George Will on Football Injuries

Submitted by jdog on August 3rd, 2012 at 11:28 PM

Not a big fan of George Will, but here is his take on the growing issue of football-related injuries:


We are, however, rapidly reaching the point where playing football is like smoking cigarettes: The risks are well-known.




August 3rd, 2012 at 11:37 PM ^

Will's logic here is flawed. There are "known risks" in a lot of things people do...sports, sure (hockey, football, rugby, mma, boxing) carry very real risks for concussion, injury and permanent damage. At the same time, motorcycling carries "known risks" and in April of this year the state of Michigan passed a law repealing helmet use (apparently for tourism related reasons) statistically about a dozen Michigan citizens (or tourists) will die this year from accidents not wearing helmets.

Where does this all stop. If Will wants a nanny state he could move to Ontario.

turd ferguson

August 4th, 2012 at 12:25 AM ^

I agree, and the actual numbers matter. If football makes people twice as likely to develop dementia or other problems, that's bad, but given the probabilities are so low to begin with, it seems overly paternalistic to me to tell willing adults that they can't do it. Now, if 25% of former NFL players developed dementia, that kind of paternalism might be reasonable.

Just knowing that football makes it more likely that bad things will happen isn't enough. Driving cars makes us more likely to die prematurely, but should we stop doing that altogether?


August 4th, 2012 at 2:01 PM ^

I think you need to read the article more carefully or, more likely, realize that there are more than two options (those two options being, a) something is ok, or b) if it's not ok, we must have the government fix it).

Will is saying that football is dangerous. Will is strongly implying that sensible people should feel queasy watching football because of the danger.

Will is not saying that the government should step in and outlaw or regulate it.

I had another paragraph here, but because of politics being verboten on the board, I'll not go there. I'm just pointing out that Will is close to the last person in the media who wants a government nanny state, and just because he thinks something is not the best, does not at all mean he wants the government to fix it.


August 4th, 2012 at 4:11 PM ^

Not to mention leaving your house and walking down the is full of risks.  Some are more with taking than others, the big difference between smoking and football being that smoking does you zero good, while football brings joy and happiness to all it touches.

The goal should be to try and make football safer, not lump it in with smoking.

Zone Left

August 3rd, 2012 at 11:59 PM ^

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

This is very hard to deny. Like boxing, I think football may gradually decline in popularity as fewer and fewer people grow up playing the game. I love the game, but would be reluctant to let my (hypothetical) son play youth football. My wife, by the way, is adamantly against it and many of our friends feel the same way.


August 4th, 2012 at 10:46 AM ^

That the best sport on earth will see a quality decline because of this. I would have zero, absolutely zero, concern over letting my (hypothetical) son play. Of course I didn't put a helmet on my (actual) daughter's tricycle riding either, so maybe I'm callous. While I don't begrudge any parent making the choices for their own children, that is their right, I don't understand it at all and believe it is way overprotective. Yep, a kid can get hurt. but it is not the job of the parent IMO to protect a child from all possible injury. Now if my child got a bad concussion, I would re-think letting him play, because there is some evidence about that furthering the potential for more concussions. But otherwise, if he wanted to play, he plays. And I'd hurt for him if he got an injury, but as long as he wanted to continue, absolutely he can.


August 4th, 2012 at 4:51 PM ^

I understand the analogy but boxing and football are so far apart I don't think they're comparable.  Boxing is a sport whose stated objective is to punch a person until they're unable to get to their feet.  Football is rough but is also a team sport played from middle school through high school and in backyard pickup games and 2-3 person catches.  Yes more and more kids will stay out of organized football but the interest will not fade quickly like it did with boxing.


August 3rd, 2012 at 11:59 PM ^

Everybody chooses their own risk in life.  You can't compare the quality of life that being an NFL or even a college star can do for your life to smoking cigarettes.  Heart disease and fast food is the epidemic in this country, but that doesn't make for a good story. 


August 4th, 2012 at 9:41 AM ^

So far, only the NFL is being sued. What happens when an autopsy is performed on someone who only played college football and shows signficiant neurogical deficit and the university gets sued?  At this juncture, with the NFL's health issues out in the open, you can impute knowledge to universities.

The risks one takes in life may then have some different and potentially huge implications.

My take is that the "game" is going to have to change and changes won't be for the better.


August 4th, 2012 at 12:06 AM ^

I played 'real' football until I was 42 yrs old.  As much as I like hockey, and am proud to have played at Mich, there is no game more exciting to play than football.   Dangerous, sure.  But it's voluntary and as schembo said above, everybody chooses their own risks.  Grateful for my continued health, but I'd do it again in a nanosecond. 


August 4th, 2012 at 1:56 AM ^

and I played real football into our mid-20s. Then someone was ending up in the ED after every game. Teeth were getting damaged, bones broken, joints dislocated and the risk just became to great. But we had fun and at the end of the day we were almost too sore to get a beer fom the keg.

Life is risky. As adults we make our choices. The problem with George Will's argument is that kids don't have the life experience to make those choices. And minors are being put in a position by their uneducated decision (and that of their parents) to be potentially seriously injured. That's different than smoking.


August 4th, 2012 at 7:48 AM ^

By 'real' football, I mean full uniforms, referees, most of our starters played either pro ball and/or D-1 ball, anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 to see the games which were also televised on local channels about 90% of the time.   Our O-line averaged over 300 lbs, excluding myself as the puny 250 lb tight end.   Our opponents were much the same.  We did have an occassional injury to guys, but it would be something like a knee or smaller joint, no head trauma and nobody that I know who had these issues cited in G. Will's article.  Anyone curious can look up the league, which is called the NPSFL. 


August 4th, 2012 at 4:36 AM ^

I would like to see some real data and credible references in these articles. It is getting ridiculous. These writers cherry pick bits and pieces from studies and other articles to make things seem worse.

For example, George Will states that "Various unsurprising studies indicate high early mortality rates among linemen resulting from cardiovascular disease. For all players who play five or more years, life expectancy is less than 60; for linemen it is much less."

I  have several problems with this statement.

1. He leaves out the fact that these players have much lower mortality rates for cancer, diabetes, mental disorders, respiratory diseases, etc. Yes, these linemen might have higher incidences of caridovascular disease but that does not mean they are not healthier overall than the average man.

2. Will cites various unsurprising studies but does not mention any relevant information pertaining to the studies or actually cite a specific study.

3. The study that recently came out,

Body Mass Index, Playing Position, Race, and the Cardiovascular Mortality of Retired Professional Football Players American Journal of Cardiology
Volume 109, Issue 6 , Pages 889-896, 15 March 2012,

highlights the skewing of data by Will. This study includes over 3,000 retired NFL players from 1959-1988 and shows that NFL players have decreased overall mortality. Also interesting is that compared to the general population defensive linemen showed a 42% increase in mortality due to cardiovascular disease while offensive linemen showed no increase. So Will's "linemen" generalization isn't even correct.

4. Will is making a leap in logic here. He is attributing the increased mortality of linemen due to CVD to playing football. These linemen, like the general population, have increasing CVD problems with increasing BMI. Do we really believe that these giant men would be any smaller had they not played football? I would wager most of the linemen would be just as large had they not played football. Even if the players' BMI were a bit lower they would probably have much higher levels of body fat and body fat is the real indicator. 

I feel like I could go on but this post is getting long. I don't deny there are dangers and increased risks of certain injuries and disease for NFL players, but I hate the way these writers manipulate data/studies and exaggerate specific dangers while ignoring the health benefits of being a current or retired pro athlete.



August 4th, 2012 at 6:45 AM ^

George Will is a brilliant award winning author and commentator. He has a couple of good books about baseball but is best when sharing political insight.

He's probably right about football...but good luck George in trying to get an unbiased response in this forum. HaHa


August 4th, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

It is impossible for a human to be unbiased. Our life's experiences will always, no matter how hard we try,  color our judgments and opinions. Scientists are the best at minimizing bias but even they fall victim from time to time.

Will is a baseball slappy. His words on football matter little to me because he hasn't a clue of what he is talking about. That he won awards for baseball and political writing is irrelevant to a discussion about football and health. 

Section 1

August 4th, 2012 at 4:13 PM ^

It's actually much worse than that.  He's a Cubs fan.

Serisously; George Will seriously dislikes football and he has no use for college football.  That, my friends, is the risk of getting an otherwise superb education at Trinity College and MagdalenCollege, Oxford.  And apparently not enough of Princeton's glorious football history rubbed off on Will when he got his Ph.D there.

I love George Will's political writing.  But he's badly and uncharacteristically mistaken about college football.


August 4th, 2012 at 5:52 AM ^

They should do whatever they can to make it safer.

Sure we have hockey, smoking and no helmet laws. Let the player, smoker, rider choose you all say. But I buckle my seat belt and so do my kids.

And I'll never forget the dad's face at a high school hockey game when his son's scull was bleading out on the ice after a hard check.

Football is a violent game. I know enough former players that didn't let their sons play.

Forget the debate and let's all join the call to make it safer.


August 4th, 2012 at 2:02 PM ^

has been to *reduce* the padding and/or helmet usage, including anything from removing facemasks to removing helmets entirely.

The theory behind that argument is that improved safety equipment has changed the physics of the game and the risk calculations of the players, and that guys wouldn't launch themselves headfirst (or lead with the helmet so often) if they didn't think their padding would protect them from injury.

Not sure if I agree, but it's an interesting thesis.

Rugby and Aussie rules football, lacking such extensive padding, might provide an interesting data set for comparison.


August 4th, 2012 at 9:25 AM ^

I remember seeing a stand up comic (in his 50's) talking about how things have changed since he was a kid. He was so right when he said that when he was a kid their favorite outdoor activity was throwing rocks at each other.

snarling wolverine

August 4th, 2012 at 1:11 PM ^

Football is bigger than ever, in several senses. Bear Bryant’s 1966 undefeated Alabama team had only 19 players who weighed more than 200 pounds. The heaviest weighed 223. The linemen averaged 194. The quarterback weighed 177. Today, many high school teams are much bigger. In 1980, only three NFL players weighed 300 or more pounds. In 2011, according to, there were 352, including three 350-pounders. Thirty-one of the NFL’s 32 offensive lines averaged more than 300.

The elephant in the room is PEDs. No one wants to talk about it, but we know that drug-testing standards in the NCAA and NFL are quite lax, using outdated test methods on an infrequent basis. Football players are far larger than they were a generation ago, but we prefer not to think about how they get that big. How many of these long-term health issues are in fact due to PED abuse and not necessarily football itself?

Section 1

August 4th, 2012 at 5:14 PM ^

George Will... Knows so much about so many things, but has never actually done anything.  LOL 

Except earn degrees from Trinity and Oxford, a Ph.D. from Princeton, author 13 books and win a Pulitzer Prize.