s pretty tough to kick a professional in the face. Though fighting against Anderson Silva might increase your odds of getting a brain injury…

          In general, MMA is centered around pinning your opponent. There are some primarily stand-up fighters, but it seems 90% of matches are two people trying to force the other one into a position where they can perform a take-down.

      • Mark says:

        This is correct. Boxing gloves serve mainly to protect the hands. They are also heavier than MMA gloves, which I assume adds force to the blow. Ironically, in order to gain legal acceptance, MMA had to start requiring gloves, because it seems more civilized, but it actually makes the sport more dangerous.

        • L2P says:

          Most of the weight in the gloves is padding, so whatever extra force you get from wearing a 16 ounce instead of a 12 ounce glove isn’t going to matter much. Plus you tend to punch slower, so whatever the extra weight gives you gets eaten up with slightly handspeed, so it’s probably a wash.

          Usually the complaints in boxing is that some boxers wear gloves that are notorious for not being well padded, not heavier, so my take (given absolutely no studies of this) is that the heavier gloves don’t give your punches more momentum.

      • L2P says:

        I’d say boxing is particularly dangerous because you’re getting repeatedly hit in the head. I don’t think the lack of gloves helps or hurts all that much.

        Professional boxers only fight a couple matches a year. Unless you literally went to bare-knuckle, you can probably get enough protection from wraps to last 12 rounds for those couple of fights a year. You’d land about 120 punches in that fight, and most of them are going to be feints or off-center. If you land 30 good hits, that’d be a good fight. For a couple of fights a year, that’s not doing too much damage to your hands. You sometimes see fighters training every now and then without gloves, so it doesn’t seem that terrible a thing.

        In any event it’s certainly less dangerous to your hands than all the hits to the head are to your brain, and the risk of CTE doesn’t stop anybody.

        • The Pale Scot says:

          It’s not the gloves that increase effectiveness, it’s the taping and wrapping of the fist. A well wrapped fist can dent a cinderblock wall without damaging the hand.

        • CaptBackslap says:

          It’s not the fights where the bulk of damage occurs in boxers, it’s the sparring.

      • fd2 says:

        The primary way in which MMA is less dangerous than boxing is the lesser chance of second impact syndrome.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-impact_syndrome

        In MMA, if you’re hit hard enough to suffer a concussion, the match is very likely to be over in short order. In boxing, as long as you can answer a ten count, you are free to continue, making the chance of SIS drastically higher.

        • JKTHs says:

          That’s not really true. The overwhelmingly majority of KOs in boxing are referee stoppages before a ten count is fully administered. Still, I would say that stoppages probably occur earlier in MMA than boxing but it’s hard to say how much more damage is caused before that.

          • fd2 says:

            Frequently, yes, KOs in boxing are ref stoppages when someone doesn’t respond to them during a count (overwhelming majority is pure hyperbole). However, getting flat out dropped by a punch (which is, barring slips, almost always at least a minor concussive event) and continuing the match to be dropped again, or take further heavy punches after being dropped, is far more common in boxing than MMA.

    • timb says:

      Is that you, Goldstein?

  12. Josh G. says:

    It’s not that the NFL will go away overnight, it’s that the pipeline will start to dry up.

    High school kids (except for some seniors) are legally minors. It’s going to be very, very hard to justify high school tackle football programs once all the long-term health risks are fully understood. I’m sure that some attorneys are already preparing their legal briefs on these cases. Legally and morally, there will be virtually no defense available for schools who put children into these dangerous situations while knowing the risks. About the only thing the schools can hope for is that the juries and/or judges will be football fanboys willing to ignore the letter of the law.

    • Desert Rat says:

      This is exactly right.

      Liability at the high school, and even to a lesser extent collegiate level will throttle the NFL and particularly the collegiate pipeline. Since collegiate players aren’t technically workers (at least according to the useful fiction of the NCAA), brain damage sustained playing college sports isn’t neclimited by worker’s compensation laws and the subsequent abridgement right to sue.

      And there will be school districts owned by the first wealthy family whose son suffers a traumatic brain injury playing high school football.

      • catclub says:

        So this may lead to paid college football players?

      • jayackroyd (@jayackroyd) says:

        Have you been to a high school game recently? One of the things that’s striking is how slow the players are, compared to your Sunday afternoon NFL. In my high school sports career I got concussed once maybe, running headlong into another guy running wind sprints in basketball practice.

        We played 10 football games a season, 8 minute quarters, three seasons if you started as a sophomore, which kids seldom do if only because they aren’t big enough yet. Parents shouldn’t worry about their kids playing high school football. College, and the NFL on the other hand……

    • SatanicPanic says:

      I don’t see where players are going to come from. It takes years and lots of resources to train players for the NFL. I don’t if people are going to tune in to watch a bunch of minimally skilled players from developing nations. And a big part of the appeal has got to be the handsome white QBs. Who is going to want to sign up for that job anymore? Just looking at Terry Bradshaw now makes me nervous, and I’ve never even played football.

    • rea says:

      The reality is, it would be easier to abolish high school math than high school football.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        If the discussion were about school board votes, you would be right. The discussion, however, is about legal liability. If former high school players start winning big judgments, the game is up.

    • mpowell says:

      You can develop a lot of football skills playing flag football. The most important one is throwing the football. People will accept poor tackling at the NFL level, but good QB play is essential. So I’m not convinced you’d see the pipeline truly dry up. Football is just a lower skill sport on average. It’s more about being ridiculously strong and fast compared to most sports.

    • The Pale Scot says:

      Not sure whether the threat of middle age dementia is is going to be effective in stopping young men from playing football. Some of the sandlot games I played were way more violent then the organized ballgames because we knew each other and it was a chance to nail someone you didn’t like. Parents are going to able to stop their kids from playing sandlot ball?

      Football can be a more communal activity than other sports. If your overweight or uncoordinated there is still a role for you in football, unlike baseball (requires hand-eye skill) or soccer (pudgies don’t have the endurance), someone has to block or stay in zone. Watching the non-athlete score a touchdown because nobody bothered to cover him was always fun. Indeed, it could be a secret weapon.

    • chris says:

      Legally and morally, there will be virtually no defense available for schools who put children into these dangerous situations while knowing the risks.

      IANAL, but disclosing the risks on the parental permission forms/requiring waiver of the risks by the parents seems viable to me. Of course some of the parents will respond by refusing permission, but as long as granting permission isn’t actually legally classified as child abuse, others won’t and the sport will continue.

  13. Manju says:

    Well, there’s always 2 hand touch. Of flag. Imagine trying to rip one of those off Barry Sanders? That would be entertaining to watch.

    • Mark D'ski says:

      I’ve watched Barry Sanders and i think that it would be easier to make a tackle in flag vs. full contact football. Lots of people (defenses) got a hand on Sanders, but few could bring him down.

  14. Martin says:

    Neither Erik nor any of the commentators I’ve read here have focused on the demand side of the equation — i.e. the audience — which is the most important element. And the horizons discussed may be too short. If you have an audience that is beginning to get queasy at the prospect of watching an NFL game, that is really, really bad news for the NFL. There’s lots of cognitive dissonance in the early stages of a transformation like the one that may be about the befall the NFL. The connection between cancer and smoking were known for decades before large parts of society decided that it was basically unacceptable in many public places. Before those feelings hit critical mass, we shrug them off, live with the contradictions. Sure, not everyone will feel guilty about watching mass brain damage on a weekly basis immediately, but I already feel that, and I love football. This is the kind of thing that will eat away at the NFL in small amounts from a number of different directions, esp. parents not letting their kids play the game. Of course all of this speculation goes out the window if they discontinue helmet use or something. There are tons of examples of major habits and pastimes disappearing, and there’s no real reason to suspect that the NFL is immune from this.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      There is no way that the audience is going to stop watching. Absolutely no way.

      • actor212 says:

        But viewership has consistently declined over time. Many in the sport have found correlation between injuries and this phenomenon, particularly when a star player goes out for a significant portion of time.

        • Anonymous says:

          Viewership of everything that used to be popular has declined due to the increase of media outlets. Football has been less affected by this than most products.

          If you compare the amount of time people spent watching football 20 years ago to the amount of time they spend watching football plus watching ESPN’s football talk shows, plus playing Madden, plus looking at football websites, I bet you’d see that people are spending more time consuming pro football now than before.

          • Karen says:

            That may be true for adults, but I rather think teens are not watching nearly as much sports. My high school freshman son ans his friends never watch sports and don’t play sports-based video games at all. Ever. This is, of course, anecdotal, but unless we are highly exceptional, there are many more kids ignoring pro sports. This won’t be a big deal for a few years, but pretty soon there won’t be enough new fans to keep the business profitable.

          • actor212 says:

            I mean this empirically.

            The league championships have been steadily declining, for example. Those are games with zero competition from any other sporting event. That signals a decline in viewership per se.

      • Martin says:

        Well, we disagree then. I think there is at least some small number of scenarios where viewership declines, you think there are zero. I am pretty darn sure it is not zero. Further, you seem to have real fixed opinions about what the year 2050 will look like, whereas my opinion is a good deal more fluid.

  15. Tod Westlake says:

    I agree with Coates to a certain extent. Once the insurance companies get involved, you’re going to see high school programs decimated. This, in turn, will undermine the college game. The NFL/CFL farm system will be no more. If the NFL is smart, it will look to association football (soccer) and institute an academy system. Of course, there is the issue of child endangerment to get around. This is the future of American/Canadian football, I’m afraid. It will not be pretty.

    In the meantime, fuck the Niners!

  16. greylocks says:

    …you can scan for CTE in living football players…

    Not saying this is wrong, but they study didn’t prove this. It only showed (with a very, very small sample) that CTE is detectable in aging NFL players who were known to have suffered serious and/or multiple concussions and in at least one case had advanced CTE symptoms. It has not yet been shown that CTE is detectable early, nor have has it been determined just how prevalent CTE is, if certain positions are more vulnerable to it than others, or if CTE is a widesspread problem at non-professional levels of play, where contact tends to be less violent.

  17. Sherm says:

    I would not underestimate the long-term impact of these kinds of findings on the sport. In the past couple of years, I have gone from a guy who was dying to get his son (just turned five) signed up for Pop Warner football to a guy who will not allow his son to play tackle football until hes at least 13 and who has no intention of encouraging him to ever do so. There are plenty of other sports he can play.

    And I’m not “upper class,” and I doubt that I am alone. And with each suicide and with every new study concerning CTE there will be more like me.

    • Walt says:

      At this point, I would flat out deny my children permission to play (tackle) football.

      • brewmn says:

        Me too. And being part of the footbal team in high school was about the only part of those four years that I found enjoyable. If my son insists, maybe we’ll talk about it. But he’ll get no encouragement to play organized football from me.

        • Sherm says:

          I’m not yet prepared to forbid it. But I have no intention of encouraging it.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            My father was the first in his family to go to college, in part on a football scholarship. He encouraged me and my brothers to play baseball, but never football. He told me once that he would have allowed it if any of us had really wanted it, but he was happier that we didn’t.

    • actor212 says:

      We played for years without equipment. The worst injury we suffered was a broken collarbone from an awkward block on a kickoff return.

      Anecdotal, I know, but here’s the thing: no one laid in a killer hit intended to injure on another player, mostly because it hurt the hitter nearly as much as it hurt the target. In fact, you went out of your way to find the fleshy parts of the anatomy to hit.

    • The Pale Scot says:

      I think you need to turn the equation around. When their very young kids don’t have the mass or speed to deliver hard hits. And in my experience it might be better to start early so your son learns how to land on the or turn his body to avoid a hit rather then start playing with others who have some experience. And he won’t have to catch up learning simple things like how to get down into a lineman’s stance or set or make a proper (safe) tackle. It’s when the testosterone starts flowing in that they’ll take chances or ignore coaching.

    • burritoboy says:

      I played football in high school too – I don’t have kids yet, and while I’m not necessarily going to outright forbid them playing yet, I’m already pretty skeptical.

  18. Sherm says:

    I agree with this. I’ve been a fanatic nfl since about 1977, and in the past couple of years I have found myself enjoying and watching it less for the first time in my life. Case in point — late in the Colts/ravens wildcard game, with the game wrapped up, a ravens defensive back got called for a blow to the head of a defenseless receiver, and 70,000 assholes proceeded to chant “bullshit” while the wobbly receiver was helped off the field. Watching the replay in slow motion while hearing these animals bitch about a meaningless flag kind of disgusted me. Maybe I’m getting old and cranky, but I just don’t enjoy that kind of violence and the celebration of it.

  19. JohnMcC says:

    While I’d miss college football my largest concern is the impact of head-protection rules on other games. Played Lacrosse. Can attest that getting beaned with a lacrosse ball will have things look very strange for a while.

    One unremarked on thought: Imagine Pres Obama convening a group of sports magnates and the NCAA and proposing that he could ban the sport. Teddy Roosevelt did that in 1905. The conservative-entertainment-complex would be put on a show for the ages.

  20. actor212 says:

    It could just force players to wear less protective equipment and suffer the consequences of their own actions, which I think is sorely needed in NFL football.

    • Stan Gable says:

      As noted elsewhere in this thread, the issue with that logic is that pre-helmet football was significantly more dangerous than it is now. The reason the safety measures were introduced was to reduce football’s body count.

      I don’t see football going away anytime soon since there’s any number of justifications you can come up with to continue playing/watching/etc. What will happen though is not so much that only poor kids will play but that most kids with dual scholarship abilities will choose another sport, so the talent pool for the NFL will slowly decline.

      • actor212 says:

        I didn’t mean only helmetless.

        I meant no pads whatsoever, except perhaps soft pads for some small measure of protection.

        To say that helmetless football is more dangerous than helmeted football flies contrary to the evidence we see comparing modern day rugby to modern day football. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that, where head injuries are concerned, helmetless is better.

        • Stan Gable says:

          I don’t think rugby is actually a great comparison. The stops and starts in football mean that nearly every player is going at max effort on every play.

          This also puts a premium on extreme levels of speed and power and less of a premium on endurance (as noted elsewhere).

          So the flow of the game creates a lot more high energy collisions than rugby and because the outcome is based around these high outcome collisions, you end up self-selecting for people who are good at generating even higher energy collisions.

          • Sam240 says:

            Furthermore, in both forms of rugby, the overall gain of a meter or two on a single tackle usually isn’t that important.

            In rugby union, there’s no limit on the number of tackles a team can take before it has to turn over the ball; the offensive team can just keep going and going and going. A meter or two in an unlimited set of “plays” doesn’t make much of a difference.

            In rugby league, a team has to turn over the ball after the sixth tackle, but it cannot gain a new set of six tackles after gaining a set number of meters; the offensive team has to move the ball the entire way to the try line before that final tackle. When one has to go 70 or 80 meters in five “plays,” a meter or two usually isn’t that important.

            In American football, a team has four downs in order to gain ten yards, and it can gain a new set of four downs once it goes that ten yards. In that context, a yard or two on a single play is extremely important. The defense has to force the ball carrier to the ground here and now . The deceleration of the ball carrier must be greater, and, as F=ma, the force applied by the tackler must also be greater in gridiron than in rugby.

            Furthermore, in both rugby codes, blocking is illegal, and tackling someone who doesn’t have the ball is against the rules. In gridiron, the lines are colliding with each other on every play.

            In addition, rugby players often pass the ball backwards. If a defender is coming at a ball carrier, the carrier will probably toss the ball to a teammate. Remember — the loss of a meter or two usually isn’t that important. If the defender is going at full speed, by the time he reaches the person who was carrying the ball, the carrier won’t have it anymore, and the tackle would be illegal. This isn’t the case in gridiron. A runner rarely tosses the ball backwards, and, in any case, there’s no rule against hitting someone who just threw the ball.

            The collisions in gridiron have to be harder and more frequent than those in either rugby union or rugby league. Rugby doesn’t need the body armor. Gridiron might.

    • jayackroyd (@jayackroyd) says:

      NFL players wear as little padding as the rules allow. It’s all about speed. Pads slow you down. The helmet, on the other hand, is an issue. It’s a weapon, and used as a weapon.

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