In light of the ongoing concussion crisis, domestic violence scandals, and more problems plaguing the NFL, Matt Vasilogambros leads a discussion with readers on why they’ve stopped watching football or stuck with the sport.
But what the sport that most of the world calls football—soccer? How bad are those head injuries? (Readers have previously tackled rugby.) Innes, a reader of Jim’s piece, flags “a more worrying report today about the effects of football on the brain”:
There is no doubt that American football and rugby as contact sports have more head knocks, concussions, and long-term health effects. But even soccer has been linked to premature deaths due to players repeatedly heading the ball. Today the University of Stirling released a study that showed even a short practice round of heading the ball led to immediate short-term memory degradation. The U.S. has already taken the lead by banning heading in the children’s game. [CB note: The ban last year successfully stopped a class-action lawsuit involving concussions.] Hopefully the U.K. will follow. However, if this effect can be measured in a relatively soft, non-contact sport like soccer, imagine how much worse it is in American football.
There are two relatively modern (well, my era) Scottish insults: Ba’ Heid and the more recent Heid the Ba’. “Ball Head” either meant someone bald but more often someone with air between their ears, preferably both bald and stupid. “Head the ball” was a play of words on that, but it was informed by the folk knowledge that footballers who headed a football rather than play it off their feet were stupid.
One time I headed a very high ball rather than try to control it. I heard a crunch from my neck. I’ve had worse head knocks in real life—car-crashes and fighting. I also have read various science studies over the decades about how head knocks have long-term effects, especially on children—not just long-term effects like dementia, but immediate increased aggression. This latest study kind of proves that, and it is disgraceful that the sports bodies have ignored the overwhelming evidence and left it to universities to prove it.
I hate to make a sick pun on such a serious subject, but it’s a “no-brainer” that children’s brains should not be knocked against the inside of their skulls in the name of sport.
This biggest danger in going up for a header is not the ball, of course, but other heads—which, unlike American football and rugby, don’t have any protective gear:
Do you have anything to add over the risks of playing soccer? Or do you think such risks are overblown—or just plain worth it? Send us a note and we’ll continue the discussion: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from a reader, who snarks:
I think that all American children should be bubble-wrapped until age 18. (Except bubble wrap might have harmful chemicals that would cause brain damage.)
Another reader, Elise, is more earnest:
As a 6th grade teacher I vote for Ultimate (aka Ultimate Frisbee) as my favorite sport to teach, watch, or play. It is fast, action packed, and full of opportunities for an athlete to stretch themselves. It is not a contact sport, and players rarely get hit in the head. Almost anyone can play, but it requires much practice to be really good. Ultimate is self refereed, requiring a level of maturity and fair play from its players that most sports delegate to an outside authority. This is called The Spirit of the Game, and it is what makes the game great. For your readers who are looking for a new sport to love, check out Ultimate!
Here’s one more reader, who brings us back to soccer and conveys the somber story of his son:
He is 21 now, and was 14 when he suffered his first concussion. Let me tell you about what he’s dealt with:
1. He was diagnosed with a grade 3 concussion after a GK, in an U-16 USSF Academy away game, punched him in the back of the head. He was unconscious for 3-10 minuets (not one person could tell me the real time).
2. He was home schooled the 2nd half of his freshman year and 1st half of sophomore year in H.S. because of headaches, dizziness, bad memory, mood swings, numbness in extremities, and fainting. He slept for 11-15 hours a day, and couldn’t keep solid foods down.
3. The doctors cleared him to practice (no heading) after a year and was cleared to play in a game 6 months later. He returned to school for the second half of sophomore year and started playing with the team again. First game back and in the first half he was tackled from behind while attempting a cross. The player sweeped his legs from under him and he landed head first on the turf. He was airlifted to the nearest trauma hospital. He suffered his second grade 3 concussion and didn’t return to school until his senior year.
4. He has not played competitive soccer since. He is a completely different person. He still has the same symptoms he suffered earlier every day. He is very sensitive to light, headaches all the time, can't sleep more than 4 hours, has short term memory loss, no memory of older events, mood swings, depression, blackouts and short term amnesia.
This is long, because it needed to be. Nobody from USSF followed up, USSF is helping with any rehab, no medical staff at the 1st game and I was told about his injury hours later only after I called the manager of the team. He was off and acting weird in the car when I picked him up from the airport. His teammate told me he was punched and he looked concerned, because he was talking to us like it was a tournament 2 years ago.
Head injuries in any sport is bad, but to everyone that thinks soccer is safe … it’s not!
The following reader, Stephen, sent us a note a few days ago to revive the richdiscussion we had back in the fall over the ethics of watching football:
I am a resident of Houston. As you can guess right now, the city is getting a little hectic as we countdown to the largest sporting event on U.S. soil. There was a time when I watched every football game I could, played in multiple fantasy football leagues, and was up to date on everything football. ESPN was a regular rotation. All my free time revolved around the NFL.
Not anymore. I am disgusted with the NFL.
The more time goes by, the less accessibility to true fans I am seeing. Affordability of regular season games is ludicrous. Twenty-five minutes of game time with 1.5 hours of commercials … what a waste of time.
The Super Bowl has become the Red Carpet of the NFL; it’s more for celebrities and non fans to be seen than for the true diehards. For crying out loud, the commercials of this event are celebrated. For such a lucrative game, they get volunteers to work and compel cities to fork over the money to host. Essentially, the NFL is paid to host the Super Bowl, not the other way around.
I guess what I hate is how money and soap-opera type drama dominates the game. I watch many people struggle to pay bills, yet this NFL machine won’t stop consuming. All for what? What is the return? A 20-minute game?
Many players are treated like cattle, not human beings. They are subjected to injuries, and horrific conditions. They earn high salaries, but what is their quality of life after the game?
I can’t stand football anymore.
Speaking of the quality of life of ex-players, this next reader, Jeremy, digs into our debate over traumatic and long-term head injuries:
I love football. I played through high school. I love to watch it. I just won my fantasy football league this year. But the reality of the game is becoming harder and harder for me to ignore.
Junior Seau’s suicide, Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide, Luke Kuechly’s big hit [seen above], and that devastating GQ article on HS football player Zac Easter … everything just keeps chipping away at my love for the game. Which is crazy because enough should have already been enough!
But the sense of community and camaraderie among fans is what keeps me in it. And is there anything more exciting than the end of a close football game? Less than two minutes left. Your team takes the field, down a score. Then they start marching …
The fact remains, however, that football (and to a lesser extent hockey) is the only major American sport that is actively killing its players. Baseball, basketball, and soccer players [the latter covered by readers here, and rugby here] may end up with bad knees or elbows or ankles, but they don’t routinely lose their minds as a result of playing the game as it is meant to be played. And that’s the sad reality that every football fan has to face. Is this game that we love worth it?
And people will defend it: “Grown adults making informed decisions.” But how can you weigh the risks of losing your mind while you still have it?
It’s just a lot. And it should be enough to say “stop.” I think that watching and contributing to the sport is wrong. But when it feels like our entire society watches and condones it, it’s hard to give up.
I went cold turkey about four years ago and haven’t watched American football at any level since then. The mounting evidence that traumatic brain injuries are a feature and not a bug became too much. I just couldn’t justify treating as entertainment a sport that systematically inflicts traumatic brain injury. I’m not sure why the fact that players more or less voluntarily participate makes any difference. All that means is that the viewer is, in effect, indirectly paying the players to harm one another for the viewer’s entertainment.
This final reader, Jeff, is personally struggling with past injuries and emotionally struggling with whether to give up the sport completely:
Great discussion. I have decided to give up pro football, and it was that Panthers game that pushed me over the edge. I posted a message on Facebook to that effect. All the talk from the NFL about how it was now taking concussions seriously—how, this time, things were going to be different. Yet we saw what we saw. It was too much.
I do have a personal bias in all of this. For the past 2 1/2 years, I’ve suffered from the life-upending effects of Post Concussion Syndrome. I write this now, in fact, from another hotel room in another city not my own, seeking out the help of a Chicago doctor who may be able to help put my broken life back together. I’ve seen some of the most renowned doctors in the country. The struggle goes on.
So, when Cam takes the hits he took [similar to the one above], I do more than wince. I get a little more nauseous than maybe I already was. It’s just too much.
And yet. It’s still not easy. Not even close. You know how many “likes” I got on my Facebook post? Zero. Goose egg.
I live in Charlotte. Sure, other fans were upset about Cam as well. But enough to stop cheering for the Panthers? Enough to give up football? By no means. Folks have gotten a taste of winning around here, and that’s hard to give up.
I see it in my kids’ eyes. My wife’s chatter. Folks at my church on Sunday mornings wearing their No. 1 and No. 59 jerseys. They’re not walking away. Not happening.
How do I explain this to my two young boys? Especially when—get this—I have not given up the college game. Somehow I’ve convinced myself it’s OK for 19-year-olds to play this violent game. This has become sort of my weird compromise, a way to not completely let go. At least for now.
Daniel, a reader who describes himself as “a current football fan and an ex football player,” offers a nuanced defense of the sport:
I played in high school, where I sustained a separated shoulder and concussion that kept me out of athletic activity for five months. I walked onto my college football team, where I sustained a second concussion. While I have successfully healed from these injuries, I continue to deal with their aftereffects in various ways.
Even so, it breaks my heart to see the way many concerned citizens are responding to the game today. Much has been made of the way the NCAA and the NFL exploit their athletes—a claim I find valid, to a degree. In the case of the NCAA, I find it abhorrent that athletes receive nothing in return for their service to the universities they enrich.
The NFL is a slightly different animal, in that more effort is made to support ex-players economically, and players make salaries that allow them to live comfortably. (A caveat here: I recognize that lots of ex-NFL players have not been treated well after their playing days. This is something the league is moving to remedy. Today, it is possible for a player to be cut or retire and transition smoothly into sustainable employment.)
But is it exploitation if the players love to play the game? We are so quick to decry the game as brutal and violent that we never ask why the players allow themselves to experience such things. Could they have agency of their own, who freely chose to come back to take the punishment year after year because the game is a joyful experience?
This is what my experience suggests. If I could do it all over again, knowing how it would end, I would not change a thing. I am sure there are many collegiate and NFL players who would say the same thing because they love the game they play.
I want it to be clear: It is beyond dispute that the NFL and the NCAA have failed to educate their players on the dangers of repeated concussions and injuries, and both organizations need to take the dangers of injury more seriously. But in my mind, it is just as important to understand why so many young men feel they must return to the game year after year even when they do not enjoy the game and know that their bodies are breaking down.
Maybe, instead of taking down the game of football, we need to have a conversation about race and poverty—forces the opportunities of would-be football players for advancement outside of sports. I knew I had other options, and though I loved the game of football, I found other areas of work that brought me joy. But I could afford an excellent education, and had many opportunities for advancement. Maybe, in addition to the NFL and the NCAA, we are failing our athletes as a society. And maybe, if we as a society were to change, we could help our athletes avoid the suffering of permanent injury.
This next reader is less sympathetic when it comes to low-income football players because they often get athletic scholarships and a free college education:
My brother played professionally for a couple years. He was outstanding enough to earn a paycheck, but not fabulously talented enough to make a career. I’m 13 years younger than he is, so my childhood was spent driving to college football games. I tracked the NFL standings on my bulletin board. To be like the men in my family (my brother and dad), I dutifully watched the games every weekend from age 6 to 14.
For all the talk of college athletes being exploited as non-employees, there’s another side to it: My brother had a full ride in college. Yet after four years, he was a few credits short and never finished. Although I was an A student, I had to toil my way through school, working part-time to self-fund my education. So I refuse to join the “scholar-athletes’” pity party.
In short, I’m unlike most fallen-away fans because as I matured, I realized that jock culture has nothing to do with authentic manhood, so I generally developed an anti-jock / pro-scholar outlook.
Regardless, this news about CTE is infuriating. How can any responsible person allow the game to continue until science somehow finds an acceptable preventive strategy?
Funny thing is, my brother now regrets ever playing and grows ever more opposed to the game. He agrees that I should prohibit my son from playing, and he’s acutely aware of his risk for CTE and related brain injuries.
“How many concussions did you suffer?” I asked. Reply: “At least six that I know of.” What’s more terrifying: the known quantity of six, or the fact that he almost certainly suffered more and played through them?
More readers defending football and the NFL are here. One of them, Noah, wrote in part:
Football players know there is great risk, but they also know they have the opportunity to live like kings, if only for a few years, and if only in their own domain. That risk is central to both the pride of playing the game and the fascination we have in watching it.
Malcolm Gladwell is largely correct to point out that such a harsh payoff structure can only appeal to people from poorer upbringings. He and other football-haters seem to forget that players of all backgrounds make a conscious and (by this point in time, at least) well-informed choice to continue playing the game. To suggest players can’t think for themselves is to patronize them, which I find rather disgusting in light of Gladwell’s hypothesis.
NASA wants to put people back on the lunar surface in 2024, but it doesn’t have the budget.
The 50th anniversary of the moon landing is almost here, and NASA has gone all-out for the occasion.
The agency has been celebrating the memory of Apollo 11 for months. It has published a steady stream of archival photos and footage of the astronauts suiting up, blasting off, and posing on the lunar surface with the American flag, a pop of color against an expanse of gray. It refurbished the room at the Johnson Space Center where Mission Control monitored the journey so that now it looks the way it did in 1969, down to the coffee cups, clipboards, and packs of cigarettes. NASA headquarters even asked every communications officer at the agency to be “mindful of posting evergreen materials during the next few weeks that could get better attention once we’re past that spotlight event,” a spokesperson told me. Apollo 11 is NASA’s most famous mission, and the moon landing is one of the most defining moments in human history. It’s been moon time, all the time.
No one has done more to dispel the myth of social mobility than Raj Chetty. But he has a plan to make equality of opportunity a reality.
Raj Chetty got his biggest break before his life began. His mother, Anbu, grew up in Tamil Nadu, a tropical state at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Anbu showed the greatest academic potential of her five siblings, but her future was constrained by custom. Although Anbu’s father encouraged her scholarly inclinations, there were no colleges in the area, and sending his daughter away for an education would have been unseemly.
But as Anbu approached the end of high school, a minor miracle redirected her life. A local tycoon, himself the father of a bright daughter, decided to open a women’s college, housed in his elegant residence. Anbu was admitted to the inaugural class of 30 young women, learning English in the spacious courtyard under a thatched roof and traveling in the early mornings by bus to a nearby college to run chemistry experiments or dissect frogs’ hearts before the men arrived.
Your mood might have a big influence on the type of companionship you want.
Heaps of research suggest that social relationships make people happier—but which relationships, specifically? A guilt-ridden afternoon with a mother-in-law might not have the same effect as drinks with a best friend. A “fair-weather friend” stands by your side only during good times.
Recently a group of researchers set out to determine whose company we actually seek out when we’re happy or unhappy. Their findings, published this month in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that when times are actually good, the people we turn to aren’t friends at all. They’re strangers.
The study’s authors looked at the moods and social interactions of more than 30,000 people, most of whom were French, over the course of a month. The data were collected through an app called 58 Seconds, which would text the participants at various times of the day and ask them to type in how they were feeling, what they were doing, and whom they were with, if anyone.
What new research reveals about sexual predators, and why police fail to catch them
Robert Spada walked into the decrepit warehouse in Detroit and surveyed the chaos: Thousands of cardboard boxes and large plastic bags were piled haphazardly throughout the cavernous space. The air inside was hot and musty. Spada, an assistant prosecutor, saw that some of the windows were open, others broken, exposing the room to the summer heat. Above the boxes, birds glided in slow, swooping circles.
It was August 17, 2009, and this brick fortress of a building housed evidence that had been collected by the Detroit Police Department. Spada’s visit had been prompted by a question: Why were police sometimes unable to locate crucial evidence? The answer lay in the disarray before him.
Conservatives can win over young Americans to our principles, but first we have to live by those principles.
Some conservative national-security practitioners gathered recently to find common ground on the future. The meeting wasn’t, as described in The Washington Post, flooded with regretful signatories of various anti-Trump letters, recanting in the hopes of career advancement. In attendance were people who had served in the Trump administration and people who’d refused to serve, united by a desire to restore principled national-security policies. What follows is an abbreviated version of my paper for the gathering, which was on how to engage young Americans with conservative principles.
In my experience, conservative foundational beliefs appeal to our successors. We can win over young Americans to our principles, but first we have to live by those principles. Americans under age 30 voted for Democrats by a 35-point margin in 2018 in large part because we don’t.
A new study in mice points to how cell biology, not willpower, might be the root of yo-yo dieting.
The American conventional wisdom about weight loss is simple: A calorie deficit is all that’s required to drop excess pounds, and moderating future calorie consumption is all that’s required to maintain it. To the idea’s adherents, the infinite complexity of human biology acts as one big nutritional piggy bank. Anyone who gains too much weight or loses weight and gains it back has simply failed to balance the caloric checkbook, which can be corrected by forswearing fatty food or carbs.
Endocrinologists have known for decades that the science of weight is far more complicated than calorie deficits and energy expenditures. And in 2016, the fickle complexity of weight came to broad national attention. In a study of former contestants on a season of the weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser, scientists found that years later, the contestants not only had gained back much or all of the weight they’d lost on the show, but also had far weaker metabolisms than most people their size. The contestants’ bodies had fought for years to regain the weight, contrary to the contestants’ efforts and wishes. No one was sure why.
Teachers are suing the government over debt relief that never came—but their financial problems go much deeper than student loans.
America needs teachers: A majority of the country’s most experienced K–12 educators are expected to retire in the next few years, while research suggests that thousands of others will likely leave the profession prematurely, citing job dissatisfaction. How to get more people to join the profession? A little more than a decade ago, policy makers came up with one idea they thought would help: Give teachers some extra support in paying off their student loans. So, in 2007, Congress tasked the U.S. Department of Education, which administers federal financial aid, with offering student-debt relief to recent graduates in public-service careers: Essentially, make your minimum monthly payments for 10 years and your loans will be erased.
“I mean, if it’s dinner, I’m not going to say no, so that I don’t have to go home and cook.”
Magali Trejo-Martinez, a 22-year-old living in Salem, Oregon, recently went on a date that was rather uninspiring. “I had dinner, had a couple margaritas, and then went home,” is how she recapped the evening. This outcome wasn’t entirely surprising—she says she wasn’t very interested in the guy when she agreed to go out with him—but it wasn’t a letdown either, because he paid the bill. While her heart wasn’t in it, her stomach was: “I mean, if it’s dinner, I’m not going to say no, so that I don’t have to go home and cook,” she told me.
Trejo says that when she goes on a date where food, not romance, is her priority, she doesn’t feel bad, noting that she still makes an effort to be an engaging dinner companion. “If it’s a guy that’s inviting me out, I do expect them to be the one to pay,” she says. “But I am also bi, so if I like a girl, I like to be the dominant one and then I will go and pay.” And when she is the one who gets asked, she’ll sometimes still say yes to an otherwise inauspicious date. “If it involves food,” she said, “I am always down.”
The fight on the House floor about Trump’s racist tweets illustrates, yet again, how singularly unprepared Washington is for a president like him.
In his racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color, Donald Trump violated the norms of civilized public discourse in ways no modern president has come close to doing. And in its effort to condemn the president’s virulent remarks, the House Democratic majority dispensed—by raw party-line vote—with parliamentary niceties dating to the pen of Thomas Jefferson himself.
Welcome to another great moment in Washington 2019, where the 45th president seems more determined than ever to keep defining deviancy down, and to encourage everyone else to see the moral high ground as just another slippery and shifting partisan slope.
The day began normally enough for this non-normal age, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi determined to pass a nonbinding resolution rebuking Trump’s series of tweets attacking the four Democratic members as America-hating socialists who should “go back” to where they came from, even though all but one of them were born in the United States.