Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking a pounding

In the wake of a University of Michigan study on the long-term health of retired pro football players, there is a rising chorus of concerned voices. The study, commissioned by the NFL, shows higher rates of dementia, Alzheimer's and other brain-related syndromes in those who suffered the repeated concussions associated with the sport.

I read the story in last week's New Yorker in which Malcolm Gladwell compared the physical damage done to NFL lineman to that done to the animals used in dogfighting -- very much in the news after the return to the field of Michael Vick. Gladwell's point wasn't, of course, that pro football players get ripped to shreds, but rather that they sacrifice their bodies for the enjoyment of others.

The New York Times has a story today about a former NFL executive trying to rally support for the retirees, who sometimes fall through the cracks of the league's support programs, and a Congressional committee has announced that hearings will be held on the matter.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, I know a little bit about the issue, having written a story about concussions among high school athletes when I was a sports reporter in southern Maine. (I recently posted the award-winning story again at The Eastie Jolt.)

The medical professionals I spoke with at the time were quite concerned about the issue and felt that it needed to get more attention from everyone involved in youth and collegiate sports -- and not just with regards to football, but other sports where concussions sometimes occur.


N.starluna said...

I have to admit that I have a hard time being sympathetic to the argument that people who earn 6 figure salaries, even if for only a few years, have "sacrifice[d] their bodies for the enjoyment of others." While I agree that the NFL should probably own up to providing support to players whose medical condition is related to their football careers, this does not strike me as a serious social problem.

My niece is married to an active duty Army soldier who almost missed the birth of his first child because he was deployed in Afghanistan. They rely on food stamps to feed their kids. They are lucky to have reasonably good medical care, mainly because they live on base now. But if it wasn't for WIC and the food stamp program, they would be setting the foundation for long term physical damage related to nutritional deficiency, all without the safety net of an NFL medical support program. Once her husband is discharged, or once my grand-niece and nephew are on their own, who would be there to pick up the tab for the diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and heart disease they will have developed because we don't even pay our soldiers enough to feed their kids properly?

snapflux said...

You're completely missing the point of the article. No one is suggesting that we should be sympathizing with rich, professional athletes. Rather, it is making awareness about head injuries and how they effect everyone. These former athletes provide a good dataset for research in understanding the long term effects of head injuries because they are more prone to head injuries than the general populous.

The results of studies like this are beneficial to anyone who plays sports, whether professional, in youth leagues, or just with friends. Or if you bike to work, have a construction job, etc...

Wear your helmet!

Murdock said...

I have to agree with N.starluna on this one. Yes, the NFL, colleges, high schools, etc. should be taking prudent steps to keep athletes as safe as possible while playing what will always be a dangerous sport. That being said, do we need Congress to get involved (like the MLB steroid issue) to investigate a matter which only impacts a very minor segment of the population? Certainly handgun violence, drinking and driving, smoking, obesity, etc. impact a far greater portion of society and cause far more harm to the populace.