Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Aug 2012

Why Should We Care About Concussions When NFL Players Don’t?

Provocative piece here at Deadspin by Pittsburgh writer Sean Conboy. It is, indeed, very hard to square the words of current players -- many of whom admit they try to get back into games despite concussion symptoms -- with those lawsuits from former players, some of whom only retired three or four year ago. At this point we know there's a problem. What happens five years down the line when you have a player who sues the NFL over concussions even though during his playing career he made statements like those Troy Polamalu made recently?

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 22 Aug 2012

65 comments, Last at 05 Sep 2012, 5:37am by Subrata Sircar

Comments

1
by DavidL :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:55pm

If somebody who's suffered sustained brain damage can't recognize or doesn't care about his own symptoms, that's not a reason to disregard them. It's potentially another symptom, although more likely it's just evidence of how completely toxic to player health the NFL culture is.

2
by 40oz to Freedom (not verified) :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:04pm

You know, you can make the same argument for smokers. A lot of smokers will say they know the dangers of smoking, but it is their choice and they will gladly make the same choice over and over. Is it representative of how toxic our culture is to our health?

On the flip side, should we not care about lung cancer?

8
by Paddy Pat :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:43pm

Discounting thoughtful arguments about the insidious effect of advertising/marketing, cigarettes are essentially a personal choice. Pro and College football concussion on the other hand are a feature of a state-funded, recreational activity that many of the participants look on as their livelihood. Certainly, many of them know that the activity is risky when they first begin playing, but the culture encourages and reinforces them, and once they have committed to playing, there is a lot of pressure, both financial and community to stay on the field and continue to compete regardless of injuries. The problem with concussions is that they are not readily visible, generally easy to conceal or even to ignore, and that they cause long-term, irreparable damage. I suffered a mid-grade concussion once, and as a person who uses his head for his work, I can readily attest that concussion significantly impair cognition, sometimes for weeks. Left to their own devices, football players would probably still embrace a culture of helmet-first spearing, head slapping pass rushes, etc. And similarly, we might make sport of dog fighting and gladiator combat, but that doesn't make it culturally okay.

17
by 40oz to Freedom (not verified) :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 10:53pm

I could say football also has insidious advertising/marketing campaign. Remember, last year's famous line, "It's all for the Tostitos."

And yeah, had a buddy that concussed himself while playing basketball. He was lucid, conscious, but couldn't remember his name. He also kept asking what's his name....five times. He just didn't remember he asked that question a few minutes earlier. He still plays basketball.

Activities don't necessarily have to be organized or state funded, but I have concerns about smoking as well as football.

16
by MJK :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 10:30pm

In some ways, the smoking analogy is very apt. Both smoking and playing football with a concussion have potentially very serious long term dangers. Both have relatively small, but real and tangible, benefits in the present. However, the negatives of both tend not to manifest for a long time, and as a species we are very, VERY bad about planning for the future in light of payoffs in the present.

19
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:00am

Economics would argue that a small gain sufficiently close to the present may in fact outweigh a large negative far in the future. The argument is really about the interest rate of life.

30
by The Hypno-Toad :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 11:31am

That reminded me of one of my favorite Onion articles.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/cost-of-living-now-outweighs-benefits,1...

36
by not Verified (not verified) :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:58pm

That is certainly true. However I think many behavioral economic studies have shown humans to be irrational/very bad in estimating the underlying discount rate and or future costs. So we should not assume that most people are making optimal choices in these cases.

52
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 12:25pm

I don't think the comparison's apt at all, in my opinion the problem with smoking is when third parties are affected: be it a bystander, a friend or an unborn baby. Otherwise, the government should stay well clear of telling people how to conduct their lives, what they should and shouldn't eat or drink or do in their spare time.

Concussions, there's a trap to that. It's true that no third parties are affected, but players are given tremendous incentives to put their bodies at risk. That's where you need to intervene. If it were people putting their health at risk for the fun of it, then you're talking rock climbing or sea diving. But giving fame, money and glory in abundance as an incentive, that's where it's all wrong.

So I don't care how the players feel about it, we should still care about concussions. After all, it's US who give the money, the fame and the glory that these people crave enough to ignore their future well-being. That makes it our responsibility as well as theirs, maybe even more so.

------
We are number one. All others are number two, or lower.

3
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:04pm

I think you could remove "NFL" from that paragraph and it would still be true. It's not limited to NFL football players. Hell, it's not limited to "organized" football.

4
by Eddo :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:13pm

A current player has two huge motivations to get back into a game:

1. Money. An NFL player has only so many years to make big money, and a player who misses more time is going to earn less on his next contract than someone who is more durable, all else being equal.

2. Enjoyment. Players like Polamalu, who clearly get amped up to play, enjoy playing football. Anyone who plays sports for fun understands this; haven't you ever tweaked an ankle and decided to keep playing a pickup game with your friends, or your rec league softball game?

6
by tuluse :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:10pm

It's also something where the consequences are not easily understood. No one can have dementia for a week and get better and then decide maybe they shouldn't hide concussions.

5
by drobviousso :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:44pm

This issue won't be settled because fans, players, and owners don't share an agreed upon set of first principals.

I personally believe that if a player is given all the known information and no one is suppressing, altering, or fabricating information, then it is the players choice to play or not. If this is all true, I wouldn't have any more qualms with injury risk to players than I do for parents that work 90 hours a week and sacrifice time with their kids. Actually, I'd have less, because I'd feel bad for the kids that can't really control their situation.

I know that this is not a set of first principals that everyone shares. Some people feel bad when other people pay a high cost for an activity, even if the people engaging in the activity think it is worth it. Some people don't want people to take risks with their health until they can quantify the risks. Some people don't want to see working conditions below a particular threshold, for any reason.

As long as different people have these different first principals, it'll be hard to come to a collective resolution that makes everyone happy.

7
by Mello :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:10pm

We shouldn't care. Potential head injury is a part of the game. The NFL should do everything to make the equipment offer as much protection as possible. They should educate the players on the latest that science knows about the risks and what techniques can be used to reduce the risk as much as possible. After that though, make them sign a waver stating they they have been trained by the NFL, fully understand the currently known risks associated from playing the league, and they give away any right to sue the league or anyone associated with it over injuries diagnosed in the future that could be related to their play.

As far as the article, it's makes people think which is good. I did have a problem with this though:

"It's a game for children, too—the very people most susceptible to both traumatic brain injury and the influence of the NFL superstars whose careers they hope to emulate."

I kind of doubt that the intensity of the hitting anywhere below High School level is enough to cause permanent brain damage. Willing to be proven wrong though.

9
by akn :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 6:05pm

That's because you're under the mistaken belief that the force of impact is the major determining factor causing concussions, when the more pertinent variables are number of impacts and particular orientations/rotations. Concussions aren't defined by biomechanics, they are defined by clinical signs and symptoms, and the correlation between the two are weak. Add to that the studies that show that adolescents brains are much more susceptible to concussions (and especially second concussions during the long recovery period), and yes, you are generally wrong about youth football not having the same problems.

The reason prevalence among professional is greater is because a) they spend much more time playing and practicing everyday; and b) they have been playing for many more years than youth players. That's orders of magnitude more impacts than non-pros, but both are taking damage that generally won't manifest as chronic issues until much later in life.

14
by Intropy :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 10:06pm

The contention that force of impact and likelihood of concussion only weakly correlate is very obviously wrong or else any old thing in the right orientation would be nearly as likely to cause a concussion. Ping pong ball, bowling ball, football player making a tackle, mosquito.

18
by akn :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 11:34pm

I apologize for not including the obvious qualifier that the impulse must be past a certain relatively low threshold. It's probably somewhere between a ping pong ball and a bowling ball.

If you want a more concrete example, peak impact studies (monitoring the head) put heading a soccer ball at roughly 3-5 times the peak impact between linemen. The incidence of concussions in linemen, however, is significantly higher, as they experience many more collisions than soccer players head balls.

23
by Intropy :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:25am

I don't mean to call you out for not putting that kind of qualifier in, but rather because I think you're wrong even in a relevant range. You say the linemen get more concussions than the soccer players, but that comparison doesn't control all the variables. Number of collisions can have an effect, but so can peak impact, force, change in energy, impulse, etc. We know, certainly that those things matter from the ping pong vs. bowling ball example. Given that and intuition borne from normal human experience it would be surprising indeed if they had little or no effect on likelihood of concussion.

24
by akn :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 2:55am

Then your intuition is leading you to the same mistake Polamalu admitted to when he lined his helmet with kevlar. You would be right in regards to broken teeth and noses and skull fractures (if modern helmets weren't used), but not concussions. Concussions cause a nebulous and diverse range of functional deficits, not easily isolated to a specific structural defect in the brain. That's what makes the whole thing so difficult to study.

34
by MJK :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:16pm

Not disagreeing with anything you guys have said specifically, but I thought I'd add that there are some very counter-intuitive things that can crop up when you are studying brain injury.

For example, we concluded a study not too long ago looking at the effect material properties the pads in helmets might have on concussions and TBI. Among the things we did is consider different head sizes. Intuitively, we thought that if we put the same helmets on big guys (i.e. NFL players) as littler guys (i.e. high school players), which incidentally is done (Riddell sells the same helmets to high school players as to the NFL), the big guys would see worse head loads for collisions at the same speed, because there's more energy in a large object than a small object traveling at the same speed. However, the opposite occurred. The pads push back with roughly the same force regardless of the mass of the thing they're slowing down (as long as they don't completely compress down and bottom out), and from F=ma, if F is the same and m is smaller, acceleration is higher. So the high school player sized head underwent more severe accelerations for the same impact speeds wearing the same helmet (and acceleration is correlated to head injury and concussion).

Was obvious from basic physics in hindsight, but it really surprised us. Just an example of how intuition can be wrong. Also, it pointed out that Riddell is really wrong to be using the same pads for kids as for professionals.

38
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 1:38pm

Were you using the constant helmet size with varying head size, varying helmet size with constant head size, or varying both?

Were you using the same impactor momentum in all situations?

47
by akn :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 6:30pm

That same counterintuitive thinking applies to the medical side as well.

A brand new study looked at brain activity for a simple working memory task up to one month after suffering a concussion. Injured and non-injured subjects showed similar scores in neuropsychiatric testing (where we traditionally tease out functional deficits), but fMRI showed that the injured subjects couldn't recruit their working memory centers as effectively as normals. Instead, their brains showed more widespread activation beyond traditional memory areas in an attempt to compensate. The abnormal recruitment of outside areas largely resolved in a 6 week follow up scan.

Less efficient but more widespread activation is a common way for the brain to react when challenged (e.g., when someone starts to learn a new skill). It makes sense now that the brain would revert back to this well-studied pattern when its traditional centers for memory weren't functioning well, but it's not something that the authors expected when they started. It also showed that neuropsych testing alone may not be enough to properly diagnose and follow more subtle forms of concussions.

39
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 1:41pm

Which soccer heading paper? =)

The range of results seems to span from a peak of about 30g to around 120g. 30g seems a little low and 120g seems a little high. Linemen will see occasional peaks larger than 120g, and far more >30g impacts than soccer players do.

Incidentally, they also experience a lower incidence of falling to the ground as though they had been shot, only to suddenly get up when a yellow flag appears.

\Unless they are New York Giants.

41
by akn :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 1:57pm

Well, something like this study, for example, which shows an approximately 2:1 ratio (I can't find the 3-5 one I saw a while back). You probably have a better sense of it than I do, however.

But you're right, they did not account for the all important confound of acting ability.

44
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 2:29pm

Naunheim's soccer numbers I trust. Her hockey and football numbers haven't held up so well. The epidemiological data from the VT, UNC, and Oklahoma groups using HITS, and even the NFL's dummy reconstruction data show her football numbers were low. There's some HITS-based data on hockey hits too, but I don't recall who did those right off the top of my head. I think a couple of them are free on PMC, via Pubmed, though.

To put 30g in context, landing during jump rope can generate around 25g.

20
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:05am

Adolescent brains experience more severe symptoms and sequelae from a concussion (as do women). It's not been conclusively shown that their threshold is lower. If you accept the premise that concussions result primarily from rotational motion, adolescent tolerance may well be higher. Smaller size is protective for rotational injury tolerance. (Go ahead and try to concuss a rat)

As to level: acceleration is a much better proxy than force, because although force increases with level, so does mass. The real issue is strain, but that's far harder to solve without customized simulation and a lot of material assumptions.

32
by MJK :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:02pm

Go ahead and try to concuss a rat

Actually, researchers are spending millions of dollars trying to do exactly that. :-) Which of course raises whole other issues of scaling issues when studying animal models, and so forth.

37
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 1:36pm

Allow me to be more specific:

Go ahead and try to concuss a rat kinematically.

Taking their skull off and using a pneumatic cylinder is cheating.

10
by regis18 :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 6:10pm

Why? Because we have a better perspective on the serious consequences of a concussion than a young, aggressive football player does. They truly need to be protected from themselves.

15
by Intropy :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 10:07pm

That's a fair argument for children. It isn't for the NFL.

48
by regis18 :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 7:06pm

Let me assure you that many an ex-player did not care about concussions when he played and even knew the potential consequences -- same as those playing today -- but growing older gave them new perspectives on life. When you are making the big bucks as an NFL player and know that these few years will most likely be your peak earning years, and when your are idolized by groupies and fanatics and everyone wants to buy you a drink, it becomes very hard to resist playing as long and tough as you can. Besides, they reason, dementia or being wheelchair bound won't happen to them when they are older, it will happen to the other guy. I know that I don't drive one-hundred mile an hour down Route 30 now but I did when I was seventeen. And I was hell of a lot smarter than 95% of the NFL players.

49
by Intropy :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 7:41pm

So peoples' perspectives change with experience. That's not a surprise. An adult still has the right to make his own choices for himself. And preventing him from doing as he wishes with his life when he's not harming anyone else is immoral.

51
by Alex51 :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 6:46am

An adult still has the right to make his own choices for himself. And preventing him from doing as he wishes with his life when he's not harming anyone else is immoral.

Well, yes, but there's a limit to that. Obviously, an adult who wants to go skydiving is well within their rights to do so, but what if they want to jump out of a plane without a parachute? Or what if they were willing to let a mad scientist repeatedly lobotomize them for money? Should we let them? I suspect that most people, and most legal authorities, would say no. So there's clearly some point at which even purely self-destructive behavior is not allowed, even to adults. The trouble is figuring out whether playing in the NFL today is past that point or not. And if the problem with concussions isn't dealt with a lot better than it has been so far, many people will believe that it's past that point, that the NFL needs to make sure every player wears a parachute, regardless of whether a player is willing to destroy their brain playing football or not.

53
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 12:39pm

"The trouble is figuring out whether playing in the NFL today is past that point or not."

I'd say playing pro football is on one side of the line, and jumping out of a plane with no parachute is on the other side. One is an activity which COULD cause harm, the other is an activity which WILL result in death. One can make a reasoned risk/reward decision to play pro football in its present form. Not so of the other things you mentioned.

65
by Subrata Sircar :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 5:37am

"I'd say playing pro football is on one side of the line, and jumping out of a plane with no parachute is on the other side. One is an activity which COULD cause harm, the other is an activity which WILL result in death."

Jumping out of a plane without a parachute is survivable (albeit at very low probabilities). There are documented cases of mid-air plane explosions with non-parachuting survivors e.g.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LANSA_Flight_508

I'm not being pedantic for no reason, but to ask: If it's not certain death, is it still on the other side of the line? If so, then there's a threshold short of complete certainty of harm. And if there's a threshold, is it absolute or can we draw that line in different places? And if we can draw it differently ...

54
by Intropy :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 12:59pm

If your argument is that we should care, then I'm right there with you. We should empathize with other people are care when they are harming themselves. Talk to them and try to convince them not to take a course of action, by all means. But do not force. If a person in possession of his judgment with reasonably full knowledge of the likely dangers still chooses to jump without a chute or let someone lobotomize him (the first time, anyway, the second time he probably can't be trusted to have adult-like judgment anymore) then you have to let him.

As to the NFL specifically, that's a bit different. The NFL is a participant. It has every right and reason to set the rules on participation. If it want to take actions to limit concussion it absolutely can. What it couldn't do is stop players from leaving and forming another league without those changes.

57
by Jerry :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 6:26pm

We should care because NFL games are played for our entertainment. I understand that some people don't care about players damaging themselves in the process, and a handful of viewers who actually enjoy that aspect of the game. Personally, I can rationalize watching knee injuries and the like, but I have a harder time with brain damage.

What happens if the guy jumping without a chute lands on me, even if that was never his intent?

58
by Intropy :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 6:46pm

Like I said, caring yes, forcing them to change, no. If you don't want to watch because you don't want to contribute to the activity that they do that damages them, then that's fine too, and maybe that will cause them to change their ways. But that's a far cry from forcing something on a person because he can't be allowed to make his own decisions.

I almost put in the caveat about the jumper needing to have permission from the person who owns the land he's landing on, etc, but decided that was really beside the point.

60
by LionInAZ :: Sat, 08/25/2012 - 12:24am

The NFL has already changed the rules many times to force players to change behaviors that lead to injuries: no clipping, no crackbacks, no clothesline tackles, no eye-gouging, no blocking in the back, no tripping, no facemasking, no horse-collars, etc. Many of these things were common practice (even if not openly condoned) in the old days. Required equipment has changed also for similar reasons. I don't see why it would be any different if the NFL wanted to make changes for the sake of reducing concussions. Unless you want to make the usual "they're ruining the game!" complaint.

63
by Jerry :: Sun, 08/26/2012 - 2:15am

To leave the realm of the metaphor, I remember that Justin Strelczyk died in a fiery crash on the New York Thruway. Fortunately, nobody else was killed, but that could just as easily not have been the case. So there's some danger to the general public (I don't know how much) when these guys suffer brain damage.

61
by tuluse :: Sat, 08/25/2012 - 8:35pm

I watch football to be entertained. When players get concussed it is less entertaining.

64
by Intropy :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 11:33pm

That's an entirely reasonable position. It's a good reason to stop watching or to watch less. It's also a good reason (among many even better reasons, IMO) for the players and the NFL to care and do something about it. I don't object to any of those things. The objection I'm making in this line of argument is to the belief that "we" are somehow obligated to protect the players against their own choices or justified in forcefully trying to supersede their judgments with ours.

55
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 4:20pm

Except the NFL actually influences children (directly, in a lot of ways, through support of youth football camps). By protecting the players you end up protecting children by setting an example. You could make the argument that the players would realize this if they weren't already brain-damaged by playing since they were so young that they couldn't make an informed decision.

11
by akn :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 6:42pm

There's a whole lot of flowery prose in the linked article, but I see several misconceptions and intellectual shortcuts that the author seemed to be taking.

1. The author seems to hold Polamalu as one of the game's most intelligent and thoughtful players, whose words carry the weight and sentiment of every player in the NFL. I then noticed that he's a local writer from Pittsburgh, so I take those sections with a grain of salt. If the league were serious about measuring the understanding and opinions of its players, it would, I don't know, try and survey them (anonymously, hopefully). My apologies if they have already done this. Then writers like Conboy wouldn't feel so free to extrapolate one player's attitude whom he admits to being well outside the norm.

2. Conboy is also suffering from the confirmation bias that comes from sensationalizing the tragic outcomes that have befallen those players that took their own lives. It's an important story, but it often times gets in the way of facts. The most recent survey of long term health in retired NFL players shows greater life expectancy, lower rates of almost every category of disease, and generally a higher level of socioeconomic success than the general population. Yes, that survey showed higher levels of arthritis and diagnosed depression (prevalence but not incidence), but lower rates of suicide. Those are certainly areas that need to be addressed, but a less alarmist and more even-handed approach is probably more appropriate. The research is building but not conclusive. Let's just all slow down a bit (that goes for you too, ex-NFL plaintiffs).

3. Conboy is under the assumption that the NFL is popular because of its violent nature. That may be true for him and some others, but I was under the impression it was popular because of its unbridled display of athleticism combined with the built in parity of small sample size seasons and post-seasons. Tackles and big hits are certainly a part of that, but I'm not so sure it's the lifeblood of the game. He claims that boxing went down the tubes because of the realization that its participants were destroying each other's brains, but that's just plain wrong. The decline of boxing was largely the result of demanding 75 dollars per pay-per-view bout every 6 months and the takeover by the corrupt Don Kings of the world. That's an unsustainable model in the modern TV watching world.

The concussion/CTE issue is always portrayed as this dark storm just over the horizon bent on destroying football as we know it. It makes for a great and suspenseful narrative. Professional team sports have survived similar attacks from geopolitics, gambling/match fixing, economics, and performance enhancing drugs, to name a few. We'll learn, adapt and move forward with this one as well, no thanks to the sensationalists.

21
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:09am

That brutality killed boxing should be shown as absurd by the rise of MMA which replaced it. MMA is even more brutal than boxing.

Boxing died because there hasn't been a compelling heavyweight title fight since Holyfield-Tyson, and even the popular middleweight guys are approaching their mid-40s and have lost a step or three. The days of Foreman-Ali-Frasier are long gone.

29
by Independent George :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 9:42am

You're about 20 years out-of-date with regards to MMA. If you watch any of the larger promotions, the sport has become as professionalized as boxing (moreso in some respects; there isn't quite enough money in the sport for it to become as corrupt as boxing yet). There are very few true knockouts in MMA - most end in a ref stoppage (TKO), submission, or a decision.

26
by Jerry :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 6:02am

Conboy has spent some time researching concussions:

http://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/Best-of-the-Burgh-Blogs/Pulling-No-Pun...
http://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/Pittsburgh-Magazine/September-2011/Foo...

And he wrote this last year.

FWIW, Polamalu does come across as soft-spoken and contemplative when he's interviewed.

27
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 7:37am

Right. I mean, there may not be much room for doubt that playing football is bad for the players' long term health, but it's a big leap from there to concluding that choosing to play isn't rational for them, even if it turns out that the amount that can be done to limit or mitigate concussions is limited at best.

35
by Intropy :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:21pm

I think that depends on what you mean. There are clearly aspects of football that are bad for long term health, such as the risk of concussion, catastrophic injury, and plain wear on the body. On the flip side there are are also clearly health benefits such as staying in good shape and, for professionals, wealth. I don't think it's so clear where it balances out.

None of that is to say that reasonable, measured action shouldn't be taken to lessen the down sides. And with the data I currently have I wouldn't want my daughter to play.

50
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 4:54am

Of course whatever can reasonably be done to limit the downside should be. But if it turns out that that isn't that much, it may still be rational for at least some people to pursue football. I don't have kids, but if I did, I'm not sure I'd want them playing. Then again, the likely non-football outcomes for my hypothetical kids are probably a lot better than the likely non-football outcomes for a lot of people.

12
by erniecohen :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 7:39pm

There is absolutely no contradiction between a player trying to play despite having a concussion, and the same player suing the league for letting him play with a concussion.

Imagine that instead of concussions we were talking about steroids, and that steroids are so effective that only steroid users can make the NFL. As a result, every player good enough to play in the NFL takes steroids (though some still don't make a team). It is perfectly reasonable for the players as a class to sue the league for not banning steroid use (assuming perfect testing was available), because such testing would have allowed the same players to make the same money without the steroid side-effects.

Essentially, the players will have to claim that had the league revealed what they knew about concussions, the players would have insisted on more strict protocols that would stopped players from playing with concussions despite their best efforts to do so.

13
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 8:45pm

This is the same argument people have in CBA negotiations when the owners want to lower player salaries and the anti-owner response is "you offered the contracts." Owners have to allow their GMs to pay market value for free agents or they risk handicapping their teams competitively, even if market value is more than can be justified by their revenue. By the same token, football players have to try to get back in games even if their health is at risk because if they don't they will be labelled "soft" and cut. And that's true at the HS and college levels so the NFL crowd is already self-selected to have a pathological disregard for their own well being. If it is impossible to have a career playing football at the highest levels without endangering one's health, then it is the league's responsibility, not the players' responsibility, to protect their health.

22
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:10am

It's only the same argument if the situation was the owners were suing the players for signing the contracts they offered.

28
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 8:55am

Well, it's not exactly suing, but in CBA negotiations owners will sometimes ask for salary rollbacks and an increased share of future revenues.

I'll say it again: If it is impossible to have a career playing football at the highest levels without endangering one's health, then it is the league's responsibility, not the players' responsibility, to protect their health.

25
by bucko (not verified) :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 5:55am

I know I have lost a lot of the zest I had for football. The more I know about this topic the less appealing the game is for me. And this from a guy who until recently lived and died with the success of both pro and college teams.

Now? (shoulder shrug)

Just isn't there. Can't do it. Not knowing that a good many of these guys are going to have a host of physical and mental problems once their playing days are done.

If they ended college football right now I wouldn't bat an eye. I give the pros a bit more leeway as they are grown men and getting paid.

31
by The Hypno-Toad :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 11:42am

Right there with you. I went to the Bronco preseason game this past weekend, and any time there was a hard hit I was completely pulled out of the action. Not that there was a whole lot of hard hitting in that game, but still.
I think I'm likely to have some trouble with this game going forward, given that my mental response to a hard hit is thankfulness that my son decided not to get into playing football.

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by tuluse :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:03pm

I still cheer for hard hits, then feel guilty afterwards hoping the guy didn't hit his head.

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by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 1:49pm

Thing is, it's not like any high-level sport is safe, or good for you orthopedically.

Ice hockey often leaves retired players broken down. How many old basketball players hobble around because their knees haven't had any cartilage in decades? (And how many women tear ACLs doing it?) I recall Deion Sanders discussing how much more difficult baseball season was than football season, just because of the constant daily grind of a 162-game schedule. Granted, that's an easier statement to make when you don't bother tackling anyone for 10 years.

But even non-impact sports have their issues. Running is hell on your knees, hips, and feet. Ask Christopher Reeve how safe equestrian is. I blew a knee out in six years of semi-competitive fencing and my dad has an artificial hip because of racquetball.

Sports aren't safe. No physically-laborious task will be.

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by tuluse :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 2:00pm

No one said they were, what you're arguing isn't in question.

My problem is the personality altering effects of concussions. I think that's 2nd only to death in terms of severity because the people literally cease to be themselves.

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by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 2:25pm

"Just isn't there. Can't do it. Not knowing that a good many of these guys are going to have a host of physical and mental problems once their playing days are done."

Seems the guy I was replying to was considering the physical effects and not limiting himself to concussions.

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by tuluse :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 2:31pm

You still argued something that no one was disputing, that other sports don't cause damage to the participants.

The 2nd part of my post was unrelated to the first part.

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by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 6:24pm

I suppose I made the assumption that he was not giving up on sports generically, merely football. I was making the argument that most sports will leave their retired participants a physical wreck in one way or another.

Indeed, if they were still physically capable of doing it, they probably wouldn't have retired.

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by bucko (not verified) :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 6:02pm

I don't read about basketball or baseball players losing their ability to hold a conversation at age or walk without pain by age 55.

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by LionInAZ :: Sat, 08/25/2012 - 8:39pm

It seems to me that one element missing from this discussion is the question of negative reinforcement.

The tobacco industry practiced negative reinforcement in spades, from origninally claiming that smoking was beneficial, to denying the medical studies (including lying about the results of their own medical studies), to making sure that farmers were dependent on tobacco subsidies, and even going so far as to manipulate tobacco to make it more addictive.

Football is not quite so insidious, but players, and especially the older ones, have had it drummed into them that they have to go all out and even sacrifice their health for the good of the team. They're told (or given the implication) that there's someone in the wings ready to take over for them if they miss even one game. 'Getting your bell rung' was rarely considered a serious thing. Hell, even dehyrdration issues weren't taken seriously until Korey Stringer died in Vikings training camp, and after that we still heard about coaches at the high school level who didn't take it seriously. And let's not talk about overzealous boosters or parents who pressure their kids into doing things that are bad for them in the long run.

We have to remember that concussion awareness is still a very recent thing, especially in the areas where it matters most -- the military and football. Dealing with the problem effectively requires changing an entire culture of machismo, and it will have to start at the base level, not with the yakking of a few old professional football players.

As to *why* we should care... it's not for the handful of NFL players who have already gone through the system. It's for the 999 kids who will never sign an NFL contract for every one who does, and for the 100 kids who will never even get a football scholarship for every one who does.