After Omalu’s initial studies about CTE were published, the NFL denied the findings. That’s not surprising. It’s not really a study that looks great for the NFL. So they commissioned a study by the University of Michigan. That study found the same thing. Namely, that playing football for a long time really fucks up your brain.
Julian Bailes—weighed in, stating:
“The Michigan study is the first time any research performed or commissioned by the NFL has offered any contribution to the notion that banging heads with big fast guys thousands of times could even possibly affect your brain. Right. We knew this already… As a physician, as a researcher, as a brain scientist, my job is to alert what we see from a public-health perspective, and what we’re discovering is a new, previously unappreciated syndrome. It’s up to the people who are the stakeholders in this how to react. Dementia is the worst disease. This is worse than saying that football causes cancer, or football causes heart attacks. With this, you lose your mind and you lose your dignity.”
Dementia is the worst disease. God, dementia is the worst disease. The idea that anyone goes from being a national hero to, say, drinking antifreeze because he destroyed his brain for our amusement is grotesque. It’s barbaric. We live in the 21st century. We know better.
I’m not entirely enthusiastic to tell you any of this, because, if you tell people that you have one or two minor hesitations when it comes to football, you might as well just tattoo “I hate America” across your forehead.
It’s funny, because if you went around telling people that you liked to throw paint on fur coats because you believe that sweet little minks shouldn’t be killed, you’d be fine. People would understand that. I can’t do that, because I don’t give a shit about minks. They very rarely seem to pull babies out of burning buildings, and therefore, I’m sure I’d eat them if they were more delicious.
The only thing I really care about, the only cause I would say I have, is that I’d like people to be as smart as they can be. That’s different for everyone. Some people are going to make more terrible decisions than other people. That’s fine. But I think I can pretty much assure you that if you have a brain that’s enduring the equivalent of a few car crashes every day, science indicates that you’re no longer going to have the potential to be as smart as you can be.
Because at that point, as smart as you can be is going to mean “homeless, and living in train stations, brushing your teeth with superglue.”
That isn’t okay. That’s actually really bad.
And, while, if you told people that you attended dogfights (and Gladwell makes the comparison between the two in his New Yorker piece, insofar as it’s possible that the destructive nature of the game to its participants is simply an essential part of football) they would almost certainly tell you they couldn’t be friends with you anymore because you were a monster. If you point this out regarding football, you will always be seen as spoiling a perfectly good past-time.
If you mention Iron Mike or Fred McNeill, you’re very likely going to get one response, which is, “yeah, but we pay them really well.”
Well, kind of. The average NFL player earns $770,000 a year. Now, that’s a bit skewed towards towards quarterbacks, whereas obviously linebackers are the ones enduring the most significant head trauma – and players in say, Brent Boyd’s time made around $50,000 a year. But regardless, the average NFL player’s career lasts 3.5 years. That works out to $2,695,000.
Huh. Okay. That’s a good salary. That’ll buy you a nice apartment in New York. A three bedroom, maybe. I mean, it will be tough for you to continue to make payments on it, but okay. Sure. It’s a good amount. Oh, you want to send a kid to private school? Okay, deduct $360,000. Oh, and taxes. Okay. Still good. You can still swing a three bedroom if you live within your means. You can absolutely live on that if you live practically and intelligently.
Although often the guys who tell me that “we pay them so much money” are finance guys who expect to be averaging around that amount for 25 odd years. I ask them if they intend to make 2.5 million and no more in the course of their lives, and they blanch.
No matter. Again, if you’re practical, and you don’t have a lot of other options, sure, 2.5 million is a great salary.
But if you have a brain that looks like it’s been riddled by Alzheimer’s at 45, you’re going to have a hard time living practically and intelligently. You’re going to start making some pretty bad financial decisions. You’re going to be a lot like Fred McNeill. And despite whether or not you’ve gone out and earned a law degree, despite your accomplishments, your personality and your drive, people are going to assume it’s because you’re a big, dumb jock.
Even, sometimes, the people who know you best won’t understand, because these are not risks that people go into the game expecting.
This reliable family man who used to read his children Bible stories at bedtime began to get in his car and disappear for days. “I didn’t realize he had a brain injury,” says Pamela. “I just thought he was angry at me all the time.” Money quickly became a problem. Webster had several million dollars in assets when he retired, so it shocked Pamela when their Victorian house was foreclosed 18 months after he left football. Webster’s finances remain a muddle, but from conversations with his family and lawyers, it appears he poured most of his savings into investments that went bad.
She thought he was just angry at her. At the very least, these are things people need to know absolutely going into the game. Football players assume that they’ll end up with busted knees and maybe some broken bones. They don’t assume that they are going to lose their minds at really young ages. Because $2.5 million doesn’t seem like enough to pay for someone’s life and dignity – which we’re doing it because we like sitting and watching them from easychairs while we eat chicken wings.
I’m tired of pretending that’s okay. I’m tired of high fiving people over games when I know that football players are going crazy enough to kill themselves, and drink antifreeze, and wandering around falling prey to assholes, and sleeping in train stations. I’m tired of being cool when 18 year old kids are getting concussions, and 45 year old brains look 85 and – well, I’m bored with all that. I find apathy very boring. And I really think that, until we find a way to insure that we are not resigning our sports icons to ignoble deaths, until we feel like we’d be comfortable sending our own children out to play – well, I’d at least prefer not to watch.
Though of course, I won’t necessarily tell everybody. I wouldn’t want to seem dull. Have a fun Superbowl weekend, everybody. Go Giants!