NFL fans deal with watching the best game ever -- and the concussion crisis that comes with it

As a football fan, it's always painful to hear the increasing number of stories about players sustaining head injuries that range from your standard (but still dangerous) concussions to chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It's easy to let oneself be ignorant of it while rooting for our favorite players during the truly suspenseful and exciting 60 minutes of game play. But at the end of the day, many professional athletes (and their families and friends) are suffering, some of them attempting -- and sometimes succeeding -- to end that suffering via violent means. It's the NFL fan's dilemma, and Travis Waldron at Think Progress articulates it well. (via Think Progress)


  1. One possible solution:  full-size 3D avatars (aka robots :-) ).  The players themselves operate on separate fields w/o contact, and the robots beat the shit out of each other.  
    A more realistic solution:  get rid of all pads and require a player to complete 10 plays from scrimmage before substitution.  That would greatly reduce the “one play all-out effort” that leads to major collisions.

  2. They could just fight to the death like the ancient gladiators…now that was exciting!
    Many people simply love watching someone else get hurt.  It’s something in our DNA.

    1. If I’m going to look for bloodthirsty titillation by watching big guys beat the crap out of each other, I prefer them to wear less clothing.

      1. Plus, you get to keep a clearer conscience as well, knowing that long term health risks for MMA fighters are much lower than for NFL players.
        You will have to forego the tight spandex pants but hey, sometimes you have to make some sacrifices for the greater good.

  3. I will be worried knowing that across the country, hundreds of thousands of men and boys who won’t ever get a scholarship or a paycheck will be killing themselves to live for one moment of gridiron glory. …. And yet, I will still watch.

    How is it ethical to continue watching when this entertainment drives these kids to damage their brains? The NFL hasn’t done enough. The NFL needs to do everything it can to minimize brain damage in the sport and then communicate that to the colleges and high schools.

    1. As someone with a passing interest in sports entertainment law and with a toe dipped into helmet injury studies, I find it interesting that during the reign of leather pads that head injuries weren’t nearly as common as they are in modern games.  Reason was, no one was stupid enough to turn their head into a battering ram when you were wearing a 1/2″ piece of leather between your brain-cage and the other player’s skull.

      The reason you see injuries on the rise is because coaches actually teach “proper” hitting technique to drop your head and use your full body as leverage.  This puts your spine in perfect alignment to compress when you hit; great for full-body tackles, but nasty for spinal compression and brain/neck injuries. 

      The problem is endemic.  It’s not just the NFL teaching this, it’s high school coaches as well.  If you’re a football player, you learn the fundamentals from high school onward (minimum), so every stage of non-professional-to-professional football will, at varying levels, teach this form of tackling.  Usually there’s not a lot of industry pressure at the lower high school and collegiate levels to avoid this problem, because injuries won’t show up until later down the road.  The industry pressures are building, but the question is how to disperse proper injury prevention technique / padding / monitoring techniques throughout the sport.  A $20,000 head trauma monitoring machine cheaper than a sneeze’s worth of advertising for the NFL, but for a high school football team, that’s likely more than the coach makes all year.

      1. The leather helmet example makes sense as far as a different contact technique and the avoidance of intentional brain-sloshing collisions. But does the injury rate account for accidental contact which would be worse in a leather helmet?

        1. There is a greater incidence of broken necks than brain damage in rugby. It seems to be considered within the bounds of acceptable risk. It is not an issue the same way as brain injury in (American) football is.

          1. I can’t find the stats, but I’ve always heard that the risk of injury was much greater in American Football, because of the head-to-head collisions of head or shoulders, vs the lower tackling in rugby.

            Wikipedia seems to back this up, but without citations:

            Collisions between players in American football tend to cause greater injury than in rugby union; in rugby union tackles must at least show an attempt to bind is made but this rule does not apply to American football. Moreover, rugby union hits are not usually at the speed of American football both because of the nature of the game and the lack of protective equipment. Additionally, rugby offsides rules and the lack of a forward pass significantly reduce the chance of a player receiving a “blind-side” hit (i.e. being hit and/or tackled from behind). In American football, players receiving a forward pass are often extremely vulnerable because they must concentrate on catching the ball, often jumping very high or stretching out and thereby exposing their body to punishing hits; in rugby a player is not allowed to be tackled in the air, leaving the receiver of the kick with more time to assess his surroundings, usually in rugby ball carriers can anticipate a hit and can brace themselves accordingly.

            In rugby, the contact times between players are usually much longer, as a more wrestling approach is required to bring players down, as momentum cannot always be relied upon particularly when the lines between the teams are consistently close, not allowing for significant momentum to be developed before meeting a defender.

            (Sorry for the stretched Discuss formatting…)

          2. Though the rules of rugby have now been changed to try to reduce this risk- for instance, the pause between “touch” and “engage” when starting a scrum, and the requirement for scrums to be uncontested if one team doesn’t have enough specialist front-row players.

        2. The New Yorker did an extensive write-up on this a year or two back, including some fact-based comparisons to Rugby. Sorry, I can’t find it now, but essentially in Rugby you get more bruises, broken noses, and occasionally broken bones, but essentially none of the permanent brain damage that football players see. All the padding covers up the ugly injuries the public doesn’t want to see, but hides – and contributes to – much, much worse problems.

          It’s the same with MMA vs. traditional boxing. Bareknuckle cage fighters bleed and bruise, whereas gloved boxers become permanently mentally debilitated. People may not like to see blood, but in reality being pounded repeatedly in the head with a padded glove or a helmet, which is what happens when you add a lot of padding to a full-contact sport, is about the worst thing you can do person.

    2. If the football industry can ignore buggering children in the locker room in order to keep a winning team, I doubt that a little potential brain damage is going to even show up on the periphery of their moral radar.

        1. Just Google the name “Jerry Sandusky”. Hopefully this is trolling as how could anyone have missed probably the biggest scandal in the history of the NCAA unfolding over the summer?

      1. Well, ok, but… to the extent that the coaching staff at a particular college and the NFL regulators are part of some single cohesive body that shares a moral radar (which they aren’t, really), the issue you’re referring to was shamefully ignored by a handful of people, but met with horror and punishment by the broader “football industry” (again, to the limited extent that that label makes any sense) the very second that it came to light. So I’m not sure the comparison really works.

        1. but met with horror and punishment by the broader “football industry”

          Only when they were forced to do something abut it by public opinion. The people who were trying to bring the case to trial were widely excoriated by the student body, school officials and football fans.

  4. I am more concerned about youth football programs and college programs. The young athletes there have no recourse to life altering injuries. I have less sympathy for players in the NFL given it is an elective choice with a rich reward. That being said, promoting safety and working studiously to reduce injuries should always be a priority.

  5. NFL football is little more than a series of commercials, with a little bit of athletics thrown in to make people think they aren’t being programmed. It’s unwatchable. 3 downs. commercial. punt. commercial. rinse. repeat.

    1.  A little brain damage seems to have driven some players to kill themselves while still very young.

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