Blows to the Head

Today I read an article by Malcomb Gladwell entitled “Offensive Play” How Different are Dogfighting and Football? In the article he describes how dog owners send the dogs back into the fight, despite serious injuries. Those dogs that are willing to fight through the pain and trauma are referred to as “gamers”. Likewise, in Football, those who are willing to sustain injury and get back into the game, are often applauded for their tenacity and strength.

He described some new scientific findings that confirm how repeated blows to the head lead to serious problems.

This is now really news of course, but it adds to the pile of evidence that continues to mount concerning the topic. The comparison with Dogfighting and the detailing of Michael Vick’s actions makes an interesting comparison and a compelling article.

Of course, people frequently engage in reckless behavior which will ultimately lead to health problems and or a shortening of their lifespan. They don’t even need the allure of money and fame to be tempted. Long before their was money and fame to be had in professional football, men played the sport. I personally believe that these days, every NFL football player is keenly aware of the statistics and head injury information outlined in the article. I am also not so cynical as to believe the NFL doesn’t care.  I think they are very concerned on moral grounds and in the interest of preserving their sport/business.  If I remember right, Steve Young (QB of the San Francisco 49ers) retired MANY YEARS AGO and earlier than people expected precisely because he was concerned about repeated blows to the head. He wanted to make sure he had long and dementia free life after football. Time will tell if he quit in time.

Ironically, it may be that the development of more advanced helmets with facemasks, has done more to increase head injury within the sport because of how it sped up the game, allowing for more speedy and violent collisions. As far as I know, the brain does not have pain receptors, but the surface of the skull does. A desire to avoid the pain of getting whomped in the head, may be the best protection for the brain. What is, after all, pain for?

What I would like to see, is a comparison of head injury statistics from Australian Football and Rugby (where their headgear is minimal to none) as compared to the NFL.

On a personal note, I played football beginning in Elementary school through High School. I did not play in College. I certainly had my bell run on the football field from time to time but the only memorable–visit the hospital type–of concussion came on the BASEBALL diamond. I’ll spare you the details. They called it a mild concussion in the newspaper the next day. (Yeah right!)

I think of myself as a generally safe and cautious person. I wonder what I would have done, if, in my youth, I would have read an article like Malcomb Gladwell’s. I wonder if I would have taken a pass, on football, or been compelled, with that youthful desire to test one’s mettle against others and be part of an athletic team, to participate in the face of this strong scientifically based concern. I don’t know, but I am glad that my children included football. Times have changed and are changing. It’s a good thing. We’re getting smarter, but it’s difficult to hold back the tide of our biology compelling us to “act out” through sports that may ultimately be detrimental to our well being.

By the way, is a Marathon good for one’s health? 🙂 How about a half marathon?

Well, while we get this all figured out, eat right, exercise regularly, and avoid banging your head.

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