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Sunday, 22 March 2015


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Stadium First Aid Station-

Throughout this controversy about football related injuries there has been no mention of boxing injuries. Shouldn't professional boxers be wearing protective head gear? The injuries from that "sport" are not being widely discussed because there are relatively fewer participants, but the incidence and severity of brain and eye injuries are significant.

The issues of long term physical, and particularly brain, damage in football and the intersection of the culture of toughness with very real dangers is rather well explored in the play "Xs and Os: A love Story".

About 80% of the words are directly taken from interviews with participants, support personnel and families, and so have particular human resonance. They are not all on any particular side, although end up overall on the side against continuing football as it is now played - or is that my bias coloring what I was?

Imagine that it covers pretty much all that Mr. Borland went through in coming to his decision.

I was quite surprised that my wife, who knows nothing about 'Murkin football but that she hates it, really enjoyed the play, more than I did, in fact. She was the one who pointed out to me what Mr. Borland had done.

I have no personal stake in this, as I stopped watching many years ago. Just lost interest in virtually all spectator sports.

I grew up on a ranch outside a small town in West Texas. A SMALL town! Counting those who lived in rural areas of the county and the town itself I doubt there were more than 800 people. Football was KING! and got started seriously in middle school. Although I got to play informal games, which were rough enough- no uniforms, no pads, no referees, no fields- just rocky fields my father would never let me play organized football in school because he believed it was two dangerous. This was a man who lied about his age to enlist in WWII. I remember one day in about 1962 the high school coach came out to the ranch where my father was working, said hi to me and started talking to my father about how important it was to the school and community for me to play football. I remember ( but didn't understand at the time how he spent a lot of time telling my father how few jobs there were in the county) My father had some words very close to him which I couldn't hear and he left. I never played football. My 13 year old daughter is very good at soccer, lives and breathes it- and I wonder sometimes if I'm doing the right thing by letting her play? I wish my father was still here so I could ask his opinion.

We as a society say we support whistleblowers, just as we support living by The Golden Rule. In reality, since whistleblowers defy the prevailing political and economic status quo- society rejects, ostracizes, and frequently criminalizes them. If they were treated as the heroes they are, their numbers would increase, and society profit as a whole from their contributions.

Ellsberg, Gary Webb, Tom Drake, Susan Lindauer, Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson, Carmen Segarra, Diane Roark, Snowden, Manning... all vilified and persecuted for speaking truth to power.

I'm a Pediatrician in my day job. Recently, a columnist for a Pediatric 'Throw Away' Journal (a publication that is supported by drug company ads and thus provides suspect information) asked "Would you let your son play football?"

The whole issue of concussion and immediate as well as long term brain damage is hotly debated in medical circles, and for good reason. How can one do research on brain injuries (care to volunteer to be hit in the head in the interest of science)?

I've practiced for 35 years and have observed the inevitable change in most of my patients from Soccer to American Football as they approach puberty, despite the former being safer and far better exercise. If I ask they why in front of their parents, it's because they admire the local pro teams, etc. Out of the parents' earshot it's a different story: "I want to hit people."

One of my former patients got a free ride scholarship to a division 3 school. He wasn't going to the NFL and knew it, but a free education in engineering seemed like a good deal... until he had a major concussion in practice in his Freshman year, and had to drop out of school. He could no longer do science and math courses.

A couple of my patients' dads who are youth or high school footbal coaches have advocated banning all the protective gear that make the kids feel fearless. They point out that Rugby is violent as well but produces far fewer concussions.

I'd add to that random drug testing for steroids in high school. Many players at that level weigh so much that their hits are far more forceful than the lighter players in earlier days.

So my answer to the question, would I let my son (or grandson, if I have any say in the matter) play football, the answer would be "no."

As an aside, the problem may well solve itself in a typically American manner. I have been told by parents on the boards of local youth football leagues that it's starting to be difficult to get liability insurance. The same may happen to the schools in the future. If so, that could be the end of football as we know it.

I played football in ninth and tenth grades, and then quit, for the simple reason that I didn't like it (I was a guard. I never got to see what was going on, got no glory, got screamed at in practice and beaten up during the games. What was there to like?)

However, I do think football is the most interesting and compelling sport, and the most intellectual of sports, except possibly for golf. What other sports (than those two) are fundamentally based on conscious decisions, rather than reaction? We saw a beautiful example of that in the decision that lost this past Super Bowl.

However, there's no question that many people get serious brain injuries playing football, and that there's almost no way to prevent them. Better helmets may help somewhat, but brain injuries are still going to happen -- and in fact, may be endemic. I think part of the decline in boxing, which was a huge sport in my youth, comes from the realization that the sport inevitably does damage to the brain. I'm not sure of this, but I believe that Howard Cosell, one of the most famous fight sportscasters of all time, repudiated the sport in the end, though he loved it, because of the damage he saw done.

Football may eventually go the same way -- more and more thoughtful parents, with talented kids, refusing to allow the kids to play football.

I don't however, put Borland's decision in the same category as whistle-blowers, or people who "talk truth to power" (whatever that means.) It was purely self interest, and god bless him. I quit football not because I thought it was especially dangerous, though I saw people get hurt, but because I felt my job in it was boring, stupid, time-wasting and occasionally painful. If I'd known then what we know now about brain injuries, I never would have even considered it.

It must be nice to be able to retire at 24! What kind of multi-million dollar contract did he get when he signed up? There's a lot of folks who would retire if there wasn't mouths to feed.
Thank The lord and FDR for Social Security.

50 years ago as a freshman in high school I quit football after being knocked unconscious. It was probably the best decision I ever made. I am now 66 years old, an active professor of biochemistry at a major research university and I travel all over the world enjoying photography. I wonder how much I would have lost just from playing that one dumb sport. In this country the emphasis on football in high school, college and beyond is way over the top!

Team Sports, in general, are bad for your he healt. My son, the AYSO soccer goalie, was knocked unconscious twice, and broke both of his ankles.

As dangerous as American Football is, more people die in horseback riding accidents (LATimes, about 20 years ago). And well to do parents keep buying their daughters horses.

Team Sports, as a general interest is fine, i.e. co-ed slow pitch softball, flag football, etc. But an obsession with Pro Stick & Ball Sports isn't, as either a fan or participant. A fan is better served, health wise, playing playing pick up Basketball, and a full ride college player should use his paid for education to get a real job.

It takes alotta guts to walk away from BIG money, like Chris Borland did. Congratulations, on a good decision!

ESPN (2013) ...

A panel of medical experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences analyzed a series of academic studies, with the most recent showing that college football players suffer concussions at a rate of 6.3 concussions per 10,000 "athletic exposures" -- each exposure representing a practice or game. For high school football players, the comparable figure is 11.2.


And then there are knees, ankles, shoulders, necks, fingers and long bones.

Waylon Jennings ...
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys
[ ... ]
Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such

Don't let 'em grow up playing football either.

What, no mention about the two big new announcements in camera world, Canon 5Ds and Nikon stainless steel hot shoe covers? Instead Mike talks about football.
I have a feeling that American office work is quite competitive and people 'use their elbows' to get ahead, much more so than in Europe or Asia. Just my observation from working more than 20 years in multicultural offices and as management consultant. I have always believed this is in large part due to the emphasis in sports in American society in general and school and university life in particular.

Borland did not get a big contract. He had played one year on a rookie contract which is fairly moderate by NFL standards. He played well enough to probably do well for himself in a year or two, but decided to step away from the money anyway.

So he retired *from football* but he did not retire in the sense that the word is commonly used.

An article on Borland's earning from playing with the 49ers-

Hit total take is $730,00. He is returning 3/4 of his signing bonus because he only played one year of a four-year contract. His goal is not to retire; it is to go back to school and work in another field.

It would be interesting to compare helmet- and pad-less Rugby brain injuries to American Football, where the required protective gear costs several hundred, if not thousands of dollars.

Perhaps the safety equipment instills a false sense of invulnerability? I certainly don't consider Rugby players to be any less aggressive but their self preservation instincts may save them from the more severe head and spine injuries (while still leaving plenty of opportunities for broken bones, sprains, and tears....)

“He’s going to take flak, but when you’re a middle linebacker you don’t go around asking people what you should do. You just do it.” Former 49’ers linebacker Dan Bunz on Chris Borland’s decision. I love that quote, it was on the website of the local San Francisco paper.

I was talking with a client who was an educator. She was glad her daughter was on the swim team in hight school because her daughter, “went to bed tired.” She thought that it was good for her daughter’s emotional and mental state as a teenager, and I agree. I also think that one or two years of being in top physical condition as a teenager makes a positive contribution to physical health all through life.

I agree with you that tackle football is not a good way for kids to get their exercise and their lessons in teamwork, winning, and losing. Picking a sport or physical discipline to encourage a kid in is not easy. Injuries happen in any physical sport or activity. I think it’s important to be aware of the type and frequency of injuries in any sport or activity. I’m glad fans and parents are becoming more aware of what happens to people who play football a lot.

I wrestled in high school. I liked the sport but it has it’s drawbacks. I think the really good athletes trying to stay in a lower weight division end up being shorter and smaller than they would be if they didn’t wrestle.

Later in life I hung out at an Aikido dojo for a while. I liked a lot of what they did there. I was familiar with the way they used leverage from my wrestling experience. But relying on leverage can lead to dislocated collarbones, shoulders, hips. A lot of the really good, long term Aikido practitioners had been through these injuries, which can be very painful and take a year or more to recover from. I decided Aikido wan’t for me.

I have to admit, as an Aussie I don't get American football. Then again I don't get rugby either as I grew up with Aussie Rules. Even though I played it briefly at school though, that doesn't mean that I enjoy watching that either. Interestingly, Aussie Rules apparently started out in the suburbs of Melbourne as a way to give suburban gangs an outlet against the "opposition". These types of team sports are thinly disguised tribalism and as unlikely as it is to happen I would like to see humans evolve beyond it.

If you want a sport that actually is positively good for your brain at any age, rather than concussing it, try table tennis!

Many of the things we like about sports are destroyed by money. I can tell you exactly the last time I watched a pro tennis tournament. I think it was at the US Open, but don't know which year, but at one point, John McEnroe threw a temper tantrum at a line call that lasted quite a long time. He was hurling vicious abuse at the person who had made the call. Then I heard one of the play-by-play network guys say that, actually, McEnroe was the best-placed person to see where the ball had hit the ground. Leaving aside McEnroe's bias as one of the competitors, it's far from clear that he really does have the best view. But I was amazed that a play-by-play analyst would, instead of criticizing the unseemly temper tantrum, actually seemed to be taking sides. Silly of me, in hindsight, to think that sports broadcasters should abide by journalistic standards, but it insulted me nonetheless. Big money corrupts what sports is supposed to be, imo, and over the years I stopped watching almost all pro sports.

I suppose you are correct in saying that you can't blame the organizing league if adults choose to play in the NFL. I am not 100% convinced of that argument but neither can I come up with a good counter-argument.

My nephew played quarterback in high school but quit his college team. His hyped-up steroid-deformed team mates openly talked about injuring the opposing teams' quarterbacks. He figured all the other teams were the same so he quit. Not many 19-20 year olds have that kind of independence of thought.

I don't know that people even realize that these kinds of brain injuries - even the "minor" ones, increase the risk/severity/onset of things like Alzheimers in later life. Any additional damage subtracts from your reserves*, so if (or when) you suffer from some form of dementia in later life, it can be the difference between living to 98 and having it onset at 99, vs. living to 98 and have it onset at 80.

I've spent a lot of time with a pair of really nice people who are in their 90's, and I have to report that if you take care of your head, you can be damn sharp. (Can be, not will be. No guarentees.) And, that if you don't, you won't. Don't sell short the notion of living with joy in your very old age. I guarantee you, if you make it to 90, you'll want to keep living with the same gusto as you had when you were 40.

*you can make deposits, though. Learn new things, meet new people, go places, do new things, keep your heart exercised, and keep some sense of control over your life. Staying flexible doesn't do anything for your brain, but it's sure nice to be able to bend down to tie your shoes without falling over.

I admire Borland for his decision and, equally, for the unaccusatory style in which he made his announcement. Bravo, Mr. Borland .

American pro football (NFL) is the only spectator sport I've followed with any consistency since I was a boy. Baseball and basketball have fallen by my wayside decades ago. I suspect that the NFL will be thriving for the rest of my watching years...but not much longer. Insurance underwriters will likely cut off the supply of players to the NFL.

Concussions. Until you've had a bad one, you can't really understand how serious they are. After all, we've seen guys temporarily "knocked out" in movies with a blow to the head and they get up after a few minutes and continue with their heroism.

Until 2013 I was a fanatic cyclist. I would cycle 3-5000 miles per year, year round. I studied every book I could on racing and cycling fitness even though I rarely raced since coming to Japan 15 years ago.

In 2012-2013, I was in 2 accidents that resulted in concussion. The first time my 2+year old handlebar snapped at around 25 mph. I lost control (had no idea what had just happened) and headed downhill toward a busy highway. Fortunately there was a chainlink fence between me and the highway. I hit it at an angle but went into it head first. I stumbled up after a few minutes, and as all true cyclists, checked my bike for damage. 'Twas pretty bad. The damage to my brain was not so obvious until later that day when I started getting headaches. A trip to the doctor proved what I suspected. I spent the night with my then wife (to her great annoyance) waking me up every hour just to see if I could wake up.

Several months later, I was in another at a very low speed. I had slowed almost to a stop to avoid a women who let the wind blow her bicycle right into my lane. I didn't wanna go over a steep bank and had practiced falling correctly for years, so I figured I would just swerve to avoid her then lay it down. Yep. On my right shoulder as I wanted. My shoulder stopped on the road with no injury, but my helmeted head kept going. I remember thinking how surprisingly hard the impact was at such low speed. When I got up, I was wobbling and dazed, as well as lacking in common sense as I road the final 2-3 miles back home. A trip to the doctor again confirmed a concussion. This one, however, left me in a fog for at least a week. I just could not clear my head, it seemed.

I learned from those, that although no injury is fun, a brain injury is much, much worse.I could get along with a broken arm, or even one arm if I had to, but getting along with a damaged brain is something I would never want to have to do.

I also learned while some folks debate the effectiveness of helmets, I don't. I saw the damage to the two different ones I had worn wore in the accidents, and have no doubt the damage to them was much better on them than to my skull. And also. when manufacturers (used to?) warn cyclists to replace their aluminum bars every 2 years if used heavily, they aren't joking.

I have to respect a man like Borland, who at his young age realized the seriousness of the risk of brain injuries. It may look like he gave up a lot short-term, but he just may have gained years of health.

Mixed feelings on this one. You can't exactly criticize someone because he doesn't want to do something. Just not convinced his reasoning is that sound. I wonder if it's as much about a lack of real passion to play football as it is concern about not feeling well at some undefined future time. He's young, I wonder if he really appreciates the opportunity he was handed with the ability to play football at the professional level. Its kind of like the winning lottery ticket if you stay with it for 8 or 10 years, not that long. Very unlikely he gets such a chance in a second profession.

The story of the trucker carrying formaldehyde in his milk tanker is probably apocryphal. Having worked with formaldehyde preserved tissue for many years, I'm pretty sure any tanker filled with this chemical would impart the taste and smell to other contents for ever and a day despite any kind of cleaning.

I completely agree that if a grown man wants to play pro sports, full-well knowing the possible outcomes, that's his business.

I will also say that we're routinely taught to toss any motorcycle helmet after even low speed impacts, even a fall to the floor if it's knocked off a high place at home while not being worn. These are way more high-tech than the average football helmet, and yet football players bang them over and over and over for a season or more. Makes me very nervous . . . .

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