My Hatred of Football Outweighs My Apathy for Harvard

I clipped panels from this SMBC comic. Click through to read it all

I hate football.  If humans are the thinking animal, football (and the hard hits and concussion that seem to baked into the modern form of the sport) are an assault on our humanity.  Slate has a good compendium of links explaining the scope of the concussions crisis.  The most upsetting stories tend to be those of the families of the players who watch their loved ones slip into early dementia, sometimes accompanied by poor impulse control and violence.  It reminds me of Giles’s line from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot, when these people look at their brothers, husbands, fathers, sons, they’re not seeing their friend, they’re seeing the thing that killed them.

The Slate article covers the basics, but I’ll add in two articles from just the last month in the New York Times on the way the damage goes beyond the NFL and their families:

A 5-Concussion Pee Wee Game Leads to Penalties for the Adults (10/23/12)

It took just one play on Sept. 15 to suggest the game between the Southbridge Pop Warner pee wees and their rivals, the Tantasqua Braves, could mean trouble. Two Tantasqua players were hit so hard that their coach pulled them off the field. An emergency medical technician on the sidelines evaluated the boys, grew worried that they might have concussions, and had them take their pads off.

The boys on the teams were as young as 10, and, because of rules about safety, none could weigh more than 120 pounds. Shortly after 3 p.m. at McMahon Field in Southbridge, though, things quickly became worse. Six plays into the game, another Brave was removed after a hard hit. An official with the Tantasqua team said the eyes of one of the boys were rolling back in his head.

But the game, an obvious mismatch between teams from neighboring towns in central Massachusetts, went on, with Southbridge building a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. The game went on without the officials intervening. It went on despite the fact that the Braves, with three of their players already knocked out of the game, no longer had the required number of players to participate.

A Town’s Passion for Football, a Retired Doctor’s Concern (10/23/12)

Speaking in his soothing, deliberative tone, Butler said, “I’m beginning to believe, from what I’ve read of the literature, that as governors of the school district, we have a moral imperative to at least begin the process of ending this game in Dover.”

Butler is a retired surgeon, with no specialty in neurology. But he had followed the growing evidence of the peril football poses to the brains of the people who play it. Butler had no beef with football, for he had played it in high school and in college.

He was, he said, just trying to frame the question of the future of football in the most practical of terms, drawing upon the implications of the class-action lawsuit filed in June against the N.F.L. on behalf of more than 2,000 former players alleging that the league did not adequately warn them of the evidence about the dangers of repeated head trauma and concussions.

Butler warned his fellow board members that if city officials did not end football at Dover High, “the lawyers will do it for us” someday.

The only nice thing I can say about football is that I’m awfully appreciative of this compilation of a group of football announcers competition to see who could sneak more Princess Bride references into their commentary:


*The title of this post is a riff off of a popular Game shirt reading “My Hatred for Harvard Outweighs My Apathy for Football.”  My favorite Game shirt ever was made by The Yale Record, and showed a drawing of a meteor streaking toward Cambridge on the front and declared on the back “YALE: At least we don’t get hit by meteors”

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  • All sports are dangerous, except maybe curling, and golf. When you have 1) lots of big people rushing around at each other, or 2) people doing things that humans don’t normally do (jumping on ice, flying around on uneven bars, running a marathon), there is risk. People die running marathons (I mean, the first guy did…we didn’t learn from that). You can’t remove the risk from sport, I don’t think. You can make better helmets, and have rules, but there is the element of unpredictability, and accidents happen. Football is not alone in this (see: Sidney Crosby, concussions, NHL).
    That being said: people choose to play these sports (especially at the higher levels) and we enjoy watching them (we being humanity in general). We can attempt, as I said above, to make high school football, especially, safer. But even if school districts stop supporting the games, I can’t imagine that that means there will be no football–there will be private leagues.
    As for “not being warned of concussion problems”: OK, maybe back in the day. But doesn’t common sense indicate that if you get a bunch of big, strong guys running around, and IN, to each other, you’re going to get injuries? That may, yes, be Big Injuries? Is this not common sense?
    (And yeah, I’m probably biased, because I love sports, even if I don’t do them myself. But I also think personal responsibility plays in here. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head and saying “thou must play football”.)

    • Football and hockey are dangerous to an extent that sports lake baseball or track and field are not. There is risk in every activity, but degree of risk matters.

      And the not being warned is a fair complaint. It is NOT common sense to say that playing football leads to early onset dementia.

      And no, no one is being forced to play football, but children everywhere are being told that it’s a supercool thing to do by every tenth movie, every third beer commercial, and maybe every twentieth tshirt. I don’t necessarily think football should be eliminated entirely, but I do think it desperately needs to be taken down a few pegs.

      • Running a marathon isn’t dangerous? You can be hit in the head with a baseball. You get hit in the temple, that’s not good for you.
        And wait a second, but I don’t buy peer pressure as an excuse. That’s what parents are for. You can say “no” to dangerous activities of any sort. If you feel the activity is too dangerous for your kid, then you don’t let them play.

        • Running a marathon can be dangerous. But it isn’t nearly as likely to be dangerous as football. Ditto with baseball. Football results in more injuries. The difference is in probability, not the complete absence of danger.

          And excuse for what? I’m just explain why I think it’s seriously messed up that society is giving so much value to a sport that harms a proportionally large number of its participants. I’m concerned about everyone involved in football, not just my own kids.

          • IS it proportionally large? Or is it proportionally large (we think) because we hear about it so often? Remember a few summers ago, when the news every night was all about the shark attacks on the East Coast? It made it sound like every second swimmer was going in and getting chomped a la Jaws. But that wasn’t really the case–we were just hearing a lot about it.
            I’m not going to deny that it is dangerous and people do get hurt. But I think that’s part of the risk you assume in any sport.

      • LeRoi

        “I think that’s part of the risk you assume in any sport.”
        Let’s make a distinction here. Both the articles above are talking about football with kids – not professionals. The “you” assuming the risk here is our kids. Offer me the chance to make millions, and yes, I’ll probably sacrifice my body and maybe my brain – that’s a reasonable benefit for the cost. But our kids? Come on.

        Second, equating the risk of, say, track and field to that of football is ridiculous. Yes, accidents happen in both, and yes, injuries occur in both, and no, mere presence of risk isn’t a good reason to ban a sport automatically. But we can still make comparisons. Weightlifting, wrestling, even boxing, track and field, basketball – the injuries are comparatively slight (say, twisted ankle vs. concussion), and the health and teamwork benefits can be at least as good as football.

        I mean, really – you want to equate a beanball with a football tackle? Let’s talk frequency. Wikipedia on beanballs: “Several players’ careers have been impaired or derailed after being struck with a beanball.” That’s *several* – not 486,000 concussions in 5 years as quoted in the New York Times (admittedly the study included two hockey teams in addition to the college football teams).

        “I can’t imagine that that means there will be no football–there will be private leagues.”
        So what if there are a few private leagues? There would be far fewer games going on without official support, coaching, equipment, fields.

        In general, your analysis seems to stop short at “there will still be risk” and “the games will still go on”. So what? This isn’t a black-and-white analysis – it’s cost vs. benefit, levels of risk vs. amount of benefit. *How much* less risk without football? *How many* fewer games?

        Go to Slate, then the Malcolm Gladwell article: “But a football player’s real issue isn’t simply with repetitive concussive trauma. It is, as the concussion specialist Robert Cantu argues, with repetitive subconcussive trauma. It’s not just the handful of big hits that matter. It’s lots of little hits, too.”

        I’d bet Dr. Butler is right: one of the people whose kids get hurt is going to get mad and is going to sue, because they need the money for their kid’s medical treatment. And they’ll have a reasonable case that the folks whose job it is to run school sports safely failed in their duty. And lots of people will be angry at the parents who sued, but they won’t care, because it’s their kid.

        It’s not just about teamwork and the discipline the sport instills. It’s really about the money. Football raises college profiles, and the high-school to college to NFL pipeline is the best way to breed talent.

  • “But I also think personal responsibility plays in here. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head and saying “thou must play football.””

    That only applies to the adults, though. I’m especially horrified by the excerpt about the Pee-Wee football game, and grateful that so far the Beadboys have displayed no aptitude for team sports.

    • That’s true to an extent. I have a younger brother, so I know the appeal of playing football at a young age, and I know in some places there is a LOT of pressure to play. My brother did play football in grades 5-7, and yeah, some of those kids are big (probably bigger now than they were in the 90s.)
      The thing here is the adults are not acting like adults. They are acting like crazy people. If I were a parent, I would very, very carefully investigate any sports my kid wanted to do to ensure, as much as possible, safety. That is paramount.

  • Dan C

    I maintain Sports themselves and football in particular are more than a distraction and often replace religion.

    I also maintain that Sports and their obsession are part of the equation that have ruined men under 40. Beer, ball, and boobs are the entire existence for too many men. Life is ruled by these three B’s.

    • I guess that is what confuses me about this. Of the 3 B’s I would say ball is the one that is the least of an issue. I would say 99.99% of what is involved with sports is positive. There is a positive way to approach sex and alcohol but it is something society puts little or no effort into teaching men. Yet we want to focus on the 0.01% that is negative about sports and ban them. Don’t we have enough young men living in their parents basement wasting their life on porn and video games? Now we want encourage football players to get fat and lazy because otherwise they might get hurt. Great plan.

      • Yup, totally agree Randy. I think sports promotes a lot of great things: teamwork, discipline, responsibility, not to mention health and fitness.

      • Kristen inDallas

        I’m not Dan, but I suspect that the problem/obsession component with the 3 Bs comes as much or more from the watching of sports than from playing. If everyone played something, and nobody “watched” (i’m talking about obsessive vicarious watching) I think sports in general would be a lot more fun, a lot more productive, and a lot safer. It’s bad enough what little boys will do to themselves when their Junior High sweetheart is watching, let alone what franchise owners will require of grown men when ratings and ticket sales are involved.

    • cleats

      Wow life is ruled by the 3 B’s, how profound.

  • Brandon

    So, is there actually a policy position here, or do you just prefer that people choose not to play football? Personally, if I had kids, I wouldn’t be letting them play football until I thought they were old enough to make an informed choice. That said, I’m not keen on the school of thought that tells people that can’t do things of their own volition if someone else deems them too risky.

  • paul

    perhaps you might like REAL football(soccer)!

  • jenesaispas

    Just get everyone playing rugby instead 😀

  • Zach

    I love football! Go Irish!

    • Yes, it is permissible for a Catholic to hate football as long as they don’t go to Notre Dame!

  • Jo

    Ditto Zach. Try telling a Notre Dame fan, student, or alum that you hate football, and you will be granted a long apologia for its importance 🙂 At least in college football more attention is now being paid to the concussion problem. With that said, the amount of money and media attention paid to college football especially, but college athletics generally, along with their social influence, borders on the absurd. Brian Kelly’s salary is $3,000,000. Even the most decorated professors don’t come close to that.

    • cleats

      When’s the last time a decorated professor brought in millions of dollars in revenue to pay for his salary?

      • Kristen inDallas

        Um… 1000 students in a lecture hall x 4-6 lecture periods per year * $50,000 yearly tuition per student (or say $5,000 a class if you want to break that out over 5 classes per semester) = $25,000,000. Assume the proffessor has a lighter load, or that the students are taking on a heavier one, and you’re still looking at at least $10 mil. And that’s not counting all the profits from the books (usually a required purchase) and the journal articles, etc.
        And I LIKE football, just sdayin… Math.

        • cleats

          Unless your super prof is teaching every lecture the 1000 students attend, your math does not quite compute. Tuition costs are not just applicable to teacher salaries and if you’re spending $50,000 in tuition to sit in a lecture hall with 999 other students, you’re not too bright.

      • Grants, and yes, millions are pretty much expected from what I hear, though I am not an academic and I am biased to the science / engineering side.

  • Ted Seeber

    Football (and other equally violent sports) is what young men do to distract their hormones from wanting to rape women.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    • cleats

      what an idiotic statement.

    • Why do you hate men so much?
      You call feminism a hate group, and yet you are calling all men rapists.

    • Now I am the Ted apologist?

      AFAIKT, for Ted, any non-procreative sex = rape, though the assumption that it is always the male raping the female does still confuse me…

  • Chris

    Football does rather call to mind the Reds and the Blues and the Greens and the Whites in the chariot races of Constantinople. Justinian himself was a fan of the Blues. And chariot racing was never a nice sport. Still, the Nika riots kinda give some idea of the extremes to which fans will go in pursuit of their circuses — something that is perhaps most commonly in the news these days in the context of English (not American) football.

    Nothing today approaches this degree of exuberance, of course, but there is nothing intrinsic about modern humankind which prevents it. Indeed, the thing I remember most about watching the World Cup is that a Colombian player was murdered after an own-goal against the U.S. in 1994.

    If anything, the Nika riots offer a cautionary tale of the dangers of government by bread and circuses. And the 1994 incident demonstrates that the dangers faced by the circus players are not limited to the field (or the pitch). And of course, the chariot races in Constantinople were supposed to be a step forward from the excesses of the gladiators’ arena in Rome. One day’s enlightenment, though, is another day’s darkness.

    With American football, we haven’t quite descended to the depths of gladiatorial Rome or even of the chariot races (sans Nika) in old Constantinople, but that’s only because a concussion can take years to kill while a sword thrust takes mere minutes (and getting run over by a chariot might take a day or two). And we haven’t yet come close to anything like the Nika riots.

  • cleats

    My hatred of the princess bride outweighs my apathy for geeks.

  • Josh Wilson

    The two greatest evils mankind has created are the nuclear bomb and football.

  • I love football. It’s the ultimate team sport. As has been pointed out, all sports have their dangers and risks. Some, like Hockey and Rugby and Football have more. Certainly anything that can improve the safety of the players is welcome. And I’m the first to cheer any breakthroughs that help with players’ safety. Though I’m skeptical about the latest ‘anything that doesn’t have to do with sex can kill us!’ alarmism. When the media and the medical establishment take the same penetrating look at the carnage and suffering in the wake of our sexually promiscuous society, then I’ll believe they’re really serious about safety, and not just looking for the latest crisis to invite more control of everything in life that occurs above the waste line.

    As for football, it combines grand tactics with hard hitting physical intensity like no other sport. Those who think its a sport for idiots with all brawn and no brain have never looked at the complexity of the game that must be mastered in order to succeed. That might be why, compared to football, no other sport has the same level of intense comradery that football enjoys. And I never played football, I played other sports! I just couldn’t help but notice the closeness and teamwork that existed among the football team went far beyond what I experienced. Those who have been in both tell me that, next to the military, there was no other environment they enjoyed such an intense bonding relationship with others. My two older sons, who are in other sports, notice the same thing when it comes to my third son, who is in football.

    But again, when I see the same level of attention given to our modern attitudes about sex in light of things like AIDS, STDs, broken families, sexual abuse, sexual addiction, and a legion of other problems, then I’ll believe the latest ‘we’re all going to die!’ crisis regarding football isn’t just there to keep our minds off the real threats to humanity that roam about in our society.

    • BTW, Kudos to the Buckeyes for beating Michigan and a perfect season! 😉

  • James Kennedy

    The main cause of the concussions is that the helmets are ‘too good’. They are 2-3 inches of bowling ball material, with padding on the inside. That encourages players and coaches to ‘use their heads’ as a weapon during the game. If they returned to leather helmets, players would naturally protect their heads when tackling, and would not lower it like a battering ram to bring down other players. This would reduce all contact with the head in the game, significantly.

  • alexander stanislaw

    Not only does football damage your brain, it also shorten’s your lifespan: