Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 7:31 pm

Kaepernick, cont.: Bleacher Report says team execs hate him

I have mixed feelings on this Bleacher Report story by Mike Freeman:

Across NFL front offices, there are team officials who are not offended, and even embrace, the controversial position of Colin Kaepernick. They are out there. Statistically, they have to be. But they are keeping a low profile.

They seem to be far outnumbered by the members of NFL front offices who despise him. Truly, truly hate him.

“I don’t want him anywhere near my team,” one front office executive said. “He’s a traitor.”

A traitor?

He wasn’t alone in the anger directed toward Kaepernick. In interviews with seven team executives, each said he didn’t want Kaepernick on his team. This is far from scientific, but I believe this is likely the feeling among many front office executives. Not all. But many.

All seven estimated 90 to 95 percent of NFL front offices felt the same way they did. One executive said he hasn’t seen this much collective dislike among front office members regarding a player since Rae Carruth. Remember Rae Carruth? He’s still in prison for the plot to murder his pregnant girlfriend.

Personally, I think the dislike of Kaepernick is inappropriate and un-American. I find it ironic that citizens who live in a country whose existence is based on dissent criticize someone who expresses dissent.

But in NFL front offices, the feeling is very different.

The story goes on like that for a good bit longer, letting one exec after another take some often-ridiculous potshots at Kaepernick, who refused to stand during the national anthem at last Friday’s 49ers-Packers game in protest of police violence toward people of color.

So, let’s take these executives’ complaints about Kaepernick at face value and analyze them, starting with the executive quoted above:

  • “He’s a traitor.” Well, no, he’s not. Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution, and the Constitution defines it as making war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Kapernick is guilty of neither.
  • “”He has no respect for our country. F— that guy.” I’m not sure how this exec became a mind reader, but let’s assume for a second that he’s correct. Given the real and documented nature of the problem about which Kaepernick is complaining, why should he respect this country, which asserts it offers “liberty and justice for all” but which in practice has a long way to go before that will be true?
  • “Another said that if an owner asked him to sign Kaepernick, he would consider resigning, rather than do it.” No reason given, but I wonder how this exec feels about signing domestic abusers and dogfighters.
  • ” (Executives) also don’t believe he appreciates what he has. Many of them pointed to Kaepernick’s salary and said he would never make that kind of money if not for football.” What the hell does that have to do with anything? Kaepernick made it very clear that he was speaking in support of people of color generally, not just for himself. He was using a platform that he has that most people of color do not. Do league executives, who famously don’t give up a penny not called for in the contract, actually think that paying a player buys his silence on topics of which team execs do not approve?

Granted, not many direct quotes here, but what quotes there are don’t seem to come from a place of reflection or even logic.

Now, I’m glad that Freeman did this story. It’s good to know how at least some league execs feel. But I have some problems with it as well.

For one thing, we have only Freeman’s word that it’s in any way representative of team execs around the league. Seven is a very small sample.

But more damningly, I think it was unethical of Freeman to grant these men (I’m certain they were all men) anonymity in order to hurl their invective at Kaepernick. If these guys felt as strongly as Freeman would have us believe, certainly they’d have been willing to go on the record. And if they weren’t willing, then that calls into question just how right they actually think they are.

Which leads us to the question of what, exactly, is going through these executives’ minds. We hate what we fear. Are these execs really afraid of what would happen if this country, as Kaepernick suggested, got serious about erasing racial discrimination, especially in law enforcement? Or, on a more basic level, are they just afraid of people of color in general?

Either way, such fear not only is not grounded in reality, it’s un-American. The NFL makes a big deal about being the most patriotic of our national sports, but its executives would appear to have a lot to learn about the ideals on which this country was really founded and what it takes to make those ideals real.

 

 

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015 5:45 pm

Odds and Ends for Oct. 6

First things first: Here in Greensboro, the polls are open until 7:30 p.m. If you haven’t already voted, vote! It annoys the bastards.™

So did the Lions lose to the Seahawks last night because the officials knew the rule but made the wrong call? Or did they lose because the officials didn’t know the rule?

No one ever has paid me to be a campaign manager, but I cannot see any upside for Hillary Clinton to pulling out of New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders may lead her there now, but it’s months until the primary. The state awards delegates proportionately, so a loss could be almost as good as a win. The Clintons have a lot of history there; indeed, Hillary won there in 2008 after being left for dead. And is anyone seriously arguing that a campaign that took in $32 million in the third quarter can’t campaign there and on more promising turf? I think this is just a case of Politico doing what it does best, which is to let any old fool say any damnfool thing that comes to mind and treating it like a story.

So 87% of frequent flyers are annoyed by the TSA. The good news is, those 87% are at least 153% annoyed.

I don’t know why the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, got bombed by U.S. planes. All I know is that it did and that the organization is pulling out of the area, taking northern Afghanistan’s last trauma-care hospital with it. This needs investigating. If it was an accident, the U.S. government needs to be issuing abject apologies and paying reparations. If it was intentional, some people need to be charged with war crimes. Either way, some heads need to roll — and I mean commanders and civilian bureaucrats, not pilots.

An EU court has ruled that EU-based companies that store their data in U.S. servers are illegally exposing their customers’ data to snooping by the U.S. government. So not only is that snooping unconstitutional, it’s also bad for business. Maybe that will get the Republicans’ attention.

So once upon a time, South Carolina’s five Republican representatives and two Republican senators voted against federal disaster relief for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy. Now, with all the flooding in South Carolina, they’re all, including presidential contender Lindsey Graham, seeking federal disaster relief for South Carolina. This is hypocrisy, but it’s more than that: It’s a bone-crushing level of stupid. Because when they were extending the middle finger to New Jersey and New York, did these intellectual ceiling tiles not think that tropical weather — or ice storms, for that matter — could make a huge mess of South Carolina?

Charlie Pierce has more:

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of the destruction, certainly. (To paraphrase Will McEvoy, nobody’s thoughts and prayers are with the flood.) But my memories go back to 2013, when a survey warned us that the country is chockfull of aging, obsolete dams, many of them of the earthen variety, like the ones that gave way in South Carolina today. That same survey found South Carolina’s performance on dam safety as leaky and unsafe as the dams themselves. I mean, 4.3 fulltime employees to monitor and inspect 550 dams, 162 of which were classified as “high-hazard.”

Talking fence post Ben Carson thinks the Oregon community-college shooting was as bad as it was because not enough people attacked the attacker and assures us he would have behaved differently. By his logic, not enough cavalrymen shot at Injuns at Little Big Horn and we must not have shot back at Pearl Harbor. His candidacy poses an interesting question: How dumb can a presidential candidate be before Republican voters notice?

Florida Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus once sacrificed a goat and drank its blood, which I not only am OK with, I also find it one helluva lot less bizarre than believing in supply-side economics.

A TV reporter asked a Dothan (Ala.) city commissioner a question and got hit twice in the face for his trouble. Commissioner Amos Newsome faces assault charges and is lucky not to have a high-def video camera stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

 

 

 

Thursday, September 18, 2014 12:15 pm

Someone’s doing something about football and domestic violence. Spread the word.

(Via my Facebook friend Melissa Hassard)

To bring further awareness to the issue of domestic violence within the football culture, and to open up a dialogue with our young players, Jacar Press, a community-active press, and Women Writers of the Triad are teaming up to create an essay competition open to all high school football players, on Why Domestic Violence is Wrong.

Submissions open through November 30, 2014. There is no fee for submission but a $1 donation is encouraged. Winning essay will be awarded $75, and all donations collected will go to the local domestic violence shelter in the winning writer/athlete’s hometown.

E-mail submissions to jacarassist@gmail.com and donations may be made via Paypal on the jacarpress.com website.

Ideally, education about this link will start earlier and at home, but at this point anything helps. The NFL, by “suspending” convicted players while allowing them to keep getting paid, as in the case of the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy, is screwing the pooch. Yeah, if Hardy misses the rest of the year, as now appears likely, team owner Jerry Richardson will, in effect, have contributed about $13 million to a domestic-violence awareness campaign, but the league, and all of us, can do a lot better.

Monday, September 15, 2014 10:31 pm

Mr. Kurtz, please have a heaping helping of ass. Yours.

Media Whore Howie gets his handed to him by the guy from TMZ, and it is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold.

http://crooksandliars.com:8080/files/mediaposters/2014/09/30087.jpg?ts=1410763180

The mainstream media, which includes Fox, are in bed with the NFL. TMZ isn’t. And TMZ’s coverage of this issue has been much better, full stop.

Thursday, January 24, 2013 8:10 pm

Football and CTE: Beginning of the end?

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:10 pm
Tags: , , , ,

From PBS’s Frontline:

Brain scans performed on five former NFL players revealed images of the protein that causes football-related brain damage — the first time researchers have identified signs of the crippling disease in living players.

Researchers who conducted the pilot study at UCLA described the findings as a significant step toward being able to diagnose the disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, in living patients.

“I’ve been saying that identifying CTE in a living person is the Holy Grail for this disease and for us to be able make advances in treatment,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., and one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s not definitive and there’s a lot we still need to discover to help these people, but it’s very compelling. It’s a new discovery.”

If it turns out that we can now diagnose CTE in living patients — and that remains to be confirmed, I hasten to add — I think the NFL’s days as America’s Sport are numbered. I don’t think pro football could be either regulated or sued out of existence, but I think it probably would move well away from the center of popular culture toward the fringes. Put another way, well-off and middle-class kids would find other things to do with their time because their well-off and middle-class parents would probably insist on it, and a lot of the NFL’s current audience would find other things to do with its time as well, and so there would go the big advertisers and there would go most of the big money.

And there would still be young people poor and/or desperate enough to play the game for money even in the face of incontrovertible evidence that it was damaging their brains and shortening their lives.

Previously.

Previously.

Previously.

Previously.

 

Thursday, September 29, 2011 6:08 am

Lawsuit rings the NCAA’s bell

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 6:08 am
Tags: , , , ,

It was bound to happen, and now it has: Two former college football players have filed a class-action suit against the NCAA, alleging that it hasn’t protected players against concussions and the brain injury that can result from them. Dozens of former pro players sued the NFL in July.

This is an area in which we don’t know a lot. But we’re learning more, and the more we learn, the worse the news gets.

Previously.

Previously.

 

 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 12:00 am

Odds and ends for 2/2

Punxsutawney Phil weighs in on this whole Groundhog Day thing. Spoiler: He is, profanely, obscenely, NSFW-ly not a fan.

Bestest snow in a decade: The night we moved into our current house in January 2000, we got what likely will be a strong contender for snowstorm of the century. This past weekend’s storm, which dumped better than 6″ on us and close to a foot not far north of here, was almost as good. Got to go sledding and have a snowball fight with the kids — they killed me. Enjoyed Cajun crab-corn chowder and other good eats with good friends. Settled into a warm armchair Sunday night with a great novel and some Nattie Greene’s Red Nose winter ale. Ahhhhh.

Bad news, worse news for banking: The current commercial real-estate bubble could take down the banking system when it pops. And CRE ain’t the only potentially lethal problem out there. I’ll say one good thing about the free-marketeers: They can certainly f\/(% up a banking system.

Goldman Sachs to tell THE president to get bent, pay ITS president a $100 million bonus: Someone explain to me again why we don’t want to punish the banksters.

More insider trading that the SEC somehow manages to overlook.

While Jim Bunning does the taxpayers a few favors on his way out the door, Chris Dodd is throwing Molotov cocktails: Dodd, along with Richard Shelby and Paul Kanjorski, has pretty much killed the proposed ban on proprietary trading by banks. Because the one thing we desperately needed was even more taxpayer money at risk. Or has he? Goldman Sachs’ stock price seems to think Dodd hasn’t killed it after all.

Has prop trading really killed even one bank? Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker asked that question today. The answer is yes: Merrill Lynch, which the Fed bribed Bank of America to take over. (That transaction itself has raised all manner of, for BAC officers/directors, ugly questions about what stockholders were and weren’t told about the ML takeover.)

The Fed: One big counterfeiter, basically. Which, honestly, is sort of what I had thought, except that I figured there were important distinctions that were eluding me on account of I’ve got the economic skillz of a cinder block. Turns out I was more right than I knew, which does NOT make me feel as good as you’d think.

Not that what people want actually matters, but health-care reform with a public option is more popular even among Republicans in swing districts than the current Senate bill, which lacks one. And to no one’s surprise, although at least 51 Democratic Senators are on record as supporting a public option, now that reconciliation (i.e., simple majority vote) could make it happen, some of those “backers” are backpedaling, lest they upset their corporate overlords.

As is often the case, The New York Times’ David Brooks is guilty of slopping thinking. Matt Taibbi dopeslaps him back in the direction of reality and, in the process, puts in a shout-out for factual journalism over the false equivalence of “objective” journalism.

If you believe this, 26 states, including North Carolina, are insolvent. I don’t know whether to believe it or not, but, lord, it wouldn’t surprise me at this point.

I suppose it’s possible that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” will disrupt some military units … which is what desegregation opponents in the military warned Harry Truman 60 years ago. And as the fictitious Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on “The West Wing” observed, “You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it.” More to the point, so, basically, did all the senior witnesses who testified before Congress on the matter today.

Why the hell isn’t someone under indictment for this?: The CIA is allowing some of its personnel to moonlight for private, for-profit corporations. This isn’t bad only because it divides CIA staffers’ focus/attention, although that division is, indeed, a bad thing; it’s bad because it gives certain corporations access to government secrets they’re not entitled to have.

Why, it’s almost as if someone’s looking out for the taxpayers’ interests: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has fired the head of the $350 billion F-35 program because of cost overruns and performance issues. He also has withheld hundreds of millions in payments to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the fighter jet. There’s gotta be a catch; I just haven’t figured out yet what it is.

I personally think Khalid Sheikh Muhammad should be tried in New York City, and I think people who think otherwise for any reason other than the cost of security are incontinent. And here’s what I would call a conservative argument in favor of trying KSM in, if not in New York City proper, at least in a civilian federal court elsewhere within the Southern Judicial District of New York. And here are some other reasons why letting the White House, Congress and local officials butt into this is a bad idea.

Colorado Springs tries an interesting social experiment: Rather than raise taxes, the city is letting a third of its streetlights go dark, letting dozens of police and firefighter positions go unfilled, not paving any streets and cutting all kinds of other services. I am sincerely interested in seeing what happens with this.

The NFL may well be the most popular sports operation in America, but they still desperately need competent public-relations counsel.

As do Senate Democrats, who spent the weekend schmoozing with bank lobbyists in Miami. No way that could go wrong for the taxpayer.

Supposedly we now have a study that says abstinence-only sex education works: Except for the part where the program studied — which might, in fact, work, although I’d say more study is needed — was not, in several important ways, abstinence-only. More details here. This isn’t just apples to oranges, it’s apples to mountain oysters.

As does Sarah Palin, whose PAC spent more money in the last half of 2009 on copies of her book than it did in contributions to other political candidates, ostensibly the PAC’s primary purpose. For those of you following along at home, this is a way of funneling political contributions to her PAC straight into her own pockets.

Question of the day, from Eli: “… if only one political party’s base gets to be taken seriously, does it really have to be the one that parades around with pictures of the President Of The United States dressed as a witch doctor?”

What could possibly go wrong? A Michigan man with a sled tried to fashion a rocket pack out of an old car muffler, gasoline and gunpowder. Police say he had been … wait for it … drinking. (h/t: Nance)

Saturday, January 30, 2010 12:29 am

Odds and ends for 1/29

I’ve already called for impeaching Obama. Looks like we can now add Holder to the mix: A draft report from the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility that originally found that Bush officials Jay Bybee (now a federal judge) and John Yoo (now a “law” “professor” at Berkeley) committed professional misconduct (which would constitute grounds for impeaching Bybee), the final version was cleaned up to say they showed “poor judgment” only. Granted, fabricating a legal justification for torture out of whole cloth does show “poor judgment,” but it shows criminal intent as well.

Well, OK, it’s a first step: Pravda, of all places, reports that Francis A. Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champlain, Ill., has requested arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the arrests of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Rice and Gonzalez for “crimes against humanity” under the Rome Statute, which established the court. For all I know this is an Eastern Hemisphere version of an Onion article, but, hey, a citizen can dream.

Well, this bites: More than 30% of Triad mortgages will be under water by 1Q2011, Deutsche Bank estimates.

Historians finally weigh in Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism.” Only two years after the fat, lying putz laughed his way to the bank. Thanks a ton, guys.

Banksters organize protest of their treatment … indoors, because it was too cold to go outside. Power to the people!

Bloomberg’s David Reilly asks a good question about this week’s bankster-related developments: Where’s the anger? (Besides Chez Blog on the Run, of course.)

Major-league media?: The Los Angeles Times’ Andrew Malcolm keeps using the phrase “discretionary spending.” I do not think that phrase means what he thinks it means.

Every little bit helps: Somali “pirates” pledge aid to Haiti. (Somali pirates’ est. 2008 income: $150MM+).

Possibly the most entertaining appeals court ruling of the year, and it’s still only January: Gender discrimination in the workplace as manifested by rude language (Oh, so NSFW, by the ruling’s own standards).

What’s stopping the Senate from ramming through a public option in reconciliation? I’m just askin’, on account of 51 breathing senators are on records as supporting one. Seriously, Joe Lieberman can go to hell.

Party of fiscal responsibility, my butt: Every single Republican senator voted Thursday against a new pay-as-you-go rule. Every single Democratic senator voted for it. Remind me again, please, who the grownups are. Quoth commenter Chad N. Freude at Balloon Juice: “They are opposed to pay-as-you-go because they are opposed to go.”

Whoux Dat?; or, There’s a reason they call it the No Fun League: Because you can’t abbreviate No Brains League as NFL. No Frontal Lobe, maybe. (h/t: DivaGeek)

The U.S. economy shrank 2.4% in 2009, the worst calendar-year performance since 1946.

California Senate approves single-payer health-care system; the Governator vetoes it on the laughable grounds that the state “can’t afford it.” Dude, you pay either way, and with single payer, there’s an excellent chance you’d pay less.

Terrorist convicted: The jury deliberated only 37 minutes before finding Scott Roeder guilty of first-degree murder for shooting abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the head at point-blank range. Roeder admitted the shooting and also testified that he considered only chopping off Tiller’s hands instead of killing him. What a great humanitarian. Memo to New York: If Wichita can try a terrorist, so can you. Memo to the Republicans: Americans are beyond tired of government by incontinence.

I’m probably the last person to find this out, but the free audio-editing program Audacity can record streaming audio from, apparently, any Web site. This makes me insanely happy.

So Obama got together with some Congressional Republicans today. And it’s John Cole of Balloon Juice, who, despite humerus- and-clavicle- and scapula-scraping surgery a couple of days ago, is flying without painkillers, For The Win: “If Mike Pence really is regarded as one of the deep thinkers for the GOP, I’m beginning to understand why they refused to admit Terri Schiavo was brain-dead.” Although the prez himself does nicely with the runner-up: “I would have implemented those ideas had I found a credible economist who agreed with them …”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 12:15 pm

More bell-ringing

I blogged two months ago about Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), brain damage among NFL players who have suffered concussions. Since that article, the co-chairs of the league’s committee on brain injuries have resigned (read: “resigned”) after players said they’d lost faith in the committee’s objectivity.

The committee has been in denial on this, a fact the New Yorker article touched on. That fact is examined in more detail in this article by Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ (h/t: DivaGeek, via e-mail). As with Gladwell’s article, it’s a bit lengthy but well worth your time … and likely to prompt some serious reflection from fans about what our sports heroes endure for our entertainment.

Of special note to Panthers fans is the brief mention of former Panthers center Curtis Whitley, “just 39 when he was found facedown in the bathroom of a rented trailer in West Texas, shirtless, shoeless, wearing blue warm-up pants. [Dr. Bennet]  Omalu got his brain, examined it, and found CTE.” Whitley’s case was the 17th Dr. Omalu had identified, an incredibly high number compared with what one would expect to find in a similarly sized random sample of the population at large. Whitley’s mom shows up in the article comments and leaves he e-mail address for those who’d like to pass on their condolences.

GQ emphasizes more heavily than the New Yorker the possible contribution of steroids to the problem, but neither article claims evidence of a definitive link.

Both articles also make relatively clear that if this problem is to be solved, equipment will not be the answer. The problem is not necessarily how hard your head hits something, it’s how hard your brain hits the inside of your skull and whether there is any sideways motion that can lead to tearing.

A reckoning is coming, for the NFL and perhaps for all of football, down to youth leagues. Players, their parents and fans likely will soon have some significant, and grim, new information to incorporate into their calculations of and tolerance for risk. I love this game, but not so much that I want to see people die or suffer brain damage to the point of dementia for my entertainment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009 10:56 pm

The toll of the bell(-ringing)

This week’s New Yorker has an article in it by Malcolm Gladwell that, apparently prompted by the return of QB Michael Vick to the NFL after his prison term for dogfighting, asks how similar football and dogfighting are.

He argues that they are similar in that both dogs trained to fight and NFL players are “selected for gameness” (along with Marines and physicians) — their respective systems weed out those unwilling to continue trying to persevere even in the face of great pain and suffering. The dogs do it out of love for and devotion to their owners, which is why during dogfights, the owners maneuver around the pit to stay within their dogs’ fields of vision. The players do it for more complicated reasons — a mix of love of the game itself, camaraderie, money and a long list of other enticements, tangible and intangible.

The difference, of course, is that NFL players 1) have a choice and 2) are highly compensated — even those making the league minimum are making substantially more money than most Americans.

Until recently, or at least so we thought, there was one other difference: No dog, no matter how aggressive and well-trained, will live forever. Sooner or later, it will age or slow or just catch a bit of bad luck and go down to another dog. NFL players, on the other hand, almost all walk away from the game relatively intact, or so most fans think. (The less glamorous reality, which the NFL doesn’t talk much about, is that a large percentage of NFL players who play in the league any length of time leave with some sort of permanent injury or disability.)

And although there’s no conclusive proof, Gladwell writes, there is some disturbing evidence that NFL players as a group may be at far greater risk than the general population for a form of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) because of the pounding their heads take during the course of a career. C.T.E. presents, as the doctors say, a lot like Alzheimer’s, but it’s caused by brain injury and the brain cells of its victims look different from those of Alzheimer’s patients. It gets worse over time. And as with Alzheimer’s, there’s no cure.

Two neuropathologists are looking at this particular question. One is Dr. Ann McKee, who is doing the neuropathology research associated with the long-running Framingham heart-disease study, which has been following a large group of patients for decades. She also is involved with the New England Centenarian Study, which looks at the brains of people who lived an extraordinarily long time. (“I’m looking at brains constantly,” McKee says.) In the course of her work, she has run across close to two dozen brains of former athletes — mostly football players, a couple of boxers.

The other is Dr. Bennet Omalu, who has found cases of C.T.E. in several former NFL players. Both are disturbed by their findings, although both also say they haven’t seen enough cases yet to decide anything.

The league also has been looking, and what it has found is disturbing:

… late last month the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research released the findings of an N.F.L.-funded phone survey of just over a thousand randomly selected retired N.F.L. players—all of whom had played in the league for at least three seasons. Self-reported studies are notoriously unreliable instruments, but, even so, the results were alarming. Of those players who were older than fifty, 6.1 per cent reported that they had received a diagnosis of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease.” That’s five times higher than the national average for that age group. For players between the ages of thirty and forty-nine, the reported rate was nineteen times the national average. …

“A long time ago, someone suggested that the [C.T.E. rate] in boxers was twenty per cent,” McKee told me. “I think it’s probably higher than that among boxers, and I also suspect that it’s going to end up being higher than that among football players as well. Why? Because every brain I’ve seen has this [damage]. To get this number in a sample this small is really unusual, and the findings are so far out of the norm. I only can say that because I have looked at thousands of brains for a long time. This isn’t something that you just see. I did the same exact thing for all the individuals from the Framingham heart study. We study them until they die. I run these exact same proteins, make these same slides—and we never see this.”

McKee’s laboratory occupies a warren of rooms, in what looks like an old officers’ quarters on the V.A. campus. In one of the rooms, there is an enormous refrigerator, filled with brains packed away in hundreds of plastic containers. Nearby is a tray with small piles of brain slices. They look just like the ginger shavings that come with an order of sushi. Now McKee went to the room next to her office, sat down behind a microscope, and inserted one of the immunostained slides under the lens.

“This is Tom McHale,” she said. “He started out playing for Cornell. Then he went to Tampa Bay. He was the man who died of substance abuse at the age of forty-five. I only got fragments of the brain. But it’s just showing huge accumulations of tau [a protein that damages brain cells, found in both Alzheimer’s and C.T.E. patients and detectable only at autopsy — Lex] for a forty-five-year-old—ridiculously abnormal.”

She placed another slide under the microscope. “This individual was forty-nine years old. A football player. Cognitively intact. He never had any rage behavior. He had the distinctive abnormalities. Look at the hypothalamus.” It was dark with tau. She put another slide in. “This guy was in his mid-sixties,” she said. “He died of an unrelated medical condition. His name is Walter Hilgenberg. Look at the hippocampus. It’s wall-to-wall tangles. Even in a bad case of Alzheimer’s, you don’t see that.” The brown pigment of the tau stain ran around the edge of the tissue sample in a thick, dark band. “It’s like a big river.”

McKee got up and walked across the corridor, back to her office. “There’s one last thing,” she said. She pulled out a large photographic blowup of a brain-tissue sample. “This is a kid. I’m not allowed to talk about how he died. He was a good student. This is his brain. He’s eighteen years old. He played football. He’d been playing football for a couple of years.” She pointed to a series of dark spots on the image, where the stain had marked the presence of something abnormal. “He’s got all this tau. This is frontal and this is insular. Very close to insular. Those same vulnerable regions.” This was a teen-ager, and already his brain showed the kind of decay that is usually associated with old age. “This is completely inappropriate,” she said. “You don’t see tau like this in an eighteen-year-old. You don’t see tau like this in a fifty-year-old.”

McKee is a longtime football fan. She is from Wisconsin. She had two statuettes of Brett Favre, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback, on her bookshelf. On the wall was a picture of a robust young man. It was McKee’s son—nineteen years old, six feet three. If he had a chance to join the N.F.L., I asked her, what would she advise him? “I’d say, ‘Don’t. Not if you want to have a life after football.’ ”

At the core of the C.T.E. research is a critical question: is the kind of injury being uncovered by McKee and Omalu incidental to the game of football or inherent in it?

(I should point out that both researchers say that other factors, such as genetics and steroid use, may well figure into this phenomenon — neither is drawing any straight-line conclusions at this point.)

As it happens, I read this article just last night, so it was still very much on my mind as I watched today’s Panthers-Buccaneers game.

Just seconds before halftime, the Panthers punted, and the Bucs’ returner, Clifton Smith, signaled for a fair catch. When a punt returner signals for a fair catch, that means he’s supposed to be allowed to catch the ball, and then his team starts its next play from that spot — he doesn’t run with it once he catches it. In return for his not running, not only is the punting team not allowed to tackle that returner, for the past few years they haven’t even been allowed within a 3-yard “halo” around such a returner.

But on this play, the Panthers’ Dante Wesley, the “gunner” (first guy to sprint downfield on punts to try to tackle the returner), launched himself into Clifton Smith, who, having signaled for a fair catch, was watching the ball coming down out of the sky and had no idea what Wesley was doing. Wesley slammed into him at full speed, appearing to catch him under the chin with his shoulder pad and knocking him out cold. (You can see the play here.)

Smith suffered a concussion — he “got his bell rung,” as the players sometimes say — and did not return. Wesley was ejected and likely will be fined by the league. For such a blatant and excessive hit — not only running into Smith, but also leaving his feet to do so, an additional violation of the rules — he might even be suspended. (I hope he is. What he did came as close to assault with a deadly weapon as an unarmed man is ever likely to come without martial-arts training.)

Now, you might suppose that it’s hits like that that cause the kind of brain trauma these researchers are finding. And they can. But research just down the road in Chapel Hill suggests a more disturbing problem for those of us who play and/or love football:

Take the experience of a young defensive lineman for the University of North Carolina football team, who suffered two concussions during the 2004 season. His case is one of a number studied by Kevin Guskiewicz, who runs the university’s Sports Concussion Research Program. For the past five seasons, Guskiewicz and his team have tracked every one of the football team’s practices and games using a system called HITS, in which six sensors are placed inside the helmet of every player on the field, measuring the force and location of every blow he receives to the head. Using the HITS data, Guskiewicz was able to reconstruct precisely what happened each time the player was injured.

“The first concussion was during preseason. The team was doing two-a-days,” he said, referring to the habit of practicing in both the morning and the evening in the preseason. “It was August 9th, 9:55 A.M. He has an 80-g hit to the front of his head. About ten minutes later, he has a 98-g acceleration to the front of his head.” To put those numbers in perspective, Guskiewicz explained, if you drove your car into a wall at twenty-five miles per hour and you weren’t wearing your seat belt, the force of your head hitting the windshield would be around 100 gs: in effect, the player had two car accidents that morning. He survived both without incident. “In the evening session, he experiences this 64-g hit to the same spot, the front of the head. Still not reporting anything. And then this happens.” On his laptop, Guskiewicz ran the video from the practice session. It was a simple drill: the lineman squaring off against an offensive player who wore the number 76. The other player ran toward the lineman and brushed past him, while delivering a glancing blow to the defender’s helmet. “Seventy-six does a little quick elbow. It’s 63 gs, the lowest of the four, but he sustains a concussion.”

“The second injury was nine weeks later,” Guskiewicz continued. “He’s now recovered from the initial injury. It’s a game out in Utah. In warmups, he takes a 76-g blow to the front of his head. Then, on the very first play of the game, on kickoff, he gets popped in the earhole. It’s a 102-g impact. He’s part of the wedge.” He pointed to the screen, where the player was blocking on a kickoff: “Right here.” The player stumbled toward the sideline. “His symptoms were significantly worse than the first injury.” Two days later, during an evaluation in Guskiewicz’s clinic, he had to have a towel put over his head because he couldn’t stand the light. He also had difficulty staying awake. He was sidelined for sixteen days.

When we think about football, we worry about the dangers posed by the heat and the fury of competition. Yet the HITS data suggest that practice—the routine part of the sport—can be as dangerous as the games themselves. We also tend to focus on the dramatic helmet-to-helmet hits that signal an aggressive and reckless style of play. Those kinds of hits can be policed. But what sidelined the U.N.C. player, the first time around, was an accidental and seemingly innocuous elbow, and none of the blows he suffered that day would have been flagged by a referee as illegal. Most important, though, is what Guskiewicz found when he reviewed all the data for the lineman on that first day in training camp. He didn’t just suffer those four big blows. He was hit in the head thirty-one times that day. What seems to have caused his concussion, in other words, was his cumulative exposure. And why was the second concussion—in the game at Utah—so much more serious than the first? It’s not because that hit to the side of the head was especially dramatic; it was that it came after the 76-g blow in warmup, which, in turn, followed the concussion in August, which was itself the consequence of the thirty prior hits that day, and the hits the day before that, and the day before that, and on and on, perhaps back to his high-school playing days.

In technological terms, C.T.E. ain’t a bug, it’s a feature.

What football must confront, in the end, is not just the problem of injuries or scientific findings. It is the fact that there is something profoundly awry in the relationship between the players and the game.“Let’s assume that Dr. Omalu and the others are right,” Ira Casson, who co-chairs an N.F.L. committee on brain injury, said. “What should we be doing differently? We asked Dr. McKee this when she came down. And she was honest, and said, ‘I don’t know how to answer that.’ No one has any suggestions—assuming that you aren’t saying no more football, because, let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen.”

I hope we fans — and I am definitely including myself when I say “we” because I love pro football, ran a fantasy-league team for 18 years and am probably overly invested in how well the Panthers do — are going to be able to live with the knowledge I expect we’ll be getting as this research progresses. Because based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re likely to come to two conclusions: The players we love to watch will be at substantially, if not hugely, increased risk for dementia as they age, and the damage won’t stop until we stop paying to watch what causes it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 10:21 pm

Bad talk-radio host. No NFL team for you.

ROTFLMAO, I am. A certain flaccid radio gasbag’s bid to own the St. Louis Rams apparently is going nowhere:

In the wake of today’s stinging comments from respected Indianapolis Colts owner, Jim Irsay, my guess is that Limbaugh’s chances of successfully bidding to become an owner of the St. Louis Ram are close to nil. The idea that the controversy-averse NFL would go forward over the increasingly loud objections to Limbaugh’s proposed bid just doesn’t fly, especially since, at least out front, Limbaugh appears to have no powerful NFL allies in his corner pushing for the deal to happen.

And make no mistake, this story is playing out as a very public rejection of Limbaugh and what he stands for.

The only question is who the talker will blame when he ultimately is forced to withdraw his ownership bid and he commences with his full-time victimhood shtick. In truth, it looks like Limbaugh will have only himself, and his incendiary rhetoric to blame. And in terms of who’s actually driving Limbaugh off the playing field, it’s millionaire NFL players and owners.

Good luck portraying them as part of some vast left-wing conspiracy.

The NFL team owners are a cozy bunch. They’re very rich, and when, as has happened on a few occasions in the past 30 or so years, they’ve expanded their numbers, they have done so by adding to the group people very much like themselves — very rich, almost uniformly low-profile. (And before you hold Al Davis up as an exception, ask yourself what he has done in the past five years to draw attention to himself — certainly not field a decent team.)

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson got where he got– and this is an incredible simplification of a complex process that took many years — by 1) playing in the NFL himself for several years, 2) taking his bonus from the Baltimore Colts’ 1958 league championship and investing it in a business that grew into a hugely successful restaurant chain; 3) using his business success to help him cultivate personal relationships with existing owners, in addition to basically inventing the permanent seat license as a funding mechanism for stadium construction — something else that obviously would be attractive to current owners, all of whom would someday need new stadiums themselves.

Now, you can say whatever negative you want about the clubbiness and homogeneity of such a group, and in most contexts I’d probably agree. But Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack” doesn’t even come close to the level of damage Rush Limbaugh as a team owner could do to the NFL, the most successful major-league sport in America. (And it ain’t just the owners who oppose him, although they’re the only ones whose opinions matter.)

This is a very public, very personal rejection of him by some of the most admired people in America, and I relish the thought that Limbaugh will take it personally and, almost certainly, try to find a way to make himself the victim.

UPDATE: Right on time.

You know, I don’t so much mind what Limbaugh says, although lies and racism do tend to tick me off, as I mind the fact that he REFUSES TO OWN what he says. He’s a coward, pure and simple.

Monday, May 4, 2009 7:10 am

(Inter-) National Football League?

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 7:10 am
Tags: ,

Is the NFL going to schedule a Super Bowl in London? Looks that way. I’m not at all sure how I feel about that.

The event is a huge economic pop for its venue, for one thing; do we want to be sending all that money abroad?

Then there’s weather. In London, late January/early February typically is pretty dreary. The NFL, on the other hand, has insisted for a while now that the game be played either in domes or in warm-weather markets (or, in the case of New Orleans, both). If it’s willing to play it in London, then perhaps some other U.S. venues that don’t get considered now should be (cough CHARLOTTE cough).

I honestly don’t know whether this would be a good idea or not. Your thoughts?

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