Bad Brains: The NFL and Its Concussion Crisis

"Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will."
-- Frederick Douglass

Football is a dangerous sport, with inherent health risks. When players suit up, put on helmets, and crash into each other, injuries are to be expected: broken bones, torn ligaments, sprains, contusions, etc. These are part and parcel with the sport. But what happens when science uncovers unexpected risks to players' physical and mental well-being? Shouldn't management be compelled to inform and protect its employees (players) of any potential long-term danger? These are the questions that the National Football League attempts to handle in what has become one of the most-talked about issues in professional sports over the last couple of years: concussions and the attendant brain trauma concussions cause.

Each year, during any given season, roughly 15% of football players suffer a mild traumatic brain injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the odds are even worse for teenage athletes: Nearly 2 million brain injuries are suffered by teenage players each year. The likelihood of suffering a concussion is three times higher for football players than the second most dangerous sport (women's soccer). Further, according to Grantland.com, high school football players who suffer three or more concussions are nearly 10 times more likely to exhibit multiple abnormal responses to head injury, including loss of consciousness and persistent amnesia.

Defining concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy
A concussion is defined as "An injury to a soft structure, especially the brain, produced by a violent blow and followed by a temporary or prolonged loss of function." The force of such a blow causes the brain to move so quickly through the cerebrospinal fluid that it slams into the skull itself. The impact can cause bruising to the brain, tearing of blood vessels, and nerve damage.

One doesn't necessarily have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. Those who have experienced repeated concussions are susceptible to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), "a degenerative disease that affects the brain and believed to be caused by repeated head trauma resulting in large accumulations of tau proteins, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning," according to The Concussion Blog. Symptoms of CTE include cognitive impairment, dementia, depression, memory loss, concentration or attention issues, disorientation, confusion, tremors, speech problems, and loss of one's senses. CTE is quite similar to -- and is often misdiagnosed as -- Alzheimer's disease in that those who suffer from it often experience memory loss, mood disorders, and depression.

Concussions haven't always been called by that name. Either out of ignorance or obfuscation, when a player would suffer head trauma, the league -- announcers, coaches, league officials -- used coded language to mitigate the extent of the injury. For example, a player who had been concussed would be deemed "shaken up" on a play. The team might release a statement that a player had been "dinged up" or "buzzed."

The terms used to describe brain trauma are still somewhat nebulous and misleading. Some concussions in the league are diagnosed as "minor." In reality, there are no minor concussions: Brain trauma is brain trauma. In the 1990s, players with concussions would often receive smelling salts on the sidelines and were sent directly back onto the field to continue playing. It was not unheard-of for players to suffer multiple concussions in the same game. Why jeopardize the career, and the physical well-being, of a player? The answer involves copious amounts of money.

Football is big business
Let's get this straight: The NFL is a business first and foremost. And it's a big business. Huge. Last year, the NFL generated $9 billion in revenue. It holds nearly $1 billion in assets and will pay its commissioner, Roger Goodell, nearly $20 million in 2019. Of the big three American sports (i.e., baseball, football, and basketball), it ranks first.

There was a time when baseball was uniformly considered America's pastime. Not anymore. It was always surprising to me that baseball was ever America's favorite child, considering football is predicated on the very elements that have always driven this country's collective consciousness: controlled violence, gaining and controlling territory, a complex hierarchy of authority, and the idea of men preparing for and entering battle.

Absent official rites of passage to manhood in American youth, football has long been a surrogate of sorts, a way for teenage boys to prove themselves, to reappropriate the bluster and bravado and nihilism of what it means to become a man. But at what cost? These battles take place on the gridiron, every Friday night for millions of high school players, every Saturday afternoon for collegiate players, and Sundays for most professional football players. Having played both sides of the ball for a three-time state championship football team, as autumn sets in and a chill fills the air, I've been guilty of parroting one of the sport's biggest cliches: "This is good hitting weather!" The chorus of pads smashing, shoulder pads cracking, and helmets crashing: The players love it. The fans love it. Most of all, the NFL owners love it.

While the NFL enjoys unparalleled financial success and popularity in this country, it has done so without concern or regard for the long-term welfare, both physically and financially, of its key constituents: its players. Within two years of retirement, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or "are under financial stress." 

As a thriving business, the league has failed to divest its energies and harness its myriad resources for its own employees. Any organization worth its salt needs to nurture its four key stakeholders: its customers, its investors, its employees, and the world at large. Fans seem happy. But the problem with the NFL (including Goodell, the teams' owners and general managers, and the head coaches) is that it has shown concern primarily for its investors. That is, to the companies who can help propagate the money-and-power dynamic that keeps the league atop television ratings, jersey sales, stadium attendance, etc. This financial success has come at the expense of players' health.

What the science says
Though scientific data on CTE and its effects are relatively nascent, concussions and the severity of their after-effects has been known for years. More than 4,000 former NFL players have joined a single class action lawsuit against the league for willfully obscuring critical information about the effect of repeated trauma to the brain. These players allege that the NFL has known about the long-term damage that concussions can cause, but failed to provide its employees (players) with adequate warning about the causal link between multiple concussions and later-life cognitive decline.

In 2005, a series of clinical studies conducted by independent neurologists determined multiple concussions cause problems such as dementia and depression. The brains of deceased players were studied and were found to have CTE present; the neurologists found that the CTE was in fact triggered by repeated brain trauma (read: multiple concussions). The NFL's Concussion Committee denied any link between concussions and cognitive decline, and even asked that the article be retracted from the scientific journal in which the studies were published. Ironically, the NFL's committee contained no neuropathologists, yet they were attempting to discuss and refute neuropathological findings.

In 2007, the league scheduled a summit on concussions. According to the NYSBA Journal, independent scientists were invited to come and present their findings on concussions and concussion-related trauma. After the summit's conclusion, the NFL still maintained its stance that research "has not shown that having more than one or two concussions leads to permanent problems." In 2008, Boston University's Dr. Ann McKee, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, stated "There is overwhelming evidence that [CTE] is the result of repeated sublethal brain trauma." Still, the NFL (via Dr. Ira Cason) denied any link between the two, stating, "There is not enough valid, reliable or objective scientific evidence to determine whether ... repeat head impacts in professional football result in long-term brain damage."

In September 2009, the NFL commissioned a study by the University of Michigan, which found that NFL alumni suffered from Alzheimer's disease (or similar memory-related illnesses) at a rate 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 to 49. As a result, Congress announced it would hold a hearing to discuss these findings. Finally, the NFL (later in 2009) admitted what medical research had been indicating for several years, with NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello telling The New York Times, "It's quite obvious from the medical research that's been done that concussions ... lead to long-term problems."

Here it is, in black and white: the NFL demonstrated a failure to warn its employees about critical danger, and now the league is suffering the consequences. It could threaten the financial livelihood of the NFL itself.

We've seen this before
This type of subterfuge is nothing new. For years, big tobacco denied any causal correlative between cigarette smoking and various forms of cancer/ill health. Once the science caught up, the evidence became undeniable, and tobacco companies were forced to admit culpability.

In 2006, a U.S. District Court found tobacco companies guilty of deceiving the public about the health risks of smoking. The judge on that trial wrote that the companies, including British American Tobacco, Altria/Philip Morris, and RJ Reynolds, among others, acted "with a single-minded focus on their financial success and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success extracted."

We don't yet know the full scope and depth of those football players who suffer from the condition, but as research and science advance, CTE will likely be uncovered as a pervasive problem among football players of all shapes and sizes, and of all ages. According to research conducted by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the brain tissue of 18 of 19 deceased former NFL players have tested positive for CTE.

The real catalyst for CTE as an emerging high-profile issue can be attributed, in large part, to the investigation behind a number of former NFL players committing suicide. NFL alumni such as Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, Terry Long, and most recently, Junior Seau (whose family is now suing the NFL), have committed suicide. They and 30 other former NFL players have been diagnosed, post-mortem, with CTE.

CTE has been present in professional boxers for many years, but the same public outcry never hit the sports media as hard as it has for professional football. In boxing, there is no central governing body to implement safety rules, to investigate impropriety, or to look out for the general welfare of its combatants. Boxers sustain brain trauma and have no recourse, they have no support system with which to voice their concerns. The brutality was there for all to see, and perhaps this is, at least in part, why the sport has been relegated to the shadows, a marginal sideshow that is no longer considered a major player on the U.S. sports scene.

Years ago, before the effects of pugilistic dementia were publicly known, the sport was broadcast on national television every Saturday for the nation to see. Now, boxing has been reduced to the periphery. With the NFL, there's far too much money and popularity to simply sweep these injuries under the rug and move along. Unlike in boxing (where there is no union), football players belong to a union and have forced the issue with NFL management via class action lawsuits, forcing the NFL's hand.

An unavoidable danger
The evidence regarding the link between football and brain trauma is undeniable, and the NFL has recently refined and altered its rules in an attempt to decrease the number of concussions its players suffer each year. This is an impossible task: the violent collisions during football plays are an integral and inextricable part of the game as it was originally constructed. It is unrealistic to attempt to legislate out the fulcrum of the sport. Players are being penalized and fined for hits that were considered routine and legal only a few seasons ago. While the NFL rules committee appears to focus on highlight-reel hits, it is the sub-concussive blows, the ones offensive and defensive linemen experience on every single play, that are just as dangerous as the more visible ones other players suffer.

If the NFL truly cares about the health of its players, as it purports to, then the game cannot continue on in its current incarnation. It must be drastically altered or abolished altogether. Obviously, the NFL is not going to shut itself down, so it continues with the charade.

The problem is, many former players and their lawsuits, should they be successful, would cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. In turn, this will cost the league's 32 insurers money as well, forcing them to raise premiums to compensate for the increased risk of lawsuits.

The NFL has deep pockets and might be able to sustain these financial losses, but as The New York Times has reported, football at other levels will suffer. Youth leagues, high school programs, and college programs would be forced, as a result of rising premiums, to raise fees or implement other severe measures such as asking players to sign away their right to sue schools/organizations. It's not unreasonable to foresee pee-wee football leagues, high schools, and even college programs shutting down altogether simply to avoid the potential financial disaster that could result from running football operations. Consequently, the NFL's very talent pool -- youths and teenagers plying their craft and aiming for the pros -- would simply evaporate. Just last month, a study published by UCLA researchers in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry shows that CTE can be detected in living patients. This discovery is tremendously important in that we will now be able to diagnose exactly how many players, on all levels, are suffering from CTE.

The future is uncertain
Once we process these possibilities, we begin to see the full scope of the problem the NFL faces: Football in this country could conceivably not exist in 10 to 15 years. If that seems like an absurd supposition, consider that 40% of the stocks in from 1983's Fortune 500 list no longer exist.

The NFL's death will likely start with these liability lawsuits. Even the manufacturers of NFL equipment are not immune to the CTE fallout. According to Forbes, Riddell, the official helmet manufacturer of the NFL, now faces allegations from roughly 2,500 plaintiffs seeking damages for falsely marketing its helmets as having the ability to prevent or reduce concussions by substantial percentages (claiming roughly a 31% reduction in concussions).

If Riddell, once a public company but now owned by private equity firm Fenway Partners, is found to have willfully misrepresented the functionality of its product, it could suffer dire financial consequences. There is no helmet, no equipment, that can prevent concussions in football. Helmets were originally conceived so that players would stop breaking their necks and fracturing their skulls during football. They can't prevent or even markedly reduce concussions because the injury is internal -- the brain jars from the ferocity of the hit. Ironically, today's helmets likely contribute to concussions rather than reduce them, because players feel comfortable launching themselves at other players at higher speeds and with even more forcible impact.

As the NFL comes under fire from various angles -- lawsuits, public outcry, scientific research, and media scrutiny -- the league's backbone, its players (former and current), could ultimately be the tipping point in the demise of the NFL. Players are now expressly concerned over their own futures with regard to their physical and mental health. They are speaking out, and people are listening. Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Thomas Jones has decided to donate his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute to be studied for evidence of CTE. Jones has no idea how many concussions he has sustained in his 12-year professional career, but he fears for his mental well-being years down the line.

Former San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison has also been vocal in his concern over concussion-related trauma. Harrison says he is fearful over what could happen to him as a result of the estimated 20 concussions he has sustained over his career. Currently, Harrison says he now experiences symptoms of loneliness, isolation and anxiety. "I'm scared to death. I have four kids, I have a beautiful wife and I'm scared to death what might happen to me 10 or 15 years from now," Harrison told Bob Costas in a segment that aired this week. He claims that during his first five or six years in the NFL, he'd never even heard the word "concussion" mentioned by teams.

The beginning of the end
With the big game approaching this weekend, the NFL is poised for its most profitable annual event. The game will be played and millions around the globe will tune in to watch. Advertisers will spend millions for their ads to air during the game. The league's executives will enjoy the completion of yet another successful season. But make no mistake: the battle won't end on Sunday. Not for the players. As the final whistle sounds, they will take their helmets off and go home to their families, knowing that they may have decades more to fight, and that what is at stake for them extends far beyond the chalk lines of the football field or the dollars in their paychecks.

We are reminded that all empires are temporary. All rulers are greedy. When viewed under this lens, it's fitting that the NFL, which in its own films refers to its players as Roman gladiators, has set itself up for a tragic fall.

Jesse Goodman is a freelance writer who lives in Washington, D.C. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned.


Read/Post Comments (41) | Recommend This Article (67)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 6:35 PM, Phenom1997 wrote:

    That was heavy but I kind of agree with the article.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 6:36 PM, wpwalsh1 wrote:

    choices are made. In all my years of watching football I have never seen a player forced onto the field or strong armed into signing a contract. These men are not without intelligence, yet it never crossed their mind that there would be a long term issue with the violence they put themselves through. I do not see anyone running for the door giving back the big money now that science has caught up to what is just common sense. I do not mean come off as insensitive but when does one of these articles put some of the ownership on the players. Putting fire in your mouth and sucking in causes problems, really, hitting your head hard causes problems, then stop doing it.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 7:58 PM, Darwood11 wrote:

    Everyone likes to play dumb and ignore the elephant in the room. It's all about greed, and in the end greed will prevail. So I expect the players will use this to clean up. After all, many of these people are the same one's who justify their lofty "salaries" because they can only play until 35 or so. Yeah, right. So if someone earns $60K a year for 40 years, which is age 25 to 65, that person will earn $2.4 million IN A LIFETIME of working. Compare that to the earnings of these NFL "gladiators" and I suggest that they get big pay in part because of the risks.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 9:46 PM, devoish wrote:

    Right now investors are trying to persuade that all injuries in the line of work are acceptable because the employee was "paid and new the risks" (see darwood11 and wpwalsh1).

    Hopefully that will change.

    Steven

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 9:49 PM, TMFTomGardner wrote:

    wpwalsh,

    I think of it like this. Imagine I'm involved in building construction. I know that I take risks. I might put a nail through my hand. I might break an arm. I might fall off a ladder. I am signing up for known risks.

    But what happens if 20 years later, I learn that the building materials I've been using are deadly. And what if I find out that my employer knew that it was a human carcinogen. But they continued to use the material because:

    a) it was legal

    b) the risks were not known outside the company

    c) the material was massively cheaper

    d) profit margins rose 15% because of the use of that material

    e) the company stock traded higher over those 20 years in no small part because of that material

    f) the CEO made $105 million in compensation over that 20 year period, largely tied to the performance of the stock

    Now the question is -- do I have legal recourse? I don't think the question is whether I was complicit. Nor should the question be whether I'm justified in being upset. I think the only real question is -- did the company know that it was putting in me at risk, was it obligated to fully disclose what it knew when it knew it, or not?

    I think it's a better world where I have legal recourse. And I think that's the world we live in. NFL players knew they were taking risks. But did they know about the level of risk associated with brain injury? And what if the NFL knew a lot more about that risk but chose not to share it -- to keep profits on the rise (or for any other reason).

    I played football. Every time I hit someone, I figured the risk I took was a broken back or neck. I figured the chance of that was remote. I kept playing hard. Had I known about the risk of concussion leading to brain injury, I would have played differently. In fact, I probably would not have played. (Hard to say, because I love football. But had I known the risk. . my actions would have been different.)

    As the author states, I think football at every level is at risk now. I believe the financial exposure to football being played by people under 18 is about to rocket higher. And I think it's right for that to happen.

    I really enjoyed the article.

    Tom Gardner

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 10:29 PM, whereaminow wrote:

    Tom Gardner,

    The solution to your hypothetical situation lies not only in the company management, but with the employees as well.

    In your hypothetical scenario, the risks were known "inside the company". That is also true of the NFL. Do you really expect me to believe that players who experienced this inside knowledge for decades had such naive ignorance to the consequences of their sport? Do you really expect me to believe that in your hypothetical scenario the employees of this company would be just blindly in the dark for 20 years?

    Oh c'mon.

    The truth is that NFL players have made incredibly massive salaries for a generation and they have knowingly traded the risk of long term health damage for this tremendous financial gain.

    Tom Gardner, if the Good Lord had blessed you with 4.4. 40 speed and explosive strength, you are telling me you would turn down a lifetime of financial security because Troy Aikman suffered so many concussions he can't remember the vowels in Joe Buck's name? Or that during your stellar and lucrative 10 year career you never once could have imagined that flying into other 300 pound men at high speeds might be dangerous?

    Your hypothetical scenario, like devoish's comment above, turns employees into noble cardboard cut-outs, which can then be used to bash the rest of us over the head.

    Just stop.

    This arrangement was voluntary and the players of the NFL and the employees of your hypothetical company are not naive children who are blind to risk. They are real people that make calculated decisions of risk versus reward.

    I am thankful for voluntary arrangements, even those that are risky. Coerced arrangements delivered by the criminal gang writ large known as the State are not nearly as profitable for the victims. And with the State, there is no recourse when they poison you for years without informing you.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/01/28/israel_admits_ethiopian_jewi...

    David in Liberty

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 10:43 PM, Thevitz wrote:

    I don't think the players get their big pay because of the risks they take, as Darwood11 says. If that were the case, soldiers, police officers, and fire fighters would be making huge salaries,which they don't. They get their big pay because of the revenue the game generates. Speaking of that big pay, NFL players make about $1.9 million a year on average. Pretty great compared to most jobs, but actually the least of the big 4 sports even though they're clearly at the most risk and the NFL is clearly the most popular.

    Responding to wpwalsh's comments that the inherent risks should seem obvious to players, keep in mind that these men begin playing when they're kids, like 5-6 years old playing pee-wee football. And it probably quickly comes to be the centerpiece of their lives for those talented enough to make it to the NFL. Should those 5-6 year old kids see the obvious risks associated with playing football, or is that asking too much of them? As they get older and football has come to consume their lives, should they be able to critically analyze for themselves the danger they are in when they've essentially become brainwashed by their coaches and families and the dreams of fame and fortune that awaits them in the NFL? The fact is that these players are not getting all of the facts, whether it's because people are deliberately deceiving them into believing football is not that dangerous, those involved in their careers don't know the dangers themselves, or the pervading culture of player/masculinity/toughness-worship that contributes to the football mentality.

    I know people who played football on high-school championship teams, for whom playing and watching football have been lifelong passions, and who are committed to keeping their children from playing football due to the recent increased understanding of the risks involved. Whether or not we believe that professional football players "deserve" to make the salaries they make, I think most people would agree that they do deserve all of the facts available so that they can make the most informed decision.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 12:31 AM, TMFMoby wrote:

    Being a 6’3” guy born in rural Alabama, football was life. From age 8 until college, I played every second of offense, defense, and special teams, and loved every bit of it. It prepared me for real life unlike any other experience, and if they choose it, I will sign my (future) kids up for the same.

    My father made one thing very clear to me consistently throughout that time, which I believe applies to anyone at any level:

    The effects of concussions are cumulative. One is extremely dangerous; two is the absolute end of football or any other contact sport.

    If you think about it this way, you act differently to yourself and your competitors. You don’t lead with your helmet, nor do you attempt to make contact with your opponents’ heads. Feet, hips, and shoulders are the game. It’s not about hurting people. It’s about strategy, positioning, and timing.

    That’s how I played, and that’s the lessons I’ve taken from football into my professional life.

    Never in my decade+ of football did I try for or allow any sort of major head impact with any of the hundreds of people I competed with.

    Regardless of past transgressions by the NFL, they will find a way forward due to the incredible demand of the product.

    Given that, I strongly believe the NFL should GREATLY deemphasize anything relating to head-to-head contact. This is not comprehensive, but two potential ways are:

    1) More extreme penalties for helmet-to-helmet contact, or other contact that does not impact the course of play. Hitting the quarterback after he’s thrown is ridiculous. If it doesn’t impact the ball, it should be penalized, in my opinion.

    2) “Big hit” segments and replays in the media need to die. Yes it makes a cool sound where a lot of people say “ooohhh” but when you realize it’s a person’s brain jostling around, you think about it differently. ESPN, and others need to get on board as much or more than the NFL. Deemphasize it here, and you send a great signal to the thousands of kids learning life on the field as I did. Same goes for college. Stop making it cool to hurt people.

    Jeremy

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 12:16 PM, percy300 wrote:

    What is more disheartening is the brain damage suffered by high school players. And they do not have the high tech equipment that might mitigate some of the brain damage.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 12:47 PM, DrJCA1 wrote:

    Adults should do whatever they want to, and take personal responsibility (economic and social) for theoutcomes. Minors on the other had should not be allowed to play this disgusting sport at any time and parents who allow this should be dragged into court for being imbeciles. Taking a chance on a kid being brain damaged for life just to play ball is selfish, stupid, and borders on the criminal.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 12:55 PM, JimmyZangwow wrote:

    Clearly not every player is suffering after-effects, so the argument that football is inherently dangerous doesn't hold water. Whether it's luck or vigilance, some players leave the game relatively unscathed (at least from the perspective of TBIs).

    That being said, the league should be take responsibility to aid those players injured in the era before common awareness of this phenomenon.

    For the future, the game will stay the same. Some players will hit others purposely; some will hit others accidentally. TBIs would still happen even if the league made permanent expulsion a possibility. The money and fame are just too attractive for most athletically-gifted young men to pass up!

    People want to see contact, will pay for it; let those who don't care about the risks play the game. Just don't make anyone else liable for their medical care.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 12:57 PM, wbor wrote:

    Concerning sports injuries, I have had 3 knee operations(football, basketball & volleyball). There are risks. But I am confused, why under 'The Motley Fool' , an investment based outfit with newsletters, mutual funds, ect. using its space to discuss this topic which belongs on a medical or ethic blog? I just think this is the wrong forum.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 1:23 PM, lewsogge wrote:

    Check out Amarantus Bioscience (AMBS). Publicly traded company that looks poised to make great advancements on the scientific front of this devastating problem. They recently signed a contract and received a grant from Brewer Sports Intl. to promote awareness of Traumatic Brain Injury and to advance their preclinical drug which has shown promising data in TBI as well as Parkinsons. AMBS is currently in the midsts of a retracement and is available for a severely discounted price given the recent milestones they have achieved.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 1:31 PM, TMFBrich wrote:

    @wbor,

    <<But I am confused, why under 'The Motley Fool' , an investment based outfit with newsletters, mutual funds, ect. using its space to discuss this topic which belongs on a medical or ethic blog? I just think this is the wrong forum.>>

    We primarily write about investing. But we are students of business, public and private, and the way this particular private organization (the NFL) has failed one of its key constituents (its own employees) is a widely applicable lesson.

    Thanks for reading.

    -Brian Richards, Fool.com managing editor

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 3:17 PM, Mongui wrote:

    I just read two articles in the "Journal of Psychohistory" : "Child Abuse, Homicide and Raids in Tribes" and "The slaughter of Innocents: Child Sacrifice Ancient and Modern" One of the points I took from this articles is that we humans do not love our offspring naturally, psychogenic parenting evolution has been a labor of thousands of years, and a new theory is placing this evolution at the central source of historical change replacing the "survival of the fittest" (the most aggressive). The groups that had the most loving caretaking of children are the the more secured, the more attached and the ones which survive best. But we still have within us the desire for child sacrifice. We send our children to war (The Education Reform Act of 2002 mandates that a school district must allow military recruiters into secondary schools in order to receive federal funds, and the Pentagon has compiled from private corporations a data base of 30 million children and young adults at the cost of $70.5 million) and we encourage at high school and college level an extreme dangerous sport like football.

    I thank you for bringing up to our attention this important issue in our society. We are not investing machines, we are rounded human beings. The better our society evolves the better our children and grand children will do.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 3:30 PM, SwiperFox wrote:

    High School football will go away for many reasons. Most importantly, the cost of equipment, facilities and insurance. This latest concussion scare will only help see it off sooner.

    Here in LA we have a growing High School Rugby movement. Soccer is already in place. The cheaper and less damaging sports will win out in the end.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 3:54 PM, IrishHammo wrote:

    We are starting to see a similar situation here in London with professional Rugby. Hits getting harder and harder all the time. BUT because no pads or helmets it can only go so far. Boxing evidence is showing something similar, gloves actually cause the brain injury, no gloves and fingers break before any brain gets hurt.

    Therefore there's a simple solution, get rid of all pads and helmets in American football. Yes there'll be more contusions and broken bones, but they're known and will heal, and the hits will reduce in severity and the concussions will reduce.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 4:24 PM, babycatcher27 wrote:

    Sorry Percy, but there is no high tech equipment that will mitigate the brain damage. Despite helmets cushioning the head and preventing some skull or neck fractures, the brain is going to experience the same rapid velocity smash against the skull which is dependent on the speed of the head and the suddenness of its stopping, not on the depth of cushioning. This is what bruises the brain and breaks vessels...and leads to chronic encephalopathy. In my opinion parents should use the same judgment in allowing their kids to play contact football as they would use in allowing them to jump off the roof of a two+ story building without a net below. When kids get to legal age, they can make their own choices, but should have full scientific information before making the choice. And they should have to sign waivers alleviating the sponsors and insurance companies of responsibility for the outcomes. We, as a society, are all paying the price for these athletes' unnecessary injuries in the form of higher insurance premiums and increased cost of social services to help them.

    But on the other hand, smokers and people who allow themselves to become grossly obese also are costing the rest of us hugely for their excesses. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but when are we going to stop swigging sugary drinks and making unhealthy fast food choices knowing that these lead to obesity, diabetes, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, and all the resulting pathologies. We are a nation that has more information to enable us to stay healthy than a lot of the world, but we so often choose to ignore it (I'm as guilty as the rest). So I guess in a rambling way, I'm saying that we all choose the risks we're willing to take, and we all will live with the consequences of those choices....football injuries are just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 4:33 PM, yosemitebean wrote:

    Peewee football should be outlawed immediately. The medical profession knows children's heads are more fragile, then adult's heads are. We know the truth now, so we need to protect our young children, who are not capable of knowing the true meaning of long term brain damage.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 4:43 PM, boommeister wrote:

    Tom Gardner, you seem to be taking a lot of heat for the comments you made but you made a magnificent point: would the COMPLETE picture of known truth modify someone's behavior? For most, I would say it would not be likely but for many, I am sure it would. To callously dismiss the issue as one where a bunch of beefed up jocks are chasing the money train dismisses the deep thinking players who would be affected by a complete report. Not everyone would trade their life for a paycheck. It is one thing to think that you gamble is one wherein you may risk a blown knee, a bad back or a ravaged neck. But the picture changes when you look at mental illness and losing one's ability to cognitively function. But those who were the type who would not make that trade, were never given the opportunity to make the choice. Yes, we are all in a world of trade-offs and compromises but being disallowed the true considerations of one's choice, sort of makes the decision making process a bit perverted -- at least in my opinion.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 5:52 PM, slegl516 wrote:

    Cigarettes

    Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health (1966–1970)

    Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health (1970–1985)

    SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy. (1985–)

    SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health. (1985–)

    SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight. (1985–)

    SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide. (1985–)

    There have been warnings on Cigarettes for years. Courts stilled acted like consumers had No Idea what they were doing. Trial Lawyers made a Killing on that one. Everyone has always know that Footbal American Style is a Dangerous sport. So no reason to believe the Trial Lawyers aren't going to rack up with the NFL Too!

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 7:48 PM, NickD wrote:

    Stop using drugs stop using pads what happens well what is happening with rugby stupid Americans.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 12:25 AM, bornboring wrote:

    Contact sports are ways to waste some lives, especially the more promising younger ones. Mental diability is not obvious to most people, but it will affect their choice of investments, even if they managed to accumulate a few million for the risks. Can't you see that the devil's advocate is smiling?

    While the current asset of the league can be used as a retirement fund for all players past and present, we should devise some kind of replacement of these games. Have anyone tried to make these into virtual games, to be played on a computer? Rugby is a game of strategies, most suitable to be played in such medium.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 2:10 AM, jomueller1 wrote:

    "American Football" does not even qualify as sports. It is sanctioned brawls. Schools should not be allowed to waste my tax money on "entertainment" that fosters violence and damage to the bodies.

    The gun violence in this country is part of an education system that values entertainment over academics, a society that values money over intellectual accomplishments. Winning is everything, accomplishments mean nothing. What a sorry state of affairs!

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 6:10 AM, csimmons01 wrote:

    "...it is the sub-concussive blows, the ones offensive and defensive linemen experience on every single play, that are just as dangerous as the more visible ones other players suffer."

    I am not a doctor, but from what I have learned this is patently false and misleading. There are certainly hits that are clinically sub-concussive, but still cause injury to the brain and have deleterious long term health effects. But to extend this to "every single play" is not at all accurate. The human body and brain (and even inanimate objects for that matter) can sustain impacts at a certain level indefinitely. That is part of the job of the skull and cerebro-spinal fluid, to protect the brain from trauma in the many small impacts of everyday life. If every impact damaged your brain then you would not be able to jump up and down or use stairs. There is a certain level of acceleration where the impact transitions from sustainable indefinitely, to having long term effects. As the forces involved go up the level of damage goes up. Obviously the maximum would be death from head trauma. The point is that there is an impact level below which the body can sustain itself injury free forever.

    Which brings up my next point.

    "There is no helmet, no equipment, that can prevent concussions in football."

    This is true, no helmet can stop all concussions. But some helmets are better than others, and materials are getting better every day. If you take an egg and drop it off of a table, it will break. But that same egg encased in enough energy absorbing foam can survive that fall. This is the whole theory behind airbags in cars, spread the same amount of energy absorption over a large surface of the body, and switch the impact from a short sharp spike, into a longer but lower level deceleration. Helmets can do the same thing. Yes, there are limits to what can be done, you cannot make a helmet infinitely thick, so there is a limit to how much a helmet can help, but it is a help, and some helmets are better than others.

    The single best thing you can do is get a properly fit helmet (especially important at the children's level where the cost of equipment is high and often not properly fit). After that different types of helmets provide better protection than others. The current testing method is based on the severity index (SI), which can compare the level of protection from a given impact across different helmets. A web search will bring up a trove of information.

    There is some truth to the fact that helmets can actually cause some of the injuries (as the rugby proponents indicate). A player with a helmet will naturally lead with the head more than somebody without. But the players with helmets also have a level of protection, so this becomes a complex situation. In my opinion simply getting rid of helmets is not going to solve the TBI and CTE problems and will have other deleterious effects.

    I also have to agree with the comments of TMFMoby (Jeremy) above. Educating players starting at the children's level about head injuries can help prevent them. Even with all of the chances for injury, there are lessons in life (and FUN) that sports bring. Everyone has to do their own cost benefit-analysis and be willing to accept risk to reap reward. If you try to avoid all risk you are on the road to becoming a Howard Hughes shut-in.

    Thanks for the article, even though some of the content is not correct.

    Chris

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 9:40 AM, trooper343 wrote:

    I played football four years in high school and coached high school football for twenty-one years. As much as I love the game, I am dead set against my grandson playing football. Even though he is going to be big (Dr. says about 6'5"), the sport has evolved where even in high school players are so much bigger, faster and stronger than they were years ago. Several years ago my defensive line averaged 270 pounds (I was a position coach DL). These kids were not overly fat, but rather overly fast and strong. I have always known that with so much ego and testosterone in a high school boy, even if a concussion occurred they would not tell a coach for fear of being held out of the next game(s), so I know we missed some concussions, and that really bothers me.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 11:54 AM, swedenclunk wrote:

    In Rugby a dangerous hit will get you at least 10 minutes in the sin bin, and anything which involves anothers head or neck will get you sent off for the rest of the match. Your team is down one man.

    In US Football it seems you almost have rules to encourage hurtful play. This is to the head but also knees and ankles. If that's the game, great, but having played touch football at Uni there seemed a lot more skill in it than "lets cream the other guy".

    why keep helmets ? Can a team have a player sent off and a disadvantage for the rest of the match ? Also, for many of us the "change the team every 5 minutes seems odd:-)

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 1:45 PM, SongDuck wrote:

    This is quite a read. Brings to mind a number of issues; cigarette, asbestos, big pharma and other industries that blatantly denied the dangers in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary. And, of course, sports; in particular boxing and NASCAR.

    The most popular sport in the U.S. is auto racing, sanctioned by NASCAR; I've been a fan for decades. In the past there were many serious injuries and even deaths resulting from accidents on the track. But, today the drivers walk away from horrific crashes with no or minor injuries. This was a result of NASCAR mandating a number of changes to the cars, driver safety devices and safer barriers along the wall that absorb much of the impact.

    So, I've been thinking; why can auto racing become a safe and huge industry and football can't? Or maybe it can? For one thing NASCAR, after the death of one of the most popular drivers, underwent a major paradigm change - SAFETY FIRST. At first drivers objected to the new safety devices and rule changes. But over time, the drivers and fans embraced safety. And, NASCAR's popularity has grown.

    So, can this SAFETY FIRST paradigm be applied to football? We will never know if we don't try. Players have unions that are very concerned about concussions. Using NASCAR as an example; all manner of prevention has to be analyzed; the gear, helmets, the field and the rules themselves.

    After reading the article, I can actually see football being sidelined, just as boxing. I don't want this to happen, but it very might.

    Considering, that team football begins in high school and college - this is where I envision the possibility for positive change. If nothing changes, knowing how severe concussions are, it would be a crime.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 1:52 PM, foolhardy7 wrote:

    Thoughtful article. But within it already are the answers to the questions posed. The issues of football and head injury are there; they have been there for decades.

    Fans don't want to admit to the seriousness, because they like watching the game, and don't want to think about mental disabilities in the players thirty years from now. It makes people feel bad about cheering on the tough team. No one likes to fee that way. The business of football certainly doesn’t want to debate it – that decision will always be driven by the money.

    Your analogy to tobacco is a good one. But it goes deeper than what you cite. Strong evidence of the link between smoking and lung cancer existed in the 1950s. Yet as late as the 1980s (and I think even the early 90s), we saw senior executives of tobacco companies testifying under oath that there was not a proven link between smoking and lung cancer. These were not reckless people. They were carefully prepared witnesses. They would not have risked charges of perjury. But they were able to get away with that because they could find experts to testify that the surveys and testing were flawed, that there were too many other environmental factors that could affect the results, that the science supported other alternatives, etc., etc. For a good review of that history, read through the opening statements of the breakthrough tobacco trial in Minnesota in 1998, available on the archive of tobacco.org, here.

    http://archive.tobacco.org/Documents/980126minnesota.html . The issue there was the cost to public health systems (and you all know the result of that case), but the plaintiffs' opening statement charts the history of how a denial of the obvious can be effective in suppressing action for decades.

    One sees this play performed over and over, whenever big money and established interests are threatened by discoveries that everything is not as it seems. Concussions in football, sugar in our diets, climate change, the list is endless. Change only happens when the effects become so close to the average person (most of us over 50 know someone who died of lung cancer from smoking), that people are no longer willing to ignore the reality and hide behind the corporate screen to the contrary.

    In the case of football concussions, I personally think the change in attitude is being driven in no small part by the developing concern of parents over the health of their children. Once they are willing to believe, and act, on the evidence that a percentage of middle and high school-age football players are likely to incur injury that will cause significant disabilities later in life, the more likely they are to recognize that it cannot be ignored in the adult setting either. Reforms will follow. Lawsuits will follow. Some changes will follow. But not today.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 3:17 PM, Draftin2 wrote:

    Another reason to stop using public funds to subsidize pro teams.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 5:43 PM, SalukiFool wrote:

    How many of you know that the NFL is a Non-profit? As a former nfl lineman I have an interest in my health and welfare.. As an American citizen I wonder why we Americans are willing to accept the financial toll that these injuries place on the government Medicare system (someone is paying those bills). Look in the owners boxes during high profile games, GW Bush, Alan Greenspan, govt officials and political heavyweights. Could that be why the non-profit BS has been allowed to continue? Certainly none of you believe the NFL is a philanthropic organization? Heck.. They don't even take care of their own.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2013, at 12:12 AM, Momoneypls wrote:

    "It was always surprising to me that baseball was ever America's favorite child, considering football is predicated on the very elements that have always driven this country's collective consciousness: controlled violence, gaining and controlling territory, a complex hierarchy of authority, and the idea of men preparing for and entering battle." It was at this point I quit reading. You may have something valid to say but when you sprinkle in the tired, bigoted, worn out slams against the country, I immediately become suspicious of your motive and therefore don't trust what you have to say thereafter.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2013, at 8:09 AM, mmathis21788 wrote:

    This reminds me of the 'discovery' back in the 80s-90s that boxers that bludgeon one another fight after fight were scrambling their brains. All of the players are grown men and have voluntarily chosen a career. The vast majority of them are college graduates so I will make the leap of faith that they have some training other than being on a football field. Football players are bigger and arguably stronger than in decades past so it is pure common sense that when they slam into one another, (passive voice) damage will occur.

    I am not heartless to any physical injury - even when it is self-inflicted. That said, I feel as sorry for the football players as I would an alcoholic that 'discovers' that years of 'harmless' drinking has ruined their liver.

    If football can be made safe, then 'full-speed' ahead. If not then let the player beware (caveat ludio).

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2013, at 4:47 PM, Blagueur2 wrote:

    Rugby might be a good alternative to football. Less equipment, fewer concussions.

  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2013, at 7:24 PM, 2young2cry wrote:

    Was anyone else who watched the Superbowl impressed by the number of helmets the got knocked off of the players' heads? There were at least 6 that I saw and all but one helmet I noticed came off as the result of a blow to the head that it had previously sat upon. No opinion, just an observation.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2013, at 9:10 PM, robertinseattle wrote:

    Once again, I find myself commenting here first of all to address the ignorant. For those of you who continue to believe that most of the older players were paid a fortune to play, ignorance is bliss. The majority of them were paid next-to-nothing for following their passion and love of the game. Many of the old timers I've had the pleasure to meet in person told me about one of their earlier strikes: "Robert - it wasn't for no damn money back in the 60's. When we went on strike, it was to make the damn owners pay for our uniforms and shoes! In those days, we practiced in the Fall and played through the season and then went back to our summer jobs so we could support our families."

    As the League and its owners grew bigger and got richer with the rising valuations of those teams, they often colluded with the so-called Union to the detriment of the retirees on pensions and disability benefits. These evil people built and rigged an entire retirement system that was completely stacked against the retired players so there would be larger and larger pots of money for the owners, the Union, the agents and the current players. In fact, it's only now becoming more common knowledge that just 5% of retired players who manage to get through a Byzantine application process that's stacked against them actually receive benefits of any sort. Otherwise - just like in college - everyone gets paid except the players.

    For those of you who continue to believe these men are asking for anything outside what they were actually due, I suggest following Dave Pear's Blog where you'll see years worth of documentation showing the long history of deception and fraud that the NFL has perpetrated on its retired players. The current concussion lawsuits that continue to grow clearly detail the decades of deceit and fake team doctors as well as years of phony Brain Injury Committees, all set up to fool everyone into believing the game was safe. It's one thing to work at your job believing that management and your Union are supposed to be providing safety measures and doctors to protect their employees but it's another story when they go out of their way to dispute real facts as well as spin out fraudulent sound bites to the media and the fans.

    Here's a little FYI example: One of the two original "Mild" Traumatic Brain Injury Committee co-chairs was a doctor all right. But he wasn't even a neurologist; Pellman actually got his medical degree in Mexico as a rheumatologist!

    It wouldn't surprise me if some of the "fans" who scream the loudest about those retired rich football players whining for more benefits are beer-swigging couch-surfing union cardholders. To those "loyal" fans, I ask you this: How PO'ed would you be if you discovered that the company you work for has been hiding the dangers of working on a certain piece of equipment and your union had also helped them cover it up? What if you started to have severe health problems as a result after you retired? Something tells me that if outsiders without any real information started to talk about how you damn whiny well-paid union retirees should simply shut up because you should have known the consequences when you took that high-paying job, the ensuing uproar would deafening.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 12:45 PM, kmacattack wrote:

    Sleg516,

    Your attempt to prove a point by posting the warnings which have been on cigarettes over the years were of no benefit is pure moose hockey.

    The warnings, and taxing the hell out of cigarettes, is paying off. Smoking rates are falling dramatically, and the culture of "Joe Camel is cool" is rejected by all but the stupid. Teen smoking used to be a cool thing to do, but most teens now view peers who smoke as weak and suicidal. The famous "Marlboro Man" died a long time ago at an early age, of lung cancer.

    When I was 8 years old, my dad died at age 46 of lung cancer. Smoking never looked glamorous to me after that point, and I stood up and cheered when a bulletin was broadcast in the early 1960's that the Surgeon General had just announced that there was proof without a doubt that smoking caused lung cancer.

    Who cleaned up from the lawsuits over smoking deaths? The families like mine who lost loved ones to a product which is only legal because the politicians of one party were happy to crawl into bed with a "job creator" which now makes huge profits by exporting lung cancer and heart disease to other nations.

    My broker has for years tried to get me to buy stock in cigarette companies. I told him on every occasion, I don't care if I could double my money every year by owning their stock, I cannot in good conscience support an industry which is, in my opinion, a heartless mass murderer.

    You may subscribe to the belief that Ayn Rand was a visionary.when she spouted such radical ideas such as "All public assistance programs are bad and should be eliminated."

    "Charity and Altruisim are a worthless. They are a waste of time and money, as is religion."

    "The concept of Majority rule is a bad idea and it should be done away with." The republican party is trying to pursue this strategy currently in Pennsylvania and other states by Gerrymandering even the electoral college system.

    I contend that Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan's mentor and hero of the past 25 years, was a heartless, greedy bitch. The ironic final chapter in Ms. Rand's life is that she was relied on government assistance when she was a terminal cancer patient. I guess Baron Rothschild, her lover must have recited the Tea Party anthem to her when he discovered that she was dying, "Ayn it looks like You ARE ON YOUR OWN."

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 4:23 PM, nerd51 wrote:

    I find it ironic that so much space is used decrying the treatment of football players as employees. Every industry today treats their employees as resources to be purchased at the lowest possible cost, used with the highest efficiency then discarded when they are no long cost effective. We have a ridiculous minimum wage that condemns millions to soul crushing poverty. Even the middle class are an illness away from bankruptcy. Occupational safety has become a joke in many industries. But let's have this conversation about the NFL. As long as we're getting our dividends and our stocks appreciate we can ignore how most companies in the US treat their employees a fight tooth and nail against any kind of safety regulations, universal health care, liveable minimum wage or fair labor practices.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 8:33 AM, CajunRon100 wrote:

    So what's next, sky divers, mountain climbers, race car drivers?. They are much more at risk of fatal injury than football players. And the riskiest thing most of us do everyday, even more risky than that taken by pro football players is driving our car...but, oh, that doesn't count. The 50,000 people killed each year in auto accidents and the 100,000's with broken bones and concussions well they don't count. Let's go after the relative handful who play pro football who may end up with concussions at their own choosing. Is our "caring society" going to impose their will on everyone choosing to pursue life's thrills?

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2013, at 9:23 AM, TopAustrianFool wrote:

    "The evidence regarding the link between football and brain trauma is undeniable"

    I think that the link between man made crises and money from govt researcg and lawsuits is what is undeniable.

    Ask yourself what about boxers? The whole sports is about inflicting concusions, nevetheless I don't hear a crises because as a sport it doesn't generate the amounts of money Football does. Its all another scam, by those who want money from the producers.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2013, at 6:48 PM, awarenessrus wrote:

    I'm sorry, but I don't get why this article (although interesting) is really all that relevant to investing.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2231521, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 11/23/2014 10:56:35 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement