While most pundits, in advance of next week's Super Bowl, are
handicapping whether the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers have
the upper hand, the New Yorker's Ben McGrath poses a far more troubling question: "How many of the men on the field in the Super Bowl will be playing with incipient dementia?"
a lengthy investigation of the high incidence of concussions and brain damage in high school, college, and
professional football, McGrath highlights the paradox at
the heart of the game's development: as enhanced equipment and rule changes have made the sport safer, football's simultaneously grown more dangerous, "as
players, comfortably protected by their face masks, learned to tackle
with their heads." Now, he says, "spectacularly combustive open-field collisions that seem to
leave players in a state of epileptic seizure" seemingly occur every weekend in the National Football League.
Yet the reforms proposed to deal with this problem (limiting contact during practice, instituting automatic fair
catches on kickoffs and punts, requiring offensive linemen to squat,
enforcing proper tackling) make McGrath "wonder about a game whose preservation is couched largely in
terms of reducing the frequency with which people really play it."