Malcolm Gladwell and His Thoughts on Football and the need for AT’s


Malcolm Gladwell is an accomplished author, in fact I find his book “Blink” as one of the most influential in my little world.  He has spoken out against the dangers of football even comparing it to dog-fighting, but through all the hyperbole there are some very valid and astute points that need to be listened to.

Kathy Waldman did and interview with Gladwell and wrote it up for Slate on Monday.  Here I will highlight the most striking Q and A’s, you can read the entire article HERE.

Slate: What do you think is the single most compelling reason to abolish college football? Corruption? Head injury? Lost focus on academics?

Malcolm Gladwell: The factor that I think will be decisive is the head-injury issue. Colleges are going to get sued, and they will have to decide whether they can afford their legal exposure. That said, the issue ought to be how big-time college sports subverts the academic mission of university education.

If it becomes a problem at the college level, what does that say about the lower levels?  I agree that head-injury issue is the biggest factor yet unknown to the football world.  However, I also believe that proper systems and oversight can help mitigate the risk enough that it still can be played.  The biggest issue being that of athletic trainers on the sideline and at all contact practices.  If a school cannot afford to have the oversight of a medical professional – one that is educated and bread for just this – then can you really afford to continue to expose that many people to the inherent risk?

Slate: Is unacceptable risk intrinsic to football, or could rule changes and equipment modifications salvage the game?

Gladwell: You can certainly mitigate the risk. But remember the issue isn’t concussions. It is “repetitive subconcussive impact.” It’s not the one big hit. It is the cumulative effect of thousands of little hits that lineman and defensive backs (the most affected positions) endure, play after play. Can you take the “head” out of line play? You can. But then what you are left with would no longer be called tackle football. It would be called touch football.

Listen, concussions will continue even if there is flag or touch football, they happen at alarming rates in cheerleading and other “non-collision” sports like soccer.  The elephant in the room is not the injury rather the management and the overall process of the concussive episode.  That is why there is a dire need for athletic trainers to be at any school/organization that chooses to participate in any risky sport.

What is the cost of a ruined life due to  misidentification and mismanagement of concussion?  I can certainly tell you the cost of an athletic trainer is MUCH less.  Yes, not every concussion nor injury will be found by an athletic trainer, I can attest to that, however there will be plenty of situations that the athletic trainer will provide much-needed help.  Heck AT’s have even been known to save vast amounts of LIVES with use of AED’s and cooling techniques in oppressive heat situations.

Yes we athletic trainers can do this.

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7 thoughts on “Malcolm Gladwell and His Thoughts on Football and the need for AT’s

  1. Educator Mom May 2, 2012 / 14:34

    “What is the cost of a ruined life due to misidentification and mismanagement of concussion?” That question sure did ring true as I, as a parent, have been moving from “when my son completely recovers” to “if my son completely recovers”. The cost he will pay and is paying cannot even be summed up in words. I can tell you that part of me will always wonder how his life would be different if a qualified and trained AT or other person had been at that wrestling meet. Would they have pulled him from the match after the first trauma to the head? And would his life be different now? Instead it took three blows to the head before the ref decided that the match should not continue. As a teacher, I hear the phrase “what’s best for kids” on a regular basis. How can that phrase be any less important on a field, a court, or a mat? The cost of not having that trained person there to look out for their best interest is far too high but I’m not sure that people will understand that until they have walked this journey.

    • A Concerned Mom May 2, 2012 / 15:44

      Unfortunately, I’ve also found that people don’t understand. What bothers me the most, is that if I had been provided with concussion information when I signed my son up, he either never would have made it on to the practice field or he would have been pulled off that field long before he was injured. To allow young athletes to compete in high contact and collision sports without providing them and their parents with information on concussions is inexcusable as far as I’m concerned. And, I agree, athletic trainers need to be at these events as well as practices. Coaches and refs should have concussion training, but you can’t expect non-medically trained personnel to diagnose brain injuries – they’re sure to miss some.

      There are stories of other young athletes who had extended recoveries. I don’t know if it would be helpful for you to read any of those. The Sports Concussion Library (link under worth surfing) includes testimonials, and MomsTeam recently produced a series of articles and videos about a 15-year-old’s extended recovery (Moms Team is under “links”).

      Thanks to Dustin for providing this blog, when I started to have questions and concerns about my son’s lingering symptoms, I was very grateful to find this site, MomsTeam, and the Sports Concussion Library. There are good people who’ve been working on this issue for a number of years. It’s unfortunate that schools aren’t being more proactive, because students are sustaining serious injuries and often face difficult recoveries due to their lack of responsiveness (multiple hits, continuing to play after being injured, lack of appropriate accommodations, etc.).

      • Educator Mom May 2, 2012 / 16:47

        I completely agree that parents and athletes also need to offered the opportunity to be educated on concussions. They need to be aware in order to make the best decisions possible for themselves and their children and also to support athletic trainers and coaches in making the decision to sit an athlete out. At the time of my son’s injury, this was official state high school league protocol but it was not followed through on. Now this is law, and I still don’t see it being followed through on.

  2. A Concerned Mom May 2, 2012 / 15:16

    From the comments section of the linked article (it’s worth reading the entire comment by Coach X)

    “Over the past two years, I’ve lost eight or nine 4th, 5th and 6th graders to concussions. Most were out only a week. One player was out for ½ the season, was frequently dizzy and nauseous. Another was unable to read, look at screens or go to school for three months.”

  3. A Concerned Mom May 2, 2012 / 18:27

    http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/Treatment-helping-boy-handle-debillitating-concussion-149771385.html

    “His mom Eileen said Nate was playing lacrosse at school in the Seattle area when a big defender whacked him over the head as he headed to the goal with the ball.

    “Nate went down, he got dizzy, stood up,” Eileen Geller said. “He got dizzy and fell down again.”

    “I remember getting up and falling down, and then attempting to play the game,” Nate Geller said.”

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