Banning of football as a whole is NOT the answer

7 Aug

The goal of a writer is to bring eyes to their information/opinion to draw eyes for advertisers who in turn pay for the publishing of the article – in a very cut and dry manner.  With the troubles facing sports, particularly football, more and more articles have hit the interweb; often the most cited are those that trample on our beliefs of sport.

George Will penned an article that did just that as he opined that football should be ended because it cannot be “fixed”, a growing belief amongst some.  I am here to tell you that although football has its issues and concussions are high on the list, this is the case with many other sports; hockey, lacrosse and soccer being some off the top of my head.  Will does have some salient points;

After 20 years of caring for her husband, Easterling’s widow is one of more than 3,000 plaintiffs — former players, spouses, relatives — in a lawsuit charging that the NFL inadequately acted on knowledge it had, or should have had, about hazards such as CTE. We are, however, rapidly reaching the point where playing football is like smoking cigarettes: The risks are well-known.[...]

Furthermore, in this age of bubble-wrapped children, when parents put helmets on wee tricycle riders, many children are going to be steered away from youth football, diverting the flow of talent to the benefit of other sports.[...]

The lawsuits have nothing to do with the risk of injury, they have everything to do with whether the league knew about the long-term risks during that time and did not disclose that to the players.  The injury of concussion can occur outside of sports, in fact the majority of concussions come from recreational activities like: skate boarding, back yard touch football, playgrounds, bike riding and driving.  Even if the lawsuits are a reason for canceling football at all levels, based on stats Will is – in my opinion – connecting the dots for removal of all activities that might result in concussions – turn in your driver’s license.

The second statement and thought is one that is growing and I have personally seen, but there is a solution for that and one that is rather simple.  My opinion and beliefs – that tackle football should be restricted to high school and up – are backed up by much more powerful and prestigious people;

“You don’t need to play tackle football until you’re 13 or 14, because you can learn other things about the game,” Levy said. “Part of (more awareness), in my opinion, is how players are more closely monitored and there are more medical people around. They are more cautious. I think in youth football you shouldn’t overdo the contact.”

Age and maturity limits will not only expose MORE kids to sports (which can help with the obesity issue) it has the possibility of fostering a love of the sport that will create more respect for players and the game.  Along with that, bad – better described as horrible – techniques and habits formed when the body was not capable of performing the proper techniques will be gone.  Thus, when a player gets to “better” coaching at the high school level they will be prepared and not have the years of improper coaching and techniques to correct.  Which simply makes the game better and SAFER.

I do not agree with George Will that the game cannot be fixed, I don’t know if I go to the extreme of Eric Golub;

Mr. Will would know that the information fans and the league have at their disposal is better than it was fifty years ago. The game has become safer as technology has improved. Therefore, the players playing today should have a reduced level of the problems we see today among retired players now. Using Will’s logic, we should give up on 21st century medicine because the doctors could not save Abraham Lincoln. Life is about progress. Just because his columns remain static does not mean the rest of the world stagnates.

Using Will’s empty analytical scenario, his column should be banned. After all, nobody in society benefits from anything he has to say. He is willing to shut down an entire multi-billion dollar sport and put thousands of people from athletes to owners to peanut vendors out of work. Why should he be gainfully employed? He and I are both opinion writers, but I at least have the decency to admit my irrelevance in the bigger picture.

Mr. Will says football cannot be fixed. What he really means is he cannot figure out how to fix it. Therefore, since he is the smartest man on Earth, his inability to fix something makes that something unfixable.

I do think that Will and others that are advocating banishment of sports based on the concussion issue painting a picture with an extremely broad brush.  This issue is relatively new, in terms of fixing it, it takes time – which is of the essence – but steps are being taken.  It would be better if leagues, associations, etc., would take more proactive steps like this proposal for high school football (the pros and colleges already do it and its FREE), however the more pressure from the George Will ilk will only help to make these moves a reality.  If I have learned one thing about life it is that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease, even if it’s a VAST MINORITY.

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10 Responses to “Banning of football as a whole is NOT the answer”

  1. Matt Chaney August 8, 2012 at 07:49 #

    No, Dustin, tackle football cannot be ‘fixed,’ made ‘safer,’ nor anything of the like. George Will is absolutely correct, while the hack writer Eric Golub is a moron. Will doesn’t propose to ban football; he just says we must acknowledge what truly can be done, which is nothing in terms of ‘limiting’ inherent brutality ranging from brain injuries to dangerous body sizes bloated by overeating and anabolic substances. No one on this Website or in government, medicine, education, has any hope of changing this bloody game for the better in terms of health. Perhaps it can be controlled, however, the football monster, but until the dreamers cease with pet theories of ‘safety’–or rhetorical garbage that began with grid-fan hucksters like Teddy Roosevelt–we get nowhere. For the stale course taken so far, ye old Yellow Brick Road to Safer Football, the game need not worry of a ban, for civil courts and insurance carriers will shut it down.

  2. A Concerned Mom August 8, 2012 at 10:04 #

    It seems as though people often like to argue extreme positions. I’m not sure if I’ve even heard many people use the term “ban.”

    I believe in full disclosure, and although youth concussion laws are promoted as bringing awareness and disclosure to youth football, the reality is that in many states those laws don’t apply to the youngest players. Now, I certainly wish the experts would provide parents with clear advice about whether or not children should play tackle football under the age of 12 or 14, but until such time, it seems appropriate to let parents know that there is an ongoing debate (perhpas leagues could add that next to their liability waiver and indemnification statements). It’s not fair to parents of younger children to only find out after the fact that they allowed their child to engage in an activity which some experts believe is inappropriate for young children due to biomechanical and developmental issues.

    Organizations such as Pop Warner and USA Football are trying to make youth football safer. But, what about the children playing in leagues which haven’t bought into safer football or haven’t been made aware of the dangers of repetitive concussive and sub concussive hits? Are these children just collateral damage in the battle for safer football?

    Are the majority of the million or so children playing youth football in programs which have the resources to ensure their safety? In such a high contact sport involving repetitive impacts, or collisions, why on earth should parents have to depend on volunteer coaches to elavuate their child’s brain function? (Children are more likely to have delayed symptoms, so they probably should be pulled out after a hard hit even if they don’t have symptoms.) Can anyone really argue that just because the resources aren’t available, children should be allowed to engage in a potentially dangerous activity with less access to medical professionals than is becoming the standard of care for high school, college and the NFL?

    Granted, more children may suffer concussions by falling off bikes or playground equipment, but generally children who are injured that way don’t get back up and hit their head again and again for 2 hour practices three times per week. Parents can allow their children to engage in other activities with high risks (dirt bikes, 4-wheelers, skate boards), but generally those activities aren’t subsidized by the tax payers as is most youth football which tends to be played on municipal or school corporation fields. I made the mistake of assuming our school corporation would ensure that any feeder club using their facilities would meet minimum safety standards, but it appears as though there is no need for schools to do so.

    Schools and volunteer coaches are often afforded strong immunity protections (which vary by state), so some youth leagues may actually feel as though the chance of legal action being taken against them is minimal (or that if such legal action were taken, the chance of it being successful is doubtful). It’s understandable that some protections should be afforded to volunteers, but there may be problems if the protection is so expansive that leagues aren’t motivated to adapt their safety policies as new health concerns are recognized. As far as I can tell, there is currently absolutely no oversight for youth sports, and parents encountering problems are left with few options.

    So, I’m not suggesting that we ban football on any level, but rather that we seriously look into whether or not the various tax subsidies and immunity protections along with the lack of full disclosure and oversight are appropriate. Due to the obvious resource limitations at the youth level, my personal opinion is just that the amount of contact allowed for all sports should be limited – just change the rules to reduce the chance of injury (as long as children develop basic skills they’ll be able to transition to higher levels of contact once they’re older). If people think that’s an extreme position, I’m okay with people having different opinions, but would just note that many of my beliefs were shaped by what was and wasn’t done before and after my son was injured. I also happen to be okay with companies who make protective equipment for a profit, such as helmets and mouth guards, provided they don’t make claims which can’t be substantiated.

  3. joe bloggs August 8, 2012 at 12:45 #

    Will did not argue a ban. He suggested the sport has exceeded medicine or technology and that we are participating in observing willful infliction of brain injuries.

    USA Football is spinning a powerful marketing plan but has little science supporting its positions. Bogus research published by insiders and parties with conflicts-of-interest will only accelerate the end of the sport.

    It would be much better to come clean, bring in outside experts to evaluate the health risks (unlikely to paint a pretty picture), and make reasoned decisions based on fact rather than on trying to preserve a culture that leaves too many too damaged.

    Marketers and scientists posing as marketers will only expose the seamier underside of a game that has gotten out of control.

    • This response is interwoven with a past response:

      1 – Football, by its nature, is an agressively played contact / collison sport.

      Comparing football to driving an auto, bike riding or skate boarding involves an illogical comparison. The primary purpose of driving an auto, bike riding or skate boarding is NOT to delibertely crash into another auto…, or skate boarder !

      2- Perhaps there is a more ‘global’ sport injury issue emerging that has been underaddressed?

      The global issue follows: That the SPORT CULTURE in the U.S. often idealizes sport participation & therefore uncritically accepts various types of sport injuries as part of the game…whether the injury be a sprained ankle, broken leg or a damaged brain….and ignores all the inherent risks of particpation.

      Some football advocates argue the sport creates physical health…

      may I suggest they honestly examine the immediate and long-term financial, physical, social and emotional costs of a sport-related injury to the particpant and family menbers.

      Although proponents of sports in recent decades asserted that participation in sports enhances physical fitness and health, sports critics have argued to the contrary (Edwards, 1973; Guttman, 1988; McGregor, 1995; Nack 2001; Nixon, 1984).

      Guttman (1988) challenged the irony of the commonly accepted belief that participation in sports enhances physical development. He argued that closer examination of sports-related injury statistics had revealed the vast number of these injuries clearly reflected and documented the physical destruction of the athlete’s body for participation in sports. In addition, athletic participation for some persons would exacerbate a presenting medical problem or cause death (Moeller, 1996). Nack (2001) contributed the following insights pertaining to the life-long adverse effects of football-related injuries:

      [Retired NFL players] are wincing, hobbling wounded; the men who played professional football, the notoriously joint-shearing, disk-popping, nerve-
      numbing exercise that is grown only more dangerous…

      3- An examination of the history of sport reveals individuals and organizations that have emerged and intervened to minimize injury risks for participants in various sports.

      For example, ‘Safer football’ has been a reoccurring mantra in football since the Presdient Teddy Roosevelt era. Football, by the nature of the contact/colision game, creates a wide spectrum of injuries, and at times death, for its participants.

      Newspaper headlines mistakenly project the terms ‘FLUKE football injuries and deaths’…when these injuries and deaths ARE PREDICTABLE every year…and clearly are not improbable.

      Our children and ther developing bodies, including their brains, are being placed ‘in harms way’ when they walk onto on the football fields.

      For some youngsters their fields become their ‘sports graveyard”…for what logical reasons????

      It is becoming more apparent that we are playing Russian Roulette with children’s brains, emotions and other parts of their bodies.

      Perhaps parents should read this following mantra to their child:

      Today as you enter onto the football…it may be the last time that I know you as my son/daughter. Statistics state you have a slight chance of becoming brain-damaged or dying as a result of participating in football.

      Though a so-called small statistical percentage of children may die each year…each death is clinically and humanly significant !!!!

      Peace…

      • A Concerned Mom August 11, 2012 at 14:27 #

        Dr. Brady, did you happen to catch Dr. Ellenbogen on the Concussion and the Perfect Storm Webinar this past week? He highlighted the historical timeline of the debate regarding the safety of football. He appears to believe that football should be saved from the current attack, just as it was in the past.

        The comparisons to other activities, such as skateboarding and bike riding are often made. I’m not arguing with your stance, but just pointing out that the argument seems to carry weight with a number of people, including some doctors and parents.

        I watched the panel discussion for the NJ Athletic Trainers’ Safety Summit, and there seemed to be a general consensus that it would not be feasible to have an ATC on every sandlot, but that that was okay, because kids are allowed to play in the backyard and playground without an ATC present either.

        I’m not a subject matter expert, so I’m certainly not going to suggest that any of these individuals have a conflict of interest or are insiders. Based on media coverage, I would say that the message which is communicated most often is that the benefits of contact and collision sports for youth athletes out weigh the risks. Many seem to find Cantu’s statements for athletes under 14 to be controversial. If there are more doctors and scientists out there who support Cantu’s statements, I wish they would make public statements to that effect.

  4. joe bloggs August 11, 2012 at 18:10 #

    Concerned Mom,

    Cantu took too much time to clarify his statements (note: his statements have been qualified to suggest reducing hit counts is sufficient to contain the problem). Others have made the statement only to fall on deaf ears as there is no currency in telling the truth. Football is a religion and it is apostasy to suggest fault with it.

    Of course, Ellenbogen and the various interest groups do not wish to jeopardize their jobs and/or consulting contracts. The fundamental difference between football and most other organized sports and recreational activities like cycling and skateboarding is that it is most often practiced with the objective of inflicting repeated head trauma as a consequence of participation. (The only comparable activities are boxing and martial arts. How many six to twelve years old are in competition?). Spare the form tackling argument as most coaches learn the sport watching highlight reels on EPSN. Compounding this problem is that especially at younger is poor equipment, worse coaching and non-existent medical care.

    The NFL needs to suck it up and realize this entire effort to try to whitewash the hazards of this sport will only hasten its decline.

    People will say, “I am free to make my own choices which is true.” Those choices should be informed by facts not marketing drivel a la’ ProCap (research was conducted by David Viano formerly of the disgraced m-TBI committee). I know no one wishes to change but if the coaches and administrators were made financially responsible for the injuries that permanently impair student athletes data would be reported, two a days would go away, and cutting corners would end.

    Until costs are no longer socialized and profits privatized do not expect anything to change.

    • A Concerned Mom August 11, 2012 at 20:55 #

      Perhaps those who have spoken out about youth football just aren’t given media coverage, because I don’t seem to ever see a call for the elimination of tackle football under age 14. Think there was a study out of Michigan which suggested that youths under the age of 16 not play to reduce the number of concussions sustained, but it didn’t seem as though that particular point got much coverage.

      If we had better information about the number of concussions sustained at the youth level, I think it could be a real eye opener. I read an article about a program in the northeast that was buying all new equipment because last season they had 30 concussions using old equipment. Granted, they probably had a lot of children playing, but that still sounds like a lot of concussions.

      I don’t understand how some of the things done to children in youth sports don’t qualify as child endangerment.

      • Concerned mom,

        Unfortunately, many persons residing within our U.S. sport culture do not objectively and crtically reflect upon sport-related injuries.

        =========================================================

        The SPORT CULTURE in the U.S. often IDEALIZES sport participation & therefore uncritically accepts various types of sport injuries as part of the game…

        whether the injury be a sprained ankle, broken leg, a damaged brain or a death….and ignores all the inherent risks of particpation.

        Merely mouthing that “the benefits outweigh the risks” serves to shine a spotlight on biased perspspectives. Where is the bountiful research to support this premise?

        Thus, when some football advocates argue the sport creates physical health…

        may I suggest they honestly and objectively examine the immediate and long-term financial, physical, social and emotional costs of a sport-related injury to the particpant, family menbers and society.

        ===============================================================

        Concerned mom, there exits well written literature that has challenged “the benefits outweigh the risks” premise. Perusing the Sociology of Sports literature will uncover some very interesting pieces…some of which are noted below…and are excerpts from my 2004 Dissertation.
        ===============================================================

        Although proponents of sports in recent decades asserted that participation in sports enhances physical fitness and health, sports critics have argued to the contrary (Edwards, 1973; Guttman, 1988; McGregor, 1995; Nack 2001; Nixon, 1984).

        Guttman (1988) challenged the irony of the commonly accepted belief that participation in sports enhances physical development. He argued that closer examination of sports-related injury statistics had revealed the vast number of these injuries clearly reflected and documented the physical destruction of the athlete’s body for participation in sports.

        In addition, athletic participation for some persons would exacerbate a presenting medical problem or cause death (Moeller, 1996).

        Furthermore, it has been suggested that the injury rate found in sports was near epidemic proportions (Vinger & Horner, 1982; Smithers & Myers, 1985) and the number of concussions was also of epidemic proportion (Goldstein, 1990).

        Smithers and Myers (1985) particularly noted that, “although many injuries result from sporting activities, public awareness of the true size of this epidemic is lacking” (p. 457). These authors also viewed injuries as an obvious consequence of sports participation, and encouraged a closer examination of the cost of these injuries to the community

        Polin et al. (1989) concurred with the belief that there exists an inherent risk for the athlete of sustaining an injury while participating in sports. Smith (1986), discussing the probability of the occurrence of sports injury through participation in sports such as soccer, boxing, wrestling, rugby, and lacrosse, stated that “It is taken for granted that when one participates in these activities, one automatically accepts the inevitability of contact, the probability of minor modeling injury, and the possibility of serious injury” (p.223).

        Beyond Reporting Injury Statistics

        Clarke found that despite the existence of statistics compiled from various sports injury reports, injury rates had not been realistically questioned in earlier decades (Clarke, 1998). The author specifically argued in this statement that sports journalism lacked a critical assessment of injuries; he averred that “sports has escaped public attention to accompany injuries, and little ‘research-worthy’ data accompanied any declaration of causes solution of a problem that has been shared” (p.2).

        In reviewing sports history, Mandel (1984), also, pointed out that critical analysis of American sports was generally lacking. Emphasizing the need to more frequently scrutinize and question the descriptive presentation of sport data, he noted, “critique of American sport has been so feeble…But few protested….American sports analysis…remains overwhelmingly descriptive and appraising” (p. 28).

        In the following statement, Poirier and Wadsworth advocate for the need to move beyond a mere reporting of injury-related statistical data and thus critically examine the frequency of injury-occurrence and related player-safety issues: “Any sport has an inherent risk of injury. A balance must be reached between maintaining a competitive edge and ensuring participant safety” (p.278).

        Other sports critics have also expressed their perspectives pertaining to sports injuries (Tolpin & Bentkover, 1981; Torg et al., 1978; Van Mechelen, Hlobil, & Kemper, 1992).

        Torg et al. (1978) challenged the acceptance of sports injuries on the mere basis that, “they compare[…] favorably with the injury rates of other activities such as driving an automobile, auto racing, or motorcycling” (p. 1477). These authors also requested that injury problems be appropriately analyzed so that contributing variables could be addressed.

        Tolpin and Bentkover (1981) and Van Mechelen et al (1992) pointed out that the impact and treatment of various sports injuries resulted in significant personal, economic, and societal costs. Some of these injury-related costs included: (a) direct financial payments by the injured person, his/her family or insurance agency; (b) research designed to treat or prevent injuries; (c) reduced employment productivity; (d) legal and court expenses; and (e) the psychosocial impact on the athlete, the athlete’s family, and other athletes.

        A parallel view of significant sport injury risk was depicted in Dean and Hoerner’s (1981) findings that an individual has a 50% chance of being injured while actively involved in sports. Although the authors indicate many injuries are called “minor,” they also succinctly note, “all injury is damage.”

        These authors also posed an interesting question that they left unanswered: “What does society trade-off for these injuries and death” (p. 41).

      • A Concerned Mom August 12, 2012 at 11:40 #

        Dr. Brady,

        Thank you for providing such an informative response.

        My kids, especially my youngest, happen to enjoy playing sports (not all sports, but they each have a sport or two they enjoy). It’s unfortunate that as a society we can’t find a way for kids to be able to play a little soccer, basketball, or baseball without risking significant injury. It seems like kids are often pushed by adults to be overly aggressive, because the adults view those “killer instincts” or “do anything to win” traits as desirable. Often kids just want to play, yet some get pushed into participation at levels which result in overuse or other injuries.

        It’s amazing that with all the regulations and laws on the books, the only ones which seem to apply to youth sports, other than the newly enacted concussion laws, are the immunity laws. I don’t understand why there aren’t any rules regarding educational requirements for those operating a youth sports league along with various safety procedures which should be in place. The lack of oversight just doesn’t seem appropriate. Now that I know we haven’t been keeping track of injuries, I realize there’s no data behind the claims that the benefits out weigh the risks (neither have been fully identified, measured, etc.).

        I think we need some standards and that coahces (both paid and volunteers) need more guidance so they don’t unknowingly encourage kids to engage in activities which are likely to result in injury (like soccer coaches who have kids head the ball for 20 minutes in practice, or football coaches who have kids engage in repetitive hitting drills).

        Parents really need to keep things in perspective. Most kids will not go on to play sports in college or the professional leagues. Any participation in sports should be balanced with concerns for their long term health. Many parents assume that injuries at lower levels are less significant than they are for higher levels, but in reality children have growth plates and developing brains which can make them more susceptible to negative outcomes.

  5. IAmTheWolf January 31, 2014 at 05:25 #

    If people can realize the dangers to their own kids, the schools will take of the problem for them. The law suits will break the school budget. Letting high school kids play foot ball is like tell them they should drink, drive and text.

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