End of the game? The last SuperBowl?

Spurred by the continuing injury rates in high school football and long term chronic health conditions associated with being professional players, Action on Sports or Health (ASH) is putting together a new task force.

The first two appointees come following a distinguished career in tobacco control. ASH Director Borzon said that though this may seem unusual, it was felt that not only was a new perspective needed but that the force had to be composed of people not afraid to make what might be unpopular choices.

People seem to be afraid to suggest an outright ban on the sport but we are going to keep that option on the table. The question we have to ask is: can this country afford to keep subsidizing a sport that adds disproportionately to the health burden?

Professional football players are much more likely to have dementia and Alzheimer’s and at a much earlier onset. Taxpayers are shouldering the heavy cost of long term care for not only these players but for the chronic ailments of many high school players, not to mention ten or so deaths every year, many of them still school age children. And these same taxpayers have to wait in longer lines in emergency rooms being flooded by football and other team sport injuries. We have the advantage of being able to discuss an actual ban since, unlike smoking, removing football revenues would not imperil state budgets.

There’s already been quite a bit of talk among the players and coaches already but we’re just not sure if those are the people who should be working on this. We’re taking a page from the tobacco control playbook and making sure that no one in this task force be compromised by association so no players, owners or holders of seasons tickets nor anyone associated with the sports media. Essentially, we want to block anyone with any knowledge of this sport so that we arrive at untainted solutions.

Borzon also indicated that there was some dissatisfaction with the whole helmet concept in this brutal sport. Though it appeared that there was some advantage to using helmets, it had never been proven through the accepted standard of evidence, randomized control trials.

As far as we’re concerned nothing reduces injuries like just not playing football. You can wear a helmet but its no substitute for just quitting.

Borzon said that while there was a process to satisfy to create a ban, in the meanwhile, they already had some of the funding to start the research. They already had a few good candidate locations – towns with a strong tradition of football and the it was just a matter of taking a few hundred kids, separating them into helmet and not helmet groups, and just following them for a few years

We’ll do the studies but were already pretty sure what we’ll find. This sport is a cost and not a benefit. It stresses the system and if it wasn’t for peer pressure, probably no one would bother. A couple of studies out of California have shown that almost half of high school footballers started after seeing Friday Night Lights or some movie that had football in it.

Years from now people are going to look back and be amazed that we let this go on so long.

-Paul L. Bergen

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Comments

  • Ben Palmer  On February 7, 2011 at 2:57 am

    Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Even the bame of the organization: ASH vs ASH

  • John Watson  On February 7, 2011 at 7:56 am

    When the smoking bans started to roll in the pro-choice lobby warned you that the methodology and bigotry of the anti-smokers would branch out.

    Well here it is Fast food, Alcohol and now their latest brainchild, Americas Icon, American Football.

    It is time that all Americans stood up for freedom and liberty- their own. Some things are ascociated with America, Apple pie, Freedom, the Superbowl, when they are gone so is America and as a British citizen I would be very sorry to see that happen.

  • Jackie  On February 7, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Oh, the absurdity of it all… Thought you might enjoy Joe Jackson’s article along the same lines: http://www.thefreesociety.org/Articles/Comment/its-a-dogs-life
    Thanks for all that you guys do! You’re appreciated!

    • Paul  On February 7, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Thanks for the link….I had missed that.

      “Other pathetic whinings from filthy dog-lovers include the idea that good modern ventilation systems can remove any harm, or offence, from air polluted by dogs. This is probably just propaganda put about by the multi-million-pound pet food industry. Come off it! If I can smell a dog, it is killing me. Even if I can’t smell it, I can see it, which causes me psychological distress. No ventilation system can do anything about that.”

  • Treece  On February 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Great stuff, Paul.

    I’ve posted this link several places, and a couple of people (smart people, who would normally recognize satire when they see it) have wondered if it’s “real.” This has nothing to do with your ability to write satire (it’s outstanding) … but rather, I’m sure, everything to do with how the reality has gotten so extreme that it all seems plausible.

    Anyway, thanks for this. 🙂

    And Jackie, thanks for the link to Joe Jackson. (Filthy dog addicts!)

    Ah, this stuff saves what’s left of my sanity, I’ll tell ya….

    • Paul  On February 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks Treece,

      Maybe it was a way of saving my sanity as well after reading about the move in Arkansas to ban the sale of herbal snuff to minors and in Hawaii water squirt guns to minors. Other than that this last week was kind of a high water mark for misinformation from many sources (and maybe someone here will write about that too)….I think as a general principle the safer people become the more afraid as well….the more things are under control the more you want to control everything else too…

      Remember the “I’m gonna tell” kid when you were growing up and the one who couldn’t come outside with a helmet on? Now they are running the world.

  • Thad Marney  On February 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Paul,

    You bring up some good points, but I’m afraid you don’t gar far enough. FDA could begin blocking imports from China and Indonesia of helmets and other devices designed to affect the structure or function of the body that have not been proven to be safe and effective for their intended use. I would like to see the results of a clinical study to compare against placebo helmets.

    • Paul  On February 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      Brilliant and quite correct. Non helmeted players would play differently but your placebo helmets would ensure the kind of full on head smash into objects (or other helmets) that you would need to get meaningful data. Might as well piggyback some placebo-jockstrap research in there as well…

  • Michael J. McFadden  On February 7, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Beautifully done Paul! Particularly the helmet part. And indeed it’s true: if it were not for football helmets the game MIGHT have been removed from schools a long time ago due to the increased carnage.

    Perhaps the solution is, just like with e-cigarettes, the e-football game. We simply need to ramp up the realism of big screen XBox style football to the point where our children can lounge safely on the couch eating fattos while they toss the virtual pigskin around!

    – MJM

  • richard hansen  On February 7, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Not to mention recent studies conducted at John Hotskins School of Medicine where researchers tested several types and brands of helmets and found that in the chemical composition of the plastic helmets, and in particular the inside padding, a chemical called diethylene glycol existed, which is a chemical found in antifreeze. Researchers say that when a player is wearing the helmet while playing football,the internal temperature inside the helmet increases due to increased blood flow in the brain, friction, and bio-magnified energy exchange which occurs during collisions. This increase in internal temperature combined with the players sweat was found to be sufficient to erode small amounts of the padding which in turn releases some of the diethylene glycol(antifreeze)-in the form of particulate matter which the player then unwittingly inhales. Researchers and medical experts say that prolonged exposure to this toxic chemical inhalation leads to more increased levels of violence which tragically the Football organizations actually promote and often reward. Researchers also found that years of this continual toxic exposure has lead to, despite a very wide expanse of personal interests and diversity of college degrees, “TV Sportscaster” as the number one career choice on the part of former professional players and in an extreme case lead to a former player killing his wife and getting away with it in a ‘supposed court of law.’ It is clear that in the interest of Public Health this crude and violent sport needs to be seriously reigned in if not completely banned and ASH appears to be leading the way to a solution that will certainly assure a sane and safe future for our youth.

  • Ben Palmer  On February 8, 2011 at 2:13 am

    Another epidemiological study, another health scare? “bio-magnified energy exchange”?

  • Dave Atherton  On February 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Assuming this is not a tongue in cheek article, I have done some research. I have played soccer up to a professional level and also adult rugby when my BP was 100/70 and my heart rate at rest was 55 BPM and smoked a pack a day. For your enjoyment I have added from You Tube probably the greatest try (touchdown) scored in rugby by Gareth Edwards against New Zealand.

    There are two types of rugby, league and union. American football is based on it, I believe invented in the 1860s from Harvard. It is basically football without padding and helmets. Also it is a continuous fluid game without too many interruptions hence the fitness levels are so much higher. There are deaths in rugby mainly from snapped spinal chords, but they are rare.

    I was able to Google this paper into mortality and the results were:

    “…showed that professional baseball players lived about4–5years.”

    “..that long-distance runners and cross-country skiers lived significantly longer than the general population or reference cohorts(LE=2.8–5.7 years longer;OR=0.59).”

    “..professional American football players were shown to live an average of 6.1 years longer than controls from the general public whereas New Zealand rugby players had the same LE as the general population.”

    “Two studies showed that Olympic and national team athletes (males and females)in various sports survived longer than the general population (SMR=0.48–0.73).

    It concludes:

    “Specifically, endurance and mixed-sports athletes tend to survive longer than the general population. Lower cardiovascular disease mortality among these athletes seems to play a major role in their better survival rates. All-sports athletes also have lower mortality than non athlete counterparts.”

    http://sma.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Mortalityandlongevityofeliteathletesarticle.pdf

    • Paul  On February 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Sorry Dave, as you suspected, it is tongue in cheek. But to respond to your comments 1. I have no intrinsic problem with risky activities 2. you have found information that players live longer..perhaps but it is the case that professional (American) football players suffer much higher levels of dementia and Alzheimers and earlier in life than most (and not to mention chronic pain…in other words, a good likelihood of decreased quality of life in those extra years….3. I was really trying to challenge how absurd one anti-tobacco argument in view of another context.

  • Michael J. McFadden  On February 14, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Actually the longevity of American professional athletes probably should not be compared to that of the general population but rather to the upper income segment of the population… which tends to have greater longevity in general.

    – MJM

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