Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

It’s a No-Brainer

So here’s a new thing from Frontline: just about everyone who plays football walks away from the sport with brain damage.

A total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players have tested positive for the brain disease at the center of the debate over concussions in football, according to new figures from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on the study of traumatic head injury.

Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they’ve examined and in 79 percent of all football players. The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia.

There’s really no disputing the fact that the sport kills the people that play it; not just some of them and not just the ones that play professionally. It’s hard to enjoy the sport when you’re really just watching young men die in slow motion.

On the other hand: it’s a free country. If some people want to trade their shot at old age for a shot at a life as a professional athlete, there are worse ways to go. Sure, statistically, I’ll live to be 80 years old. But I’ll never be on a Wheaties box, no matter how wildly successful this whole law blog thing becomes. That’s an acceptable tradeoff to me, but other folks might want to go for the glory. To each their own.

Let’s not pretend that this is a simple transaction. Consider the source: I’m awfully privileged. I came from a socioeconomic background that left me with a lot more career options than “get paid to turn my brain into mush.” There are thousands and thousands of poor kids from small towns and inner cities that just won’t have the same embarrassing richness of options that I did. That changes the calculus – a lot.

we can’t have nice things

It still might be worth the tradeoff. But we can’t have a real conversation about this stuff because the NFL is reluctant to admit or speak openly about the way its sport kills folks. They’ve been sandbagging this conversation for years. From the same Frontline story:

From 2003 to 2009, for example, the NFL’s now disbanded Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee concluded in a series of scientific papers that “no NFL player” had experienced chronic brain damage from repeat concussions, and that “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.”

I’d have a lot more respect for their position as ‘merchants of brain death’ if they would just own up to it. The league should admit that the sport is disastrous for the people who play it, so the athletes could understand what they’re getting themselves into.

It’s hard to believe the NFL will ever do that. They display tremendous apathy toward more than just their athletes’ health. The vast majority of players are bankrupt a few years after they retire. Most careers last three to six years, depending on who you ask. Even if the league can’t keep the players from destroying their brains, it could at least get them a financial planner. Their families would appreciate it later.