The politics of brain injuries

This piece on Steve Largent and the concussion debate is profoundly saddening.  Largent spent some time as a Republican congressman, so it should come as no surprise that he’s a little Randian on the matter:

“If studies come out and show that playing football is detrimental to your health for the long term, even for the short term, I think that’s up to the players then to make the decision about whether they’re going to play or not play,” Largent said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Peter Cook for “Capitol Gains,” which airs Feb. 2.

“They should be armed with all of the latest statistics and information and research,” added Largent, who now represents the nation’s wireless industry as president of CTIA- The Wireless Association. “We don’t need the government telling people what they can and can’t do.”

Some of that is no doubt a knee-jerk reaction to Obama’s recent comments on the matter and some of it’s a downright naive assessment of the NFL’s readiness to take charge and make things right.   (Does anybody think Goodell would give a rat’s ass about the problem if it wasn’t for the threat of multiple lawsuits?  And last time I checked, Steve, a court ruling is the government telling people what they can and can’t do.)

But that’s not the depressing part.  This is.

Largent said he had multiple concussions throughout college and his NFL career, including one during his next-to-last season in which he was knocked unconscious before hitting the ground.

Largent said he’s “really curious” about the impact of concussions on NFL players and is currently participating in a study at the University of North Carolina. Largent also had a stroke at the age of 50 that he says the experts he’s consulted believe isn’t connected to his NFL career.

Largent considers himself fortunate to still be in relatively good health, running five or six miles every other day and playing tennis two to three times a week. Largent also said he remains the NFL’s “biggest fan,” despite lingering concerns about the head injuries he suffered as a player.

“The more studies that come out that talk about concussions and so forth, it makes me wonder,” Largent said. “I wonder, more importantly than the stroke, the impact that concussions have had on my life, particularly as I get older.”

Wow.  Does Largent think he was armed with all the latest research to make an informed decision at the time?  Of course he wasn’t, because it wasn’t an area of major concern then.  But now he trusts the NFL to make an honest effort to do so?  If that’s right, it’s only because it’s been pushed from outside.

Obama wasn’t threatening to seek legislation if the NCAA didn’t move forward on the issue.  But he was expressing a concern that enough wasn’t being done to provide player safety and that the NCAA needed to get off its ass and take charge or risk having others take control of the issue away from it.  If that’s government telling people what to do, maybe the NCAA needs to hear more of it.



Filed under Political Wankery, The Body Is A Temple

34 responses to “The politics of brain injuries

  1. What fresh hell is this?

    “If studies come out and show that playing football is detrimental to your health for the long term, even for the short term, I think that’s up to the players then to make the decision about whether they’re going to play or not play,”

    As a 16 yr old I knew that driving fast could be detrimental to my health, yet I did it anyway. Why? Because like anyone who has ever been 16 yrs old knows, you are invincible, and things like that only happen to other people.

    I don’t know what the solution is, and I hope it won’t be the end of football, because it’s the only sport I really continue to love.


  2. Wayne

    We ALL make choices in Life, some to our detriment some not. As a construction worker am I supposed to expect the company I work for to remove all hazards associated with my field. How many construction workers die every year? How many are seriously injured to the point they can barely function? How many have to quit because they are no longer able to do the work. Far far more than anything in the NFL. We all make choices, yes we should expect to be able to do our job and go home at the end of the day. There are safety measure that are in place (OSHA is a joke and only gets involved After the fact) Most are Not followed. Should the industry then be shut down? Should they be allowed to just get another warm body to replace the dead or injured. I do Not see Obama or anyone else complaining about the risks in construction. Seen many seriously injured and been on several jobs where workers have died. I have had to make more than a few 911 calls myself. I am not trying to downplay the risks or the seriousness of a concussion just saying they need to be informed and then be allowed to make their own decisions.


    • AthensHomerDawg

      In spite of the Prez concern I’d suggest to you is that head trauma”s formula, tricked out with yet to be repeatable science, for policy ends. It was political from the beginning, promoted in a well-orchestrated media campaign that had to be planned weeks or months in advance. Bottom line anytime you get smacked upside the head it is not good. Repeating the event is worse. OK. Goodness this ain’t rocket science. Being a cop in Chicago is sorta dangerous as well. Parents know this. I did. When West Point courted my youngest I said Oh hell no. My Dad was in SAC. I’m not anti West point. I just don’t want him anywhere near war, death and destruction. When he dislocated his knee during HS wrestling I snatched him off the team. Coach said he can go to State…. I said NOT NOW. He’s grown and in college he can make his choices as they are his. But at one time they were my decisions… all mine.


      • The ATH

        I don’t mean this to sound so contrary, but has he not expressed resentment for being denied any input on these decisions? Pursuit of a state championship (because of a dislocation)… One of the most prestigious career/life opportunities in the world at Westpoint…


      • Hogbody Spradlin

        AHD the brain injury thing has been simmering for 4 or 5 years. I haven’t examined the data, but my eyes got caught but a couple of early articles, and I think there’s enough empirical evidence to warrant concern. I’m sure some politicians and ambulance chasers will take advantage of the situation, but I think there’s a real problem.


    • Hogbody Spradlin

      So Wayne, you’re a construction worker. That’s good because all construction projects need at least one guy named Wayne. You have a Darrell in your crew? It’s even better when there’s a Wayne and a Darrell. 😉


  3. Always Someone Else's Fault

    Who were the two basketball stars who knew the risks and played until their hearts failed permanently anyway?


      • G Marmalarde

        As a night shift worker studies show I have 75% increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 300% increased risk of cancer over the general population. I am well compensated but nothing like NFL $. Should the government intervene? I take the increased risk to provide for my family. These numbers have been around for years. Ever hear about it in the media?


        • Always Someone Else's Fault

          Should the government forbid you to take the job? No. Can the government, given sufficient research on the issue, mandate workplace changes which would reduce your risks? Sure – if the politics of it work out.

          The government forced businesses to honor a 40 hour workweek and overtime rules beyond that. Was that dictatorship at work?


  4. TennesseeDawg

    Life is an inherent set of risks yet we keep looking to government to protect us. Largent has the correct approach whether it’s the NFL or private reasearch to shed more light on the risks. Not every player that had concussions developed brain issues.


    • gastr1

      In this case protection and information are synonymous, just as it was when ingredient labels were first required on foods. Don’t make it sound as if wanting the government to push for that form of protection is somehow coddling or bad.


      • AthensHomerDawg

        Are you really so naive. Goodness read this and re-post. K? Before you yield to your benefactor.


        • gastr1

          Right, right…what was your point, again? Are you somehow suggesting that individual action is the only way to drive consumer protection? Or that consumer protection itself is asinine because we just get all upset over how things look/sound whether harmful or not, i.e., pink slime?

          Some of us apparently need a reminder that this is not China…though at one time not that long ago it looked a hell of a lot like it. Is that what you want? Melamine in your milk, because there is no role for the government to protect its citizen from such abuses? Maybe I’m naive, but you’re awfully cynical on that front.


  5. 69Dawg

    I have no doubts that the treat of law suits has motivated the NFL. By there very nature these head truma are cummulative, so how does a player show that the NFL was the reason for his damages. The NCAA and high school injuries could be every bit as deadly.

    The other thing that gets me is the so-called base line test. These will only work if the testee doesn’t try to cheat by downgrading his base line. I’ve already heard this mentioned by former pro players in some interviews.The money is too good to let it go.

    Football will go the way of boxing, only the economic disadvantaged will play the sport. I hate it but that is going to happen. Heck even Adrian Peterson said on the Dan Patrick show today that he wishes he had played baseball,”less hits and more money”.


    • Cali Ben

      Yes, it doesn’t matter what reports say about the danger, it’s a means to an end (financial security) for some people and they will ignore it.


  6. Irishdawg

    After college I was in the military, and I’m in law enforcement now. Neither job is particularly safe, and I have been compensated far less than anyone in the NFL. You know what? I chose my career, and I know what the risks are. We are supposed to be a free people, and we are supposed to be able to choose our own path. Nothing is without risk, and I’m really in no mood to have government try and make our decisions for us on matters such as what sports we choose to play.


    • AlphaDawg

      I totally agree Irish, we’re all adults and our decision have consequences.

      I’m not sold the head trauma leads to memory loss/dementia etc. I would love to know if anyone has done a study of the cumulative affects of taking anti inflammatory drugs and pain pills on the brain. One can assume most of these players have higher pain tolerances and take stronger/ larger doses than the normal population. Would these drugs have any affect on the brain?


  7. No One Knows You're a Dawg

    “We don’t need the government telling people what they can and can’t do” is an hilarious thing for him to say considering I can now be sent to federal prison for 5 years for unlocking my cell phone.


  8. Tom

    Yeah, the government isn’t big enough. Not enough laws out there. That’s what we need, bigger government and more laws. Oh yes, don’t forget, higher taxes to pay for this.


  9. Haywood Jablome

    Just out of curiosity I would love to see a study that researches if steroid use along with repeated concussions has any increased effect. Maybe Largent is in decent shape now despite several blows to the head due to the fact that, judging by his body, never took any sort of juice.

    But back to the story, there is too much government involvement already in day to day activities. The last thing we need is government getting more involved in the world of sports.


    • AlphaDawg

      You can add all of the pain pills and anti-inflammtory drugs these players take as well.

      And since some races are more predisposed to some diseases/conditions they should be considered as well.


  10. Boz

    I would absolutely love to know the CTIA Wireless position on radio waves from cell phones and the increase on brain cancer. Somewhere out there is a theory…


  11. Juan

    Perhaps my reading comprehension is hindered due to a few beverages tonight, but are you backing the president in sticking his nose into this whole situation?

    If so, I just lost a little respect for you, Senator.

    How unfortunate.


    • GaskillDawg

      Juan, a reporter asked the President if he would let his son okay football and he answered it. He gave the same answer a lot of the folks who comment on this blog gave. He said what he as a Father would think. He proposed no legislation, proposed no commission, proposed no use of federal revenue. He just said what a Father residing in a big house near the capitol building is concerned about when it came to a child’s activities. How is that “sticking his nose” in anything?


    • JAX

      the Senator is a democrat, so yes, he supports the President. But that’s his choice and this is his blog.



  12. Corey

    I think both comments, President Obama’s concerning traumatic head injury with his reluctance to allow one of his children to play football and Largent’s regarding individual choices, are appropriate. We need to study the issue with actual science not debate an issue that is, in fact, in its infancy.


  13. Cosmic Dawg

    “And last time I checked, Steve, a court ruling is the government telling people what they can and can’t do.)”

    What?! No, a court ruling is NOT the government telling people what they can and cannot do. A court ruling is an interpretation of a law which tells people what they can and cannot do. Largent was apparently directing his comments at the people who make and sign the laws – congress and the president – otherwise, your comment suggests that the courts are free to just tell us what to do.

    As to your other points, what makes you think Largent’s experts, who told him his stroke was unrelated to his football career, are not as qualified to examine him up close as we are from our chairs several thousand miles away?

    As to the start of his career, why do you think somebody was hiding information from Largent? What if he really did have roughly the best information available, including the obvious, which has already been pointed out – ie did you really think hitting your head into somebody else’s head thousands of times carried no risk? Do we really want to pretend that people in 1964 were complete morons? Nobody ever saw somebody get injured on a football field, or beaned with a baseball?

    And what were the alternatives to playing football for a lot of these kids? Die earlier, having worked in a coal mine for peanuts, or sanding lead off walls, and not have the quality of life and gifts to your progeny that professional football likely offered? If somebody gave you a choice of hanging out in the projects or farming turnips or going to the NFL and *possibly* having complications, which would you have chosen, given the information we have right now?

    I think the more likely story is that, like everything else, as society grows we learn more of the risks and the alternatives to dangerous things get better and better and our quality of life improves gradually and organically. Who is to say the government can be relied upon to force better outcomes than the market? We always hear about the kid whose heart gave out playing basketball, but never about the kid whose heard DIDN’T quit because he was in good shape trying to compete for the team.

    Similarly, we always hear about the coal miner who died from black lung, but we never hear about the kid in West Virginia who died because his daddy couldn’t afford to feed him because the regulatory environment of the coal mines kept the coal company from hiring more workers.

    Alternatives and incentives – people only see them working one direction because there’s no poster boy for what *didn’t* happen because the market was functioning correctly – no, it’s always about the crane that broke, not the millions who have a place to work because we can build skyscrapers.

    And by the way, I’m not sure what in the record makes you think this president or any other president over the last thirty years won’t leap at the chance to pass some legislation about anything from football helmets to hermit crabs. It starts with gentle tsk-tsking – which is not what I pay him for, either – to scold me – then moves to finger wagging and furrowed brows – and ends with another law.

    Constitutionally, this is clearly an area where the states have lawmaking authority…although that doesn’t hold a lot of water lately, either. But since the schools are govt entitites, I think it’s part of their duties to protect the kids that are playing school sports to the nth degree, btw.


  14. JAX

    I would like to put Ray Lewis and Beyonce in a bus and watch it run off a cliff and explode.


  15. JAX

    Or, Ray Lewis and Beyonce could both fall into a large vat of molten steel, a la, Terminator. Would be more wonderful than the Falcons winning the Super Bowl