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Medicine Science

Growing Evidence of Football Causing Brain Damage 684

ideonexus writes "NFL Linebacker Junior Seau's suicide this week bears a striking similarity to NFL Safety Dave Duerson's suicide last year, who shot himself in the chest so that doctors could study his brain, where they found the same chronic traumatic encephalopathy that has been found in the brains of 20 other dead football players. Malcom Gladwell stirred up controversy in 2009 by comparing professional football to dog fighting for the trauma the game inflicts on players' brains. With mounting evidence that the repeated concussions football players receive during their careers causing a lifetime of brain problems, it raises serious concerns about America's most popular sport and ethical questions for its fanbase."
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Growing Evidence of Football Causing Brain Damage

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  • by Galestar ( 1473827 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:13PM (#39881083) Homepage
    Why we need doctors to tell us this? Isn't it pretty obvious that if you get hit in the head a lot, it will cause brain damage?
  • by who_stole_my_kidneys ( 1956012 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:15PM (#39881113)
    and with the millions of dollars they are paid, how many of them donated to research? Football is modern day gladiator fighting, they are paid to kill each other on the field of battle, not to tickle each other. this is a job hazard and you have have to accept that, if it wasn't you wouldn't be paid as much.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:16PM (#39881115)

    The football players particularly. Some of them weren't so smart in their senior year or after graduation. At the time, we made fun of them, which in retrospect kind of sucks. They may have been hostile, bullying and overly aggressive, but brain damage isn't something I'd wish on anyone.

  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:27PM (#39881223)

    Yeah except they know the cause of long-term brain damage. The brain receives a sudden shock, and connections between neurons "stretch". Like a spring the neurons will gradually return to their normal lengths, but not without consequences.

    The stretching leaves behind intracellular damage, and eventually that damage causes the neuron's dendrite to stop producing transmitter chemicals. The neuron then commits suicide (apoptosis). After you lose enough neurons you end-up like these football players and boxers.

    So to simplify: Neurons are like springs and when they experience head trauma, they stretch beyond their ability to reheal properly. Then they die.

  • In Minnesota (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:27PM (#39881245)

    We're about to spend $1 billion dollars to expand the Vikings stadium from 65,000 to 65,500. I'd call that brain damaged.

  • An easy fix. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ravenshrike ( 808508 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:27PM (#39881249)

    The solution is obvious, remove all padding.

  • by rhsanborn ( 773855 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:30PM (#39881281)
    Well, it brings up a lot of interesting questions, like, if these consistent head blows causes serious, lasting brain damage, how do we deal with minors playing the sport? Is it tantamount to neglect if you let your kids play football? (I won't let mine, for this very reason) The south might rise up a second time if we told them no more high school football. That's where studies help. Evidence gives us cause to make decisions.
  • The long term effect of repeated blows to the head is IMHO the biggest issue facing contact sports, especially (American/Canadian) football and ice hockey. Based on the growing body of research it appears that the the sports are inherently unsafe as they are currently played. Football is the number 1 spectator sport in America, so you can bet the NFL does not want to change too much, and yet they are now being sued by former players [] who have suffered concussions during their career. How can the sport be changed to protect the players? Helmet technology will likely continue to improve, but enough to protect from brain damage with repeated hits? Does the NFL become the NTFL (National Touch Football League)? Do we still have linemen block to protect the quarterback, or do pass rushers count to four-Mississippi before rushing?

    Hockey does not seem to be as plagued as football, and eliminating fighting would prevent a lot of injuries as the basic game does not lead to as much trauma to the head as football. Possibly the biggest question for all sports is what the future may hold if parents keep their children off the playing fields. That's something that will be gradual but I expect that the pool of available talent will start to dwindle as the smarter and more talented athletes choose safer career paths (baseball, investment banking?) and only the desperate take chances with their future sanity and health.

  • by Translation Error ( 1176675 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:33PM (#39881325)

    Any Football player that gets into the sport should know the risks involved. When your job is to play a full-contact sport, injuries happen. That's why they get multi-million dollar contracts. Their safety gear is all excellent, but even the best protection does not prevent every injury. Nobody is forcing them to play the game. They can walk away at any time.

    Your first sentence is exactly why research like this is necessary. Prospective football players have every right to know exactly what they'll be risking if they play. And while no one is forcing them to play, the US does have a policy of banning certain activities for the detrimental effects on willing participants.

  • by wanderfowl ( 2534492 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:38PM (#39881399)

    Hopefully this is a nail in the coffin for College Football. The fact that playing the sport is now seen to be damaging to the mind and brain at the basest levels should quell some of the "We're turning out well-balanced scholars, fit in body and mind" that advocates are spouting. Colleges need football teams like fish need bicycles, and universities of all sorts should be the last institutions encouraging this.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:40PM (#39881437) Journal

    Why we need doctors to tell us this? Isn't it pretty obvious that if you get hit in the head a lot, it will cause brain damage?

    There are three things at play:

    1. Our understanding of the (sometimes subtle) effects of relatively mild concussions and subconcussive trauma is actually a great deal better now than it was until fairly recently. Being able to view trauma-induced lesions(albeit by postmortem slice-n-stain) is fairly new. It has never been news that dramatic blows to the head will kill and/or disable you good and hard; but the epidemiology of correlating apparently minor ones with risks of a variety of psychological and degenerative conditions over time is tricker.

    2. It takes time, if it happens at all, for those pointy-headed 'experts' with their 'evidence' to make it through the wall of popular opinion. Historically, the accepted treatment for most forms of sporting trauma was 'Man up and rub some dirt in it, pussy.' The idea that this might actually be a wildly stupid idea was not an immediate hit.

    3. Frequent head trauma is commonly an occupational hazard. Football, boxing, hockey, military service, etc. Shockingly, most industries strongly resist the notion that their employees are being sickened or harmed by the conditions in their workplaces, because that might lead to increased liability, mitigation costs, or even having to shut down. It doesn't help that, in the case of football, much of the treatment of players was handled by team doctors, who have a certain incentive to keep the livestock in the game and producing, and among whom suggestions of serious harm were not a good way to make yourself popular...

  • Re:An easy fix. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by readandburn ( 825014 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:42PM (#39881467)
    If the NFL went back to the type of padding/helmets they had just 20 years ago the players wouldn't be doing this damage to one another. The "armor" has evolved substantially over that time to minimize (cause?) damage, but humans have not.
  • Re:An easy fix. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZeroSumHappiness ( 1710320 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:43PM (#39881487)

    This makes more sense than you'd think. Boxing injuries and deaths /increase/ when you add gloves, the reason being that hands, unprotected, can't take much more punishment than a face before the brain stops letting you use them. Protected, however, all that energy gets transmitted to the brain and the hands don't take any damage.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:45PM (#39881531) Journal

    and with the millions of dollars they are paid, how many of them donated to research?

    What? I don't understand why I need to pay for research when my employer endangers me. Example:

    and with the millions of dollars coal miners were paid, how many of them donated to research? Coal mining is modern day pyramid building, they are paid to sacrifice their bodies so the industrial revolution can push us forward, not to be coddled. this is a job hazard and you have have to accept that, if it wasn't you wouldn't be paid as much.

    There are over one thousand lawsuits by former football players against the league []. This was covered by NPR a while ago, and it sounds like players are saying "I got hit here, in this game. I had X symptoms. Coach told me I didn't need to see the medical professional because he needed me back in the game. I now experience Y long term ailments." Regardless of the amount they are each paid, this could be compared to mesothelioma from asbestos exposure while installing installation. The NFL has deep pockets, let these players have their day in court.

    Check out Shanahan's suspensions of NHL players []. I will tell you right now that this is the NHL attempting to wash their own hands of similar liabilities. Three hockey players killed themselves very recently.

    Look, in Roman times, people used to die building the aqueducts ... that doesn't mean we accept deaths when companies build dams to service communities. We have technology, engineering, medicine, etc to help us be better than that. We're better than we were thousands of years ago. We don't need the gladiators to die anymore. The NFL is making bank off these players -- even after the players themselves are all millionaires that squander their money within a few years of the end of their career. The courts will decide what liability the NFL must assume.

  • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:48PM (#39881607)

    One word - Rugby.

  • by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:50PM (#39881619)

    I would really like for the National Academic Decathlon to receive more attention than high school sports.

    My school made it to the national level my senior year (I was not involved) and there was absolutely no mention of it in the local papers. Instead the papers continued their portrayal of our school as full of druggies, which well yes it was, but those druggies were very smart.

  • by SecurityGuy ( 217807 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:52PM (#39881643)

    Oh, I'll give it a shot.

    Is it ethical to provide an incentive to other human beings to engage in an activity that might lead to serious mental problems so you can get a few hours enjoyment?

    I'd say yes, it's fine, as long as the participants understand the risk and feel like they're being fairly compensated for it. I think MMA, for example, looks awesomely fun. Doing it professionally carries a chance of serious harm coming to you. Is it worth it? Eh, not for me. I get paid for my brain working well. Letting someone bash it around an octagon is probably unwise. That, and I'm out of shape and...not 20. But am I going to impose MY value judgement on that on everyone? Nope.

  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:54PM (#39881707) Homepage

    Football players have operated for a century without the knowledge their brains are being damaged. Now, they discover that they are being slowly killed, and will die young if they are lucky, or live to an old age of dementia and depression. "Get over it" ain't gonna do it. They did not accept the hazard; no one had looked for its existence before. Informed consent was lacking.
    Now that we know we're operating the Hunger Games in slow motion, what are we going to do about it? Lie to ourselves? Ignore it? No other business would be allowed to continue killing its employees this way. Money has nothing to do with it. How much do you think dying at 42 with a damaged brain is worth? The current crop of former players are just now finding out they are doomed. The younger ones don't know or don't care - that's part of being young.
    If there was a televised game, let's say, of watching college kids hit themselves in the head with hammers until they drop - would that be legal? Would bets be allowed? How about Russian Roulette? Minefield dodging? Setting yourself on fire? All those things would just kill you instantly. Football kills you ten years after your retire, when no one is looking.

  • Re:How long... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Barbara, not Barbie ( 721478 ) <> on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:02PM (#39881857) Journal

    I wonder how long is it going to take before this turns into a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" debate.

    If you believe in evolution, the answer is obvious - the egg. There were dinosaur eggs long before there were chickens.

    If you believe in creation, the answer is obvious - the egg. Because nothing, including chickens, can "evolve" from something else, so chickens come from chicken eggs, same as fish come from fish eggs and donuts come from those donut seeds you find inside every box of Cheerios.

  • Agreed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hesaigo999ca ( 786966 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:06PM (#39881925) Homepage Journal

    The football players are exactly like fighting dogs, made to be just about the game, until they are torn up and spit out, then hopefully they have support or made enough money to support themselves afterwards. Jerry McGuire sums it up, its all about getting the money for the time you play, and your whole family is hoping you get through it in one piece, and with reward to show for it, because there are only so many spots as commentators for washed up football players....sadly.

  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:09PM (#39881981)

    I played football in HS. It was quite joke among the volleyball and tennis players about how dumb football players were. I asked them to compare they're playbooks to ours (end of discussion). It takes more intelligence to be able to play football well than lots of other sports. You not only need to know your responsibilities, you often need to know what other players are doing, and the appropriate reaction to the actions of any of your 8-11 opponents. The way a large number of NFL prospects wash out is they can't pick up their team's playbook fast enough.

    And, you have to know all of this COLD. As in, you have to know your playbook so well it's instinctive. You don't have 2-3 seconds to dredge up the new formation and route when your QB calls an audible.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:12PM (#39882047) Journal
    Unless by 'helmet' one means 'comically large pillow enveloping the head and extending for several meters', there really isn't too much that can be done.

    Helmets, if properly designed, can be very effective at preventing penetration(as with the ones designed to stop shrapnel or moderate-velocity bullets), as well as mitigating otherwise bloody scalp damage and downgrading what would be skull fractures into mere helmet fractures.

    However, there just isn't enough room inside a helmet to achieve a safe deceleration rate. When a running player crashes into something, the brain has to go from X m/s to 0 m/s over a very short distance. Even assuming arbitrarily good material science, allowing you to space out that deceleration however you wish, you have a problem. Even if the player were encased in a perfectly rigid shell, that magically deadened all transmitted impact, you still have the inertia of the brain shoving it up against the interior of the skull.

    Given that severe head trauma is even worse than mild to moderate head trauma, helmets aren't a bad idea; they can reduce damage; but if repeated minor damage is a serious problem, a sport that involves huge numbers of collisions is a problem...
  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:13PM (#39882057) Homepage

    Look, in Roman times, people used to die building the aqueducts ... that doesn't mean we accept deaths when companies build dams to service communities. We have technology, engineering, medicine, etc to help us be better than that.

    The trouble is, if these doctors are right, it doesn't sound like there's anything technology or engineering is going to do about it. The players already wear the most advanced helmets in sports. But no helmet is going to prevent your brain from smashing into the inside of your skull when your head experiences a sudden deceleration. It sounds like the only thing to do is to change the way the game is played. The problem there is that the NFL rules seem to change all the time, not for the benefit of the players, but so that the NFL can maximize profits from the games. They've been engineering game play with that goal in mind for years. They're not going to want to change the game now because the players get hurt.

  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:15PM (#39882093) Homepage

    Not a chance in hell. Too much money. And college football is a religion in the U.S. Watch and observe denial behavior in action - it's educational. This will take decades to stop, and the supporters will scream "Liberals and government don't tell us what to do!" and "You haven't proven anything!" the entire bloody way. I can name the other topics they similarly fight the bad fight on, but that would depress all of us. A century from now, with thousands of dead players dissected and shown to be damaged, they will STILL print textbooks to tell their children that It Is A Controversy.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:30PM (#39882345) Journal

    In a similarly compromised position. Whether that means a ban or not I don't know. I'm of little mind to go telling grown adults what they can do with their brains. There is, however, the issue of kids. It's becoming a huge issue in hockey, where some kinds of behavior have been banned, but the evidence that body checks and the like are dangerous, in fact more so for children than for adults.

    What does that mean? Maybe it means you can't play football before you reach the age of majority. That in and of itself would completely fuck up professional football, as highschool football seeds college football which seeds the pro game. Cut out the first, and you'll likely lose a lot of talent.

  • by SolitaryMan ( 538416 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:31PM (#39882351) Homepage Journal

    It always strikes me as the most stupid* thing about boxing: they used to hit the heads so hard, that their hands were bleeding. And what do they decide? Lets protect the HANDS!!

    *Not that there is anything particularly smart about boxing.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:43PM (#39882579) Journal

    Cannabis causes poverty? That's a new one. Persecution of cannabis users, now that might cause poverty.

  • by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:48PM (#39882677) Journal

    I know it sounds counter intuitive, but I think the best way to reduce brain injuries now is to simply remove the helmets from the game. Sure, there will be more broken noses, but you will see brain injuries drop substantially. People just don't lead with their heads when moving full speed at a target heading full speed back.

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:49PM (#39882679) Homepage Journal
    Then maybe we need to stop listening to "think of the children" alarmists who believe that all risk can be eliminated from life. We all have to take risks with our wealth, our time, our safety, and our reputations every time we wake up in the morning.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:58PM (#39882817) Homepage

    this is a job hazard and you have have to accept that, if it wasn't you wouldn't be paid as much.

    How can you accept hazards you don't know exist?

    Every footballer knows that they could suffer major injuries during a game that could end their career or outright cripple them. They have accepted that.

    How many knew that the many minor impacts that occur throughout what would naively be called an injury-free career would result in them suffering long-term brain damage? How many had coaches and trainers tell them that hard hits which didn't obviously injure them were insignificant and they should keep playing?

    How could they have even known this when medical science didn't? Just assume?

    Lastly, the idea that sports players are paid based on the amount of physical danger involved, rather than say the popularity of the sport, their team, and their personal ability as it relates to how much money the sport takes in, is stupid. The idea that this hazard pay had already incorporated the previously unknown risks covered in this study even more so.

  • by Anonym0us Cow Herd ( 231084 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:59PM (#39882839)
    Brain Damage causes Football.

    Correlation is causation.
  • by dwpro ( 520418 ) <dgeller777&gmail,com> on Thursday May 03, 2012 @05:28PM (#39883217)

    Some kids start playing football at age 5 in pop warner [], so lets not pretend this is a hazard only borne by adults making informed choices. I played football in middle school/high school, and I bet I suffered some brain injury because of it. I wouldn't say i was adequately informed then of the potential risks, and I likely would have made a poor decision even if I were informed. My parents, on the other hand, would probably have loved to know the true risks of a sport as their baby boy was out there knocking heads. Many of us were lead to believe that modern helmets all but alleviated the risk of brain injury.

    Honestly, kids and young adults are being pressured by parents, coaches, peers into playing a sport that is now known to cause brain damage, and Slashdot can do nothing but complain about professional athletes pay and make fun of dumb jocks.

  • by elsurexiste ( 1758620 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @05:49PM (#39883479) Journal

    Did you read the article?

    You must be new here...

  • by jimmyfrank ( 1106681 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @06:17PM (#39883817)
    The problem with American football vs Rugby is in American football the gear (helmets) are better and the players use them as weapons. Without a helmet, you're probably not going to attack someone like you would if you were wearing one.
  • by cowdung ( 702933 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @07:10PM (#39884355)

    You're so wrong its almost comical.

    "Soccer" is known as "Football" all around the world. Both in English and non-English speaking countries. In North America it is known by its Spanish spelling "futbol" in both the US (a big portion of the US is Spanish speaking) as well as Mexico. Also in Central and South America it is unanimously known by the same name.

    Then there's Africa with "major" populations that speak English, French and Spanish. In all these countries "football" is the most popular sport. In Asia and Europe the same thing plays out.

    The only countries that don't call it "football" are minor countries such as the US with a few million people that don't really play the sport all that much. Billions around the world beg to differ. ;)

  • by Cederic ( 9623 ) on Friday May 04, 2012 @01:14PM (#39892383) Journal

    Ronnie O'Sullivan scored a 147 break in snooker in 5 minutes and 20 seconds. It's on Youtube, go check it.

    There isn't another person on the planet capable of doing that. There quite possibly never has been, and quite possibly never will be another.

    Anything getting that close to perfection is worth experiencing. The emotional journey of watching that unfolding as it happens is at least the equal of any emotion caused by other forms of art.

    I love mechanical watches because they stretch the boundaries of materials science. I love watching Ronnie O'Sullivan play snooker because he stretches the boundaries of human performance.

    Maybe I measure IQ wrongly.

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...