What Are We Rooting For?

Two thousand years ago in Rome it was fashionable to watch men fight each other and animals to the death. The Coliseum in Rome sat about 50,000 people, a bit more than modern Yankee Stadium, but presumably without all of the luxury boxes. I bring this up because I am wondering exactly what we are watching today when we flip on or attend a football game? I don’t believe anyone has ever died playing in a football game, but as the news today of Junior Seau’s brain study reminds us, there is an awful toll on some of the players in them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love football. I played it for a few years and I have watched countless hours of it on TV and in the stands. I am as guilty as anyone for the glorification of the sport. But these continuing stories of severe brain damage in former players are making me question my devotion. No, I don’t expect to stop watching the Giants next year, but I am not feeling as enthusiastic as I once did.

The scary thing to me is how much is unknown. Seau became a star in the NFL and went through thousands of practices and games. He played linebacker, one of the most violent positions in the game. Was that the trigger for his CTE, or did it happen much sooner?  Simply put, how many hits are too many?  Nobody knows that, but it seems to me that until we do, we need to rethink the toll this game is exacting on those who play it.

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  • blmeanie  On January 10, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    risk/reward/compensation … all those things are in play, the missing ingredient has always been the education and information for the players to make a choice. If they were getting paid $50k per year and subject to those same risks that would be one thing. Get studies, information and let them all make their own minds up. Oh yeah, bubble wrap for uniforms too.

    • Mitchell  On January 10, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      BL – what you are suggesting is that people have the right to sacrifice their mental faculties for the sake of money?

      Hmm, let’s see. I will pay you $100K (pick a number) if you will allow me to charge admission to others so that they can watch you get your brains beat into mashed potatoes?

      Nope, BL, I REALLY can’t go along with you on this one. NFW.

    • nysportsfanatic  On January 10, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      But, a lot of them are not getting paid at all. Seau was obviously a well-compensated NFLer. How many players in college and levels below that are taking these hits and becoming likely victims of CTE? And I don’t agree that he understood the risks, I don’t think anybody had even begun to grasp them until the last couple of years.

  • Mitchell  On January 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm


    CTE is obviously very real. Its effects have been known for YEARS in a specific form that is known as DP (Dementia Pugilistica), aka, being “punch drunk”, for the non Latin scholars among us. Boxers typically show CTE at earlier ages and more readily than other athletes because boxers NEVER wear head gear unless it’s to spar. I expect that we will start to see reports of MMA and cage fighters also presenting CTE in a few years.

    By the way, it’s my understanding that this is not a “trigger” phenomenon, this is cumulative cerebral reaction to trauma. Perhaps there’s a doctor on this blog who can confirm that?

    It’s good that the NFL is finally doing something to address CTE but they have a formidable challenge facing them. As you point out, there is too much that is not yet known about CTE – how much trauma is too much and what constitutes causal trauma. Is it cumulative or can it be avoided with extended recovery periods?

    Here’s a really frightening thing to contemplate Moms and Dads. We are now starting to understand that repeated “sub-concussions” – things that are never revealed in today’s concussion exams are also now being linked to CTE. What can cause sub-concussions? Are you sitting down? Heading a ball in soccer!

    The NFL is on the right path with its new rules regarding head hunting and needing to pass through a doctor’s exam to get back on the field. They are also reportedly working on a new type of helmet that serves to deflect the energy imparted by heads shots in such a way that trauma is minimized. It’s a good first step to acknowledge the problem – more obviously needs to happen.

    The current crop of players that thinks it’s right to “suck it up”, “be a man”, “play through the problems”, they are in denial about what is really at stake. I agree with you, emphatically, that we need to rethink the toll that football exacts on the players. I love the game but I will gladly accept some changes to keep everyone safe.

    End rant …

    • nysportsfanatic  On January 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm

      Good rant. I am not a doctor, but I have the same understanding that you do that it is cumulative result and soccer is an excellent and unfortunate example.

      I agree the NFL is on the right track and the new helmet technology is promising. But, there are so many levels of football below the NFL and I imagine economic factors will prevent a lot of people in those levels from ever wearing those helmets.

      I have to say, if I had a young son right now I would do everything in my power to steer him away from football. It’s just not worth it.

  • blmeanie  On January 10, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Mitchell, I have reread my reply, though I had tongue in cheek for part of it I was applauding the advancements of information that have slowly been coming. As for their right to sacrifice something for money, yeah, given they are highly compensated. Peter’s post following yours reminded me I wasn’t thinking of the youth, my bad there. Then your point on soccer reinforced my dislike for that miserable sport so good and thanks.

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