Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Problem With Getting Jacked Up

With gift subscriptions to The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and Cooks Illustrated, there is never a lack of reading material in my apartment. With all these publications covering tables, desks, and bedside tables it is sometimes hard to find a book to read. This household went from having zero subscriptions I was interested in to five in the span of a few weeks. All this reading material has been a bit overwhelming and lately I haven’t been doing the best on keeping up with it. As an example of that, I was reading a New Yorker issue from late January last night.

The article (available online here) was written by Ben McGrath and titled “Does Football Have A Future?” It was well researched and informative in a good, addicting kind of way—the way all magazine writing should be. McGrath covers a lot of ground in this article, which addresses a topic sports fans have heard a lot about in the last year, concussions. I think what a lot of sports fans or parents of footballers aren’t terribly aware of are the repercussions from a career in football. And I’m just not talking about NFL football; I’m talking about junior high football to the NFL. And, to be fair, McGrath does point out that concussions occur in sports other than football, but the focus here was football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., which occurs in an alarmingly high number of football players. Detailed in the article are current and former players who admit to having memory problems and some who fear the side effects of a hit (not the hit itself) so much that they leave the sport altogether. I read about a 40 year-old brain resembling a brain from an 80 year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer.

I thought this quote about the parents who encourage or don’t mind the thought of their kids having a career in football rang true.

“Any parent who has let their child play football in the past fifty years and claimed never to have understood the risks involved was either kidding himself or an idiot,” Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights,” wrote last week in the Daily Beast.

A few lines down, the author poses a question:

How many of the men on the field in the Super Bowl will be playing with incipient dementia? “To me, twenty percent seems conservative,” Nowinski said.

A conservative estimate? 20%? Ouch.

Right off the bat, this article addresses the issue of reporting on the concussion crisis and being attacked as anti-football, which translates for some to mean anti-fun, wussy, etc. And I understand that attack. People don’t like to find out that what they’ve been doing or what they want someone else to be doing is life threatening and certainly life-impairing. It’s like millions of people who must have been in denial for so long once people were coming out about the dangers of smoking and saying, surprise, smoking isn’t good for your health. Look, it makes your lungs look like this and they don’t work so well when they look like that.

I suspect, for many, knowing what we now know about concussions won’t be enough for them to step off the field or guide a son or daughter away from a sport which could make them a vegetable by 60, if they even live that long. We pick and choose the risks we are willing to take. I didn’t have this decision to make, but if I did, I hope I wouldn’t sacrifice the second half of my life for incredible material wealth during my 20s.

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