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home : opinion : columns July 23, 2016

2/3/2013 6:01:00 AM
Editorial Column: Hype for future brain damage

Alan Choate
News Editor

It seems wrong to say this, especially on the day of the most-watched, most-worshipped and most-hyped event on the sports calendar, but there's just no avoiding it any longer.

I've begun to question being a football fan.

The growing body of evidence around chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in football players has reached the point where denial is no longer possible. The brutal hits that we cheer for, that are a big reason for the game's popularity, are in many cases doing permanent damage to players' brains, eventually causing them to rot away.

The damage can take years to become noticeable. The most recent information indicates that it can start as early as high school for some athletes, including one 18-year-old who had multiple concussions in his athletic career, died, and was found to have CTE, the youngest case yet recorded.

So far, researchers at Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy have found CTE in the brain tissue of 18 of 19 deceased NFL players they've studied.

It can't yet be detected in living brains, but those who have it usually lead increasingly desperate lives as they age, battling memory loss, confusion, anger and impulse control problems, and eventually dementia.

All for the glory of a game.

Athletes go into football knowing it's risky. It's a rough sport even at the high school level, as fans of our local teams will remember from just this past season, when players and a ref suffered injuries that included broken bones, head trauma and even a lacerated kidney.

But there's a difference between knowing you might be laid up for six months or have lifelong joint pain and realizing that a hit to the head now could deliver devastating consequences decades down the road.

That sort of perspective is particularly difficult for a teenage or college athlete to comprehend - remember how indestructible you felt at that age?

Football is a great sport. It's part of our culture, and there's no doubt that athletic participation builds character, reinforces discipline and self-esteem, and teaches valuable lessons in sportsmanship, teamwork and accepting one's share of inevitable defeats.

Even so, some say the end of football is coming. The argument is that class-action lawsuits against the NFL, high schools and colleges over CTE will make it impossible to field leagues if successful, and that parents pushing their kids into other sports will dry up the talent pipeline and lead to the sport's decline.

I can see that happening. Boxing went that way, from national pastime to sideshow sport, as the lifelong impact of all those blows to the head became evident.

But football won't disappear quickly, and the lure of the gridiron will still be there for years to come, even as the dangers are increasingly well documented.

Despite my reservations, I'll keep watching, for now.

I admire those who play this game well. There is still much research to be done, and though the NFL and others could've been more proactive, steps are being taken to support the science and perhaps make the game safer.

I will continue to hope that my Cowboys or Saints make it to the Big Game again one of these years.

But from now on, those big hits will make me wince instead of cheer, because we know that each one could be knocking years off a life, not just yards off a play.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013
Article comment by: Anson's Nephew

“It speaks volumes of this president interfering in a private organization and also into every aspect of our lives.”

So you are now saying that the President of the United States is not allowed to have an opinion? Nowhere has he attempted to “interfere in a private organization.”

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Article comment by: Capt. Nice

It speaks volumes of this president interfering in a private organization and also into every aspect of our lives.
If that is what you want, move some where they have a king or a dictator, oh wait, we have one here....sorry!
Your not interested in protecting our kids from crazies shooting up schools so why are you concerned about head injuries?

Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Article comment by: Anson's Nephew

“What do you think about him saying the Boy Scouts should allow gays?”

I think it speaks volumes that the president is actually supporting the rights of all Americans.

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: Capt. Nice

fox hound
You must be pretty gullible to not believe the president does not want to control our guns.
What do you think about him saying the Boy Scouts should allow gays? What do you think about your side complaining about the military being involved in the super bowl and even the terrible American flags on their helmets.
It is going to be hard for you to keep up with this thug from Chicago with all the control he is going to try to get in the next four years and you and your liberal friends are going to be pretty busy making excuses for him.
Sure glad I didn't vote for this guy!

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: joker wilde

Good column and right on! The world is changing and so is American football. Some say that our version of football is part of our culture of violence. Let's prove them wrong and clean up the sport. If you really want violence, take a look at Australian-rules football.

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: biker randy

Alan, since I survived a cracked skull falling off a ladder, I know only too well what a brain injury is. Since my accident I don't watch football or boxing any more. The general public has no real understanding how sensitive their brains are to head hits. They don't get it untill their a victim. My injury happened at work so I was lucky enough to get all the medical help I needed. I still ride MCs but always have a good helmet on. I've been told if I bang my head again it's all over for me.

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: Anson's Nephew

"You are following the rules for radicals."

Yeah, wanting to protect our kids from brain damage is really a radical concept!

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: Capt. Nice

Mr. Choate
I injured my knee in High School playing foot ball and it has never been the same and that was almost 60 years ago,
I would do it all over again, if given the chance and I don't think this hype about injuries to the head will stop the sport.
After watching the super bowl and all the photo ops and big money involved, this game is here to stay at least until long after I'm gone.
I think what will ruin the sport is when the president comes up with a new law to make it mandatory that there is an equal amount of women on the front line....and I mean the foot ball front line or even quarter backs....that will ruin the game.
When I was working on a rig in the oil fields years ago the company decided that women should (or should I say women decided) that women should be working on the rigs making the same amount of money as men....I saw one women that actually could almost keep up with the men but the rest made the men work twice as hard.
It could happen to foot ball and I love women...who knows?

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: Lori Gabriel-Dane

I couldn't agree with you more. My 40 year-old son has always held it against me that I would not allow him to play football in Jr. High and High School. But that's okay. I'll gladly accept his criticism because I find comfort in the fact that he never became a parapalegic from playing football, and will never suffer from CTE from playing such a violent sport.

Granted, freak and sometimes fatal accidents can happen when playing any sport, but injuries that happen in football are not "accidents." Those extremely violent tackles are deliberate hits, meant to stop an opposing player at all costs.

Football is a lot like car racing. Most people go to races, not because it's boring as all get-out to watch a bunch of cars drive around the same track 500 times, but because they're hoping to see some spectacular crashes, and there usually are some. With football, it's spectacular bone-crushing tackles that the crowd cheers the loudest for. And football is the only 1 hour game that takes 4 hours to play. Most plays last a mere 10-30 seconds, unless someone is lucky enough to make a touchdown by getting past that herd of 300 pound players ready, willing, and able to stop him any way possible.

Fortunately, most race-car drivers, because of new safety measures, walk away from those spectacular crashes unharmed. Football players are not as lucky.


Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Article comment by: It's Modern Gladiators - That's XLVII and Those That Follow

Good editorial. The fact is football as it is presently played has no place in our modern society. There is only one reason flag football won't replace football - money. In the months that follow there will be talk about new helmets, etc. eliminating CTE. And the professional football organization will shell out millions to compensate victims. And I suspect the next meeting of the owners will have an agenda item - CTE Compensation and The Bottom Line. But in 5 or 10 years do you really expect there to be anything different than the hit hard to knock him unconscious type of football? I applaud your reassessment of support this madness and hope others do likewise.

Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Article comment by: The Fox Hound

You are a brave man Alan and I couldn't agree more. I to played in high school and have been a life long fan. But if we want football to be a game that we can encourage our children to play surely we must creat rules that keep them safe while playing. We already have lots of rules we simply need to change them a little. I would leave that up to an independent team of doctors. Americans used to play this game with leather helmets so there is no reason that we can't do a better job in protecting players. This reminds me of the discussion that is going on about assault rifles since the last terrible shooting. Many on the right would have us believe that the President wants to come and get your gun. I personally don't believe that or even think that it is possible. I think that like football guns have become too dangerous to let everyone play as hard as they choose to. Rules are needed to make the game of life and the gun sane again. I'm not giving up either one.

Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Article comment by: Patriot WES

Alan, you need to quit drinking the kool aid! You are following the rules for radicals. Demonize it and start the process of distroying it. I'm sure you want the world and everything in it to be equal, no winners and no losers, no success by anybody.
Big government should organize everything for us! Don't want any feelings to get hurt. This really is a slippery slope.

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