Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and other American Football issues

So as not to mess with the fans of the NFL over in the hand-egg thread, I thought I’d start a separate discussion about the health concerns of the NFL, school and college football, and other sports that face the same issue.

I watched Concussion last year, the movie about the discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and it really opened my eyes to the real dangers of the sport. The name of the movie is, I think, a sign of the issue I had with understanding the trauma involved in playing the sport at every level.

Up until then, I had swallowed the NFL’s line about it only being dangerous when someone gets a hit to the head. As in, gets concussion. But the movie isn’t about concussions, it’s about the accumulated damage to the brain over all the impacts over the course of playing football, starting even in high school sports.

While I’m not American, so the NFL hasn’t been a big part of my life, as a general fan of various sports, I got into watching the games when I could and they were on, generally while working on cruise ships. I always enjoyed it! It’s like the peak of blunt athletic ability mixed with tactics and strategies far more advanced than pretty much any other sport.

But this year I decided I couldn’t watch it any more, as I couldn’t face extracting enjoyment from something that was continually and intentionally harming the participants. I haven’t been following results and I’ve not watched any games or updates. I’ve not missed it, as other sports have taken the load.

Then this morning, while skipping through the sports channels trying to find news about the Australian Open, I watched a short segment on the NFL. The barbarism of the sport hit me hard. After taking a break, it really stood out how dangerous it is for everyone on the field.

All this to say: I hope this sport dies. I hope it is closed down completely. No other sport wreaks as much damage as school, college and NFL football on so many lives.

I have more to say on the topix, but that’s enough for now.

Yep. It’s dangerous as fuck. If you smash your body into stuff a lot, you will fuck it up.

What gets me is why there is suck focus on American football. Shouldn’t we be seeing the same kinds of things in Rugby, Footy, Ice Hockey, and every other contact sport?

Let’s keep all the sports and remove violence from all of them.

There is a gray line above which it is immoral to let people participate en masse, even with consent. That line is heavily influenced by societal incentivization, monetization, nature of the damage/danger, etc.

Consenting and informed adults can wingsuit. It’s horribly dangerous, but they also aren’t commercialized. There is no incentive but the person. Sure. Risk away.

Gladiatorial fights to the death are obviously not OK.

American football, all things considered, is just the other side of the line. Maybe it IS the line.

Anyway, kids shouldn’t play it.

A big part of the focus is the farm-like exploitation of young men who aren’t paid for their participation. The only reason the NFL can exist is because it skims off the top talent of college football and over-pays the players who make it in. The players who don’t make it? Nothing.

There is a different structure for rugby (at least Rugby Union) where players come from schools that don’t have sports scholarships. Either the schools are paid for by the parents or as just part of the normal state education. Rugby is just a sport, not a massive profit center for the school. When someone leaves school, they have a real education, so the choice to become a professional rugby player is just that, a real choice.

In America there are massive incentives for all involved to keep football as it is, and massive incentives for players to keep playing. However, the entire edifice is built upon the damage inflicted on the unpaid participants who won’t make it in the future.

[quote=“lukeburrage, post:4, topic:341”]
[/quote] Underpays, I’d say. The owners have colluded to keep wages down.

This perfectly expresses my opinion on why football is over the line as it is today.

The issue is that if we prevent the harm to everyone below the NFL level, there will be no pool of players ready to rise into the NFL in the first place, and the whole sport will disappear. (Which I would be fine with TBH).

Last year at MAGFest there was a great panel on sports, and a real academic made the very interesting observation that sports rise and fall in America by the participation levels of the youth. Fall below a critical mass of young players, and the professional side withers and dies.

That’s not what I meant, but I understand the confusion.

To be clearer, the feeder level of the sport is unpaid, so the wages of the participants who make it into the professional level can only be paid so much because it doesn’t have to monetarily support the feeder level. The overpaying is in relation to the players who come out of college with no pay at all.

The top level of other sports is usually fed by a second, third or even fourth level, and those players are rewarded monetarily.

In tennis there is the Challenger tour, and it’s possible to play on that for an entire career and make enough money to keep going. Tennis needs that level of participation, to make sure players who are working their way up into the top 100 in the world can hone their skills and fitness and all that.

Soccer has many, many layers of leagues, each paying less and less, but it’s still possible to make a living down at the fifth level of the sport. You might only be making about $30,000 per year, but that’s fine for the level of skill those players have. Again, without those many levels of professional participation, the top flight of the sport couldn’t exist.

Those paid jobs can’t exist without the big names at the top, but the big name stars who earn so much couldn’t be where they are either without those other levels of paid participation.

Unlike pretty much every other sport, the NFL sidesteps this. It only has to think about the players in its own league or system.

The NBA has a similar feeder of talent. But the main difference there is that basketball is fun. People play basketball as a hobby. Even without the massive monetary compensation, or without even the promise or goal or prospect of future money, people like to play it.

American football? Nobody plays that for fun. Touch football, maybe, but nobody plays the NFL version of the sport because they like it.

The NCAA is a big contributor to those problems too, at least in the US.

The NCAA doesn’t exist outside of the US.

The NCAA not paying players is a separate problem from CTE in contact sports. But in terms of American football is creates a double whammy combo, where not only are you not being paid, but are also paying with your life. Nobody is getting paid for high school football either.

Despite these two things being exponentially more problematic when combined, they are still two separate things that need to be solved separately.

  1. Any athlete who participates in a sport that turns a profit, should be considered an employee and paid for their service.

  2. Any sport that does not, or can not, properly compensate its athletes should not be permitted to generate profits and revenues for anyone. No overpaid coaches. No using the revenue to go into the university treasury.

  3. All sports which are too dangerous to play should be heavily regulated, banned, or de-violenced.

Boxing was once the biggest sport on Earth, and now it’s dead. It’s just a matter of time.

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[quote=“Apreche, post:2, topic:341”]
What gets me is why there is suck focus on American football. Shouldn’t we be seeing the same kinds of things in Rugby, Footy, Ice Hockey, and every other contact sport?
[/quote]You kind of do, but there’s a reason for the much lower rate - risk compensation.

Look at how Rugby players tackle, vs Gridiron players - Rugby players keep their heads out of the way, because taking a tackle wrong and getting your bell rung, puts you off the field, you’re out of the game injured. Gridiron players don’t, because they’re wearing a ton of protective equipment. Because they wear all that equipment, they can hit harder, and hit more recklessly, which, even with the equipment, causes more small repetitive brain injuries that lead to CTE.

Although it is merely a half-measure, I would love for the NFL to just remove all the helmets and pads.

[quote=“Apreche, post:12, topic:341, full:true”]
Although it is merely a half-measure, I would love for the NFL to just remove all the helmets and pads.
[/quote]Oh yeah, it wouldn’t solve the problem, but it would do a hell of a lot towards dealing with the enormous problem that the NFL has with CTE. Sure, you might not get some of the big hits, the game might get a little slower, but you also end up with fewer players dying of preventable illness.

Unpaid college and highschool athletes and CTE are two separate issues, but that’s why I chose the discussion title I did.

Another big difference between rugby and american football is that in rugby, being tackled doesn’t stop the play. All it does is stop the forward momentum for a while, and then it can continue when a team mate picks up the ball from back down the field from where it was stopped.

The incentive for the rugby player being tackled isn’t to keep moving forward at all costs, nor is it the tackling player’s goal to stop the ball moving forward at all costs. So in american football, as soon as a tackle begins, the best way to ensure it is successful is for as many other players to join in! All the defending players pile on, and all thee attacking players get behind their guy, often charging in at high speed.

Of course, because the play doesn’t end with rugby, anyone pilling in or laying around on the ground is just a liability when the play gets going again.

My proposed fix for american football is to stop play with a successful tackle, but the ball is then placed on the grid at the point the ball was at the first moment of contact of the tackle that was later successful.

So, if a player is has the ball and is heading towards a player from the other team, they would then want to:
A. Avoid contact at all costs.
B. If they can’t avoid contact, try to get away from the defending player cleanly.
C. If they think they can’t keep get away, drop to the floor as soon as possible. Any extra inches the ball moves forward after the initial contact is a waste of effort.

For the defending player making a tackle, they are then aiming just to take the player with the ball DOWN, not stopping them from moving forward. This means lower tackles would be more successful. The best tackle would be to grab hold around the waist, and try to add more and more drag to the player. As long as you don’t lose contact, the ball will be reset to the point you first grabbed on.

This isn’t a perfect solution, but it would maintain so much of what I like about the game, but limit the (to me) most violent part of the game, where a player is upright and five other players ram into him, aiming for the highest possible impact. No thanks!

Um… What? The lowest salary football players can get is $420,000. More seasoned players often get paid in the millions, and they sometimes even strike to ask for more money. How is that “underpaid?”

The salary cap. 31 billionaires have colluded to artificially limit players’ pay.

Imagine your boss saying, “sorry, we can’t give you a raise, because we agreed with all the other bosses to not pay employees more than $x”

AND, recently the owners locked out the players to pay them less, not the players striking for more money.

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Athletes in sports like this is one of the few places that a meritocracy is possible and the best outcome for both the players and the sport.

In individual sports, it’s easy to have a direct correlation between success and earnings, via prize money and appearance fees (see: golf, tennis, boxing, etc).

But with teams it’s more tricky.

For example, at the moment, the NBA has a salary cap. That means that there is now no way for lesser teams to attract star players! They can say “We’ll pay you this much!” and the player just says back “Really? I can get that anywhere!” So where does the player go? To the team where they are most likely to win a championship. Which creates a mismatch in the teams, where the best players go to play with the other best players, creating super-teams of big stars. Does this sound familiar?

If the players could truly be paid how much they are worth, it wouldn’t be possible for the Golden State Warriors to have such a packed lineup. The might be able to afford two top players, and then fill up the rest of the team with third tier players. Other teams would be able to afford at least one big name each, probably. And why wouldn’t they? Of course they would, as it would both improve ticket sales and their chances of winning.

The best thing would be to lift the salary cap, the top athletes will benefit by earning what they are worth, the middle athletes will benefit from being on teams with more chances to win (with the top athletes shared around), the teams will benefit from more equal distribution of top players, and the sport will benefit from not having the same few teams in finals year after year.

I bet if the numbers are crunched, the $420,000 minimum pay is well worth it for the team owners if there is a top end salary cap. Not having to pay the top top top performers what they are really worth saves them way more than any minimum is costing them.

So yeah, of course the billionaire team owners want you to think the athletes are overpaid! Because they are coming out of it as billionaires. You know what happens if a player is paid what they are worth? You get a Tiger Woods or a Roger Federer. Who was making billions off these two? Tiger and Roger! Not some team owners.

I’m sorry, but if the NBA removed its salary cap, small market teams would NEVER be able to compete with large market teams like New York and Los Angeles.

Having a salary cap might not be the ideal solution, but there isn’t one. Keeping the salary cap allows smaller market teams like San Antonio and Cleveland to attract top tier talent. It even allows teams like the Golden State Warriors, who play in Oakland, CA, to compete and form the super teams you’re so against.

A salary cap allows poorer teams to compete on a level playing field with richer teams, forcing teams to build teams through smart drafting and trading, not just throwing money around. Without the salary cap, teams based in NY, LA, Boston and to a lesser extent, Chicago and Miami, would be perennial juggernauts because they make the most money. The fact that the Spurs (San Antonio), Cavaliers (Cleveland), Thunder (Oklahoma City), Raptors (Toronto), and yes, even the Warriors (Oakland) are title contenders is a testament to that level playing field.

With the salary cap in place, teams have to have smart management and smart ownership, instead of just having deep pockets. Just look at the Knicks and Lakers, two teams that used to dominate in the past, but because of bad management, they’re terrible. No player who wants to win a championship wants to play for those two franchises because they’re terrible from the owner on down. Removing the salary cap would allow those teams, and others, to buy their way out of their own stupidity.

You’re getting it backwards when you talk about the Warriors and other super-teams. Those teams are run well, with smart owners, good management, and good coaches. They foster a winning culture and evaluate and draft good talent. THAT’S what attracts star players and that’s why those teams turn into super-teams, not because of the salary cap. Star players are going to teams that are most likely to win a championship. You’re absolutely correct. But that’s not a sign that the salary cap is failing, that’s a sign that that team has a good program and good management. You have it backwards.

Eliminating the cap doesn’t necessarily mean revenue sharing goes away, too.

And there’s only two title contenders.

While it does seem like without a salary cap that wealthier teams would always win, that has not been the case in baseball. It was for a time, mostly during the steroid era. But uh, the Royals won? The Yankees suck lately? Spending money guarantees nothing except that you will get star power.

The real solution is simple. Extreme revenue sharing. Not just the pidldy revenue sharing we have now. Perfectly even revenue sharing. All teams in the league pool their revenue and divide it perfectly evenly. Players don’t get underpaid. Nobody gets a competitive advantage. All is well.

Who gets hurt by this? The ridiculously wealthy owners, and as well they should. Fuck 'em.

The only professional sports team with a good owner is the Green Bay Packers. If I was king, I would eminent domain every fucking pro sports team. They should either be owned by the players and employees, the fans, and/or the people who live in the shadow of the stadium.