Economist Article About Dangers of Football (YTF) - Surprisingly Not OT

Submitted by maizeonblueaction on July 31st, 2013 at 2:05 PM

This is a rebuttal to the whole Malcolm Gladwell claim that football is like dogfighting, and how (surprise!) football players are not dogs and can make their own decisions, just like people who decide to join the military and drive cars (both of which are much more dangerous than football and have cultural reasons too).


One Inch Woody…

July 31st, 2013 at 2:23 PM ^

Football is inane and boring? Wtf? I have a problem with someone who obviously has no idea how the game works trying to rebut another person who has no idea how the game works. Lets get some real thoughtful argument going instead of apathetic spectators


July 31st, 2013 at 2:28 PM ^

I would think the logical evaluation would be done amongst people who are bored by the sport.  Not sure there are many football fans who would decide to ban the game.  I do agree with the Economist article.  Way too much protecting us from ourselves thing going on these days.  I don't drink pop, but if I want a 100oz Coke in NYC, I damn well better be able to buy it.


July 31st, 2013 at 2:30 PM ^

I'm curious, has anyone seen research supporting the idea that players who quit football after college suffer from the same long-term health consequences as the pros? I'm under the impression the types of health concerns leading to all these rule changes take years to develop, and so mostly affect pros, who are extremely well paid to take such health risks. I don't understand why the media are suddenly up in arms about football players' safety and not talking about all of the other dangerous professions. No one's calling for an end to Alaskan crab fishing, even though the people on Deadliest Catch risk their lives for our entertainment and so we can all enjoy crab, and make a hell of a lot less than the worst-paid pro football player. I understand the desire to protect college players, who are unpaid, but is there any research showing that they're in danger of long-term neurological issues?   


July 31st, 2013 at 4:49 PM ^

There was Owen Thomas who played for Penn. He hung himself his senior year, and his autopsy revealed that he had CTE. [LINK]

I don't know if there have been any other college players who have been shown to have the same level of brain trauma since, but Thomas made headlines for being the first to show this level of damage at the college level.

Creedence Tapes

July 31st, 2013 at 2:32 PM ^

I love football and I'm obviously interested in the sport continuing as it is for selfish reasons, however the full effects of head injuries are still not fully understood, and only recently has the level of concern regarding head injuries risen to the point that it is at least discussed. Seeing how people are still studying the issue, how can you say that "football players know what they are getting into"? It seems nobody really understands the full effects yet, and if new information comes to light, it should be considered. We don't know definitively yet, so perhaps it would be good to withhold judgement and sweeping declarations until the issue is better understood.

Ali G Bomaye

July 31st, 2013 at 3:22 PM ^

We definitely don't know all the long-term impacts of concussions, or their likelihood.  And it seems likely that in the past, players may not have known of all the dangers of concussions and repeated sub-concussive impacts.  But I don't think there's any doubt that most people who choose to play football beyond the high school level are at least somewhat aware that they're taking a risk by doing so, and that getting hit in the head is not good.


July 31st, 2013 at 3:46 PM ^

that the concussion lawsuit being brought against the NCAA includes a female soccer player, and college hockey players. I met a little league player who was held out half the season due to concussions. Football has become the scapegoat for a broader problem: until now we didn't understand the effects of concussions and how dangerous it is to continue playing with one. Also, the ethos of coaches and players were that of tough it out and get back in the game in many sports.

Have they banned heading the soccer ball yet? no Have they made rules ejecting or fining pitchers for accidental bean balls? no How about better hockey, lacrosse, and baseball helmets? eh, not so much Have they banned jumping off the floor in basketball? no

Then there is the whole Clowney hit debate. Was it a "legal" hit? Most say yes (including Brady Hoke). Should a player be hit that hard? Therein lies the question.



July 31st, 2013 at 2:58 PM ^

likes to make sensationalist claims which appeals to those ignorant that correlation is not causation. When confronted, he usually backtracks to safer ground. To some extent, provocative opinions are useful in that they drive real research to answer the question. I'm just not a fan of Gladwell, though...


July 31st, 2013 at 3:22 PM ^

This article lost me on this false statement:

"But, as it happens, small boys can't actually hit each other very hard, and the risk of serious head injury is not very considerable until the little whippersnappers pack on enough mass to really rattle one another."

This is a terribly incorrect statement. Kids have concussions just like everyone else, and their brains are at much more fragile stages of development than adults, just as their muscles to stabilize their head in protection against concussions are also much less developed.

My 10-year old nephew recently had 3 concussions within a year, two from football and one from soccer. The first went undiagnosed and made him much more susceptible to the following two concussions. With proper identification and rest, he could have easily recovered after the first one.

NFL and college players have the right and freedom to make the decisions to play this game.

I, however, want to stand up for  all the kids in grade school, junior high and high school who don't understand concussions. They may be at the whim of being educated about concussions by people who have a similar tone to the article linked in this post. When dealing with the millions of children that play contact sports (not just football) year round, we, as the mature adults, need to have a much wider perspective.

We can help educate children and teenagers about what concussions are so that they can make better decisions for their own health. Kids are completely capable to understand consequences if they are taught about them... We all knew when we were very young that having a neck injury is a terrible occurence which must be delicately handled. Only in the last decade have we started to realize we need to emphasize the same concern and education about head injuries.


July 31st, 2013 at 3:46 PM ^

I've been suspicious of Gladewell ever since he told me in one of his books that the only reason I was good at hockey, which I was, is because I was born in February way before the age cutoff date.


July 31st, 2013 at 3:52 PM ^

I wonder what the percentage is of professional performing artists who wind up with debilitating addictions to various drugs, or at the very least end up totally unable to have stable relationships with other humans. Higher or lower than the percentage of pro football players who end up with debilitating head injury?

In both cases you have a highly glorified industry populated by professionals who began at a young age. In both cases the top names usually rapidly wind up with a degree of wealth they aren't accustomed to handling responsibly. In both cases the prevailing culture tends to encourage harmful negative behavior (big hits replayed constantly for football and tabloid fame for bad boys of rock and roll).

So why aren't we calling Billy Ray Cyrus a moral Michael Vick?


July 31st, 2013 at 4:57 PM ^

I like the idea but disagree. Public schools coach football players from age 14 how to hit hard and hurt each other. You may play football and avoid injury, but you won't avoid the hits that may cause injury.

Drugs are not UNAVOIDABLE in the arts. High correlation? Sure. But it's not ingrained in the activity like hard hits are ingrained in football. 

Said another way - our schools aren't teaching performing arts students how to do drugs (well except Community High in AA...)


July 31st, 2013 at 5:48 PM ^

I sort of agree, but I guess my metaphor is a little more meta - I'm not saying, necessarily, that hitting a running back = hitting a crack pipe. I'm looking more at the rate outcomes due to a culture that encourages risky behavior. Not every pro football player suffers CTE to the point it visibly impacts their life, and not every rocker gets addicted to smack. But every football player is subject to tackling, and every rocker gets at least exposed to a risky fast and hard lifestyle, from others in the biz if not from themselves. I'd argue that a culture of drug use and other risky / antisocial behavior IS ingrained in some performing activities just as much as hitting in football (obviously the community orchestra probably doesn't have a huge drug culture, but most big time touring acts seem to. Plus there's things like ballet, where eating disorders and other body destroying activities basically are required to participate at a high level).

Anyway, just thought it was interesting that there's another form of entertainment that seems to result in a higher than normal percentage of destroyed lives but seems to be thought of differently. I think its an interesting analogy because both activities are "frivolous" in the sense that society doesn't need them in the way that we need fishermen, farmers, miners, and soldiers.


July 31st, 2013 at 4:47 PM ^

Today, however I am enlightened. I am going to begin working to ban truly dangerous occupations. I think I will start with farming. Not only is it statistically dangerous, children are employed as laborers, so I can work in "but think of the chilllllllllllldren". 

To everyone above with single data points - please be aware that you hate me.


July 31st, 2013 at 5:49 PM ^

I agree with the author's sentiments for the most part.  Adults, and even minors in many cases, should be free to take some risks in life.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, is risk-free.  And doing nothing may lower many risks but causes you to atrophy and decay.  Everything is a balance of risks and rewards.  Our overly litigious society continues to erode our freedoms in the name of an impossible risk-free perfect world.

I do think, however, that there's a good case for ensuring that minors are not taking undue risks likely to cause permanent damage.

The author did lose a lot of credibility by calling American football "inane and boring" and inferior to soccer/international football.  Anybody with a brain would realize that soccer is the most boring sport, possibly the most boring activity, on the planet.   No yards gained, no first downs, no turnovers, no big plays, and many 0-0 ties or 1-0 mind-numbing contests.  Some games are literally as exciting as watching grass grow.  No wonder there are so many "soccer hooligans."  After even a few minutes of such soul-killing boredom, I might lose my sanity and become violent.  American football, on the other hand, is arguably the most exciting sport on the planet with great athleticism and dramatic direct physical competition.    There's usually a good amount of scoring and important plays/turning points throughout the game but not too much to make it routine.  It's not even a close call.  It's the polar opposite of soccer.


July 31st, 2013 at 6:33 PM ^

Interesting points all of them.  Something else I am surprised nobody has picked up on: is it just me or are there very few statistically sound arguments showing the danger of football concussions / CTE?  All I have seen, for the most part, is 'player xyz killed himself and it was later found that he had CTE, ergo football is too dangerous and should be massively modified/banned.'  This tells me nothing, the main problem being that it entirely ignores the base rate of non-football players killing themselves (and developing CTE, for that matter).  In fact I have seen studies that show that in fact NFL players are no more likely to kill themselves than normal folks, in spite of the fact that they are exposed frequently to rapidly gaining and then subsequently relinquishing fame (and often money). 

Which is a particularly long way of saying all the citations against football are more anecdotal and short on statistical support.


July 31st, 2013 at 7:45 PM ^

This is a common issue in medical research when a new problem or disease arise. There are initial case reports of a problem, which lead to case series, which lead to larger studies. In the interim, it is easy to point out that "there isn't enough evidence" but that doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist, merely that there hasn't been enough evidence (yet) to prove it. In the meantime, reasonable precautions are usually recommended until more evidence is collected. For CTE in particular, this will take time because it is a pathologic diagnosis of the brain rather than a blood test.


July 31st, 2013 at 9:29 PM ^

Just that more evidence is needed. Which is true.

In the meantime, though, there is clearly an entity (CTE) which has been found histopathologically in athletes where it would not otherwise be expected in similarly aged non-athletes. Getting back to my problem with Gladwell, we don't really have cause and effect and as you noted we don't really have correlation either. But, it is prudent to be extremely cautious about repetitive head injury, and especially concussions, at present. I think we agree on that.