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Annibali writes: "Stop and think a minute. Have you noticed just how violent professional football is? Does it strike you as odd that so many are excited about a game in which players are knocked senseless and many are maimed?"

San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Steve Young lies motionless on field after suffering a concussion in a game against the Arizona Cardinals in 1999. (photo: Scott Troyanos/AP)
San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Steve Young lies motionless on field after suffering a concussion in a game against the Arizona Cardinals in 1999. (photo: Scott Troyanos/AP)


As a Doctor Who Treats Concussions and a Lifelong Fan, I Now Believe Pro Football Is Unethical

By Joseph A. Annibali, The Washington Post

16 January 16

 

he recent surprising success of our traditionally hapless Redskins kept football excitement in the air in the Washington region deep into the season, until their playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers last weekend. Although we can still look forward to the Super Bowl, right?

But stop and think a minute. Have you noticed just how violent professional football is? Does it strike you as odd that so many are excited about a game in which players are knocked senseless and many are maimed? The players strike each other with such force that the collision sounds can be heard high in the stands and on TV. The quarterback position is acknowledged as the most important, but rare is the quarterback who is able to play a whole season without significant injuries.

More important than the broken clavicles, the shoulder dislocations, and even the gruesome orthopedic disasters like the career-ending injury of star quarterback Joe Theisman, are the injuries to the brain. Yes, to the brain. It is now crystal clear that high speed collisions—even when “protected” by a helmet and other gear that would make a gladiator proud—do very bad things to the brain. The recent Concussion movie helped bring the hard facts of traumatic brain injuries in football to the forefront.

As psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst whose specialty is scanning the brain using a technology called SPECT that looks at brain function, I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole football enterprise—especially on the professional level—is unethical at its core.

Brain SPECT is ideally suited to reveal brain damage caused by blows to the head. In my clinic we have seen many football players, at all levels, who have suffered serious brain injury caused by the sport. Plus, we’ve done the largest study on retired NFL players, which revealed remarkably high levels of brain injury and many associated problems.

The good news is that brain injury often can be ameliorated with aggressive treatment. The bad news is that most individuals who suffer brain injury, including professional football players, are not appropriately assessed, diagnosed, and treated. How many former football players have ruined lives because of brain injury? And consider remarkable individuals like Junior Seau, the former San Diego Charger, who took his life by a gunshot to the chest, so that his brain would remain intact after death and available for study.

My conclusion about football has been painful. I’ve loved the sport. Even during the many years of their mostly mediocre performance on the field, I’ve avidly watched each Redskins game. And other football games, too. I feel like a hypocrite. But the reality is that I grew up in football-crazed rural Pennsylvania. I played in a midget football league for boys age ten to twelve. Full contact. I loved it. And I played on my high school team too. I know the “thrill” of hitting another player so hard that they are knocked unconscious.

Sigmund Freud wrote about human beings having both loving and aggressive instincts. It is well-known that the positive, loving instinct is called libido. My psychoanalyst colleagues and I—in a play on words—have nicknamed the aggressive instinct “destrudo.” Nickname or not, it is clear that we all do have aggressive, destructive drives within us. For centuries, this instinct has been showcased in sports around the world. Think of the gladiators in ancient Rome, the bullfighters of Spain.

A key appeal of football and other rough sports is that they provide a channeled and sublimated outlet for our aggression. Regressive tribal instincts (us vs. them) are strengthened. And we don’t have to put ourselves at direct risk, it’s our hired gladiators, err, football team. Is football violence a kind of “safety valve” for society, in which we spectators put others at risk in order to vent our aggression by proxy?

Can’t we find another way to channel our aggression? Is it fair to have our young people—typically young men whose prefrontal cortices are not even fully myelinated—put their bodies and brains at risk to that we can watch at home from our recliners? Or watch in the stadium? My experience attending Redskins games in person is that they seem like a drunken orgy at which a sporting event broke out.

Is it ethical to seduce our young men to put their mental stability, emotional welfare, and their whole futures at risk, by offering them dollars and fame to risk maiming the most important organ in their bodies? The brain is key to everything we are, everything we do. As a society, we shouldn’t get our aggressive rocks off through our hired hands—our football players—even if they are paid handsomely to endanger the soft tissue in the cranial vault. It’s not right. And, that many of the players are from minority communities makes it even less right.

Can’t we do better as a society? Can’t we do better as humans? Let’s find another way to handle our innate aggression. Let’s end this football madness. We look back at Roman gladiators and are repulsed. My prediction is that future generations will look back at our obsession with our violent national pastime—professional football—with similar incredulity and repulsion.

If football at all levels is to survive, it will need to evolve into a sport in which athletic grace becomes key, rather than jarring and brutal tackles that risk life-shattering injury. Will tackle football evolve into flag football? And would the rooting public accept a version of football in which life and limb are not constantly at risk? I hope so.

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+20 # PeacefulGarden 2016-01-16 18:40
And, think, our children play this sport, with so-called adult coaches. Our educational institutions support this brain damaging activity, all over our nation, from elementary to college.
 
 
+10 # Radscal 2016-01-16 19:32
During the first professional football game I ever watched (more than 4 decades ago), a player was killed.

Apparently he'd been shot up with novocaine for injuries and amphetamines for obvious reasons, and his heart basically exploded.

Now, drugging is restricted, but serious injuries still occur, perhaps at even higher rates.

For years, I couldn't watch football. A friend told me to try to forget those are human beings, and imagine them to be automatons.

The sports I have always loved, followed and participated in are racing... both autos and sailboats. People die in those sports every year, including several I've known. I've had more than a few very close calls myself, and have rescued 5 people from drowning.

Sports can be dangerous. But a significant difference is that when competitors die in racing or swimming, etc. it's because things went terribly wrong.

But in football (and boxing), injuries occur naturally when the game is played correctly.

Of course, being entertained by violent sports, games, television and film has no affect on anyone's behavior. /s
 
 
+5 # Adoregon 2016-01-17 15:57
Annibali writes:
"Have you noticed just how violent professional football is? Does it strike you as odd that so many are excited about a game in which players are knocked senseless and many are maimed?"

Are you shitting me?
Football, professional and otherwise, is about little else but violence. The whole point is to "bring down" the player with the ball as quickly and as hard as possible. Serious injuries, to the body as well as the brain, are inevitable.

As far as violence and U.S. "culture" goes, football is as popular as it is because it is a perfect reflection of our society's endorsement of and love of violence.

Stop and think a minute.
Have you noticed just how violent most of the movies and television shows we call "entertainment" are? Video games?
The genocidal treatment of Native Americans? The killing of other species we find annoying? The killing of unarmed people of color? The killing of other people around the globe who have the temerity to oppose our desire for their resources? The violence advocated by many very stupid politicians as a response to global complexity? The violence our rapacious desire for more stuff does to the natural world itself?
Does it strike you as odd that our lives are so utterly permeated by violence that it has become ubiquitous and "normal?"

Get a fucking grip. Violence is but another name for U.S. culture. Football, like politics, is merely the "sport" that keeps "our" blood boiling.

Fools.
 
 
+22 # Thomas Martin 2016-01-16 23:09
We Americans, as individual citizens and as a country, seem to be fascinated and obsessed with violence. Whether it be watching a football game, or joining a gang, or invading other countries, it seems to be norm. We could, if there were a common will, do something to reverse this ... but that won't be done without changing the way most of us are brought up, and through that changing the way our country conducts its foreign affairs.
 
 
+9 # janie1893 2016-01-17 01:16
As a species, we will never have true world peace until we stop all aggressive "games".
 
 
+9 # elizabethblock 2016-01-17 09:58
It's a form of human sacrifice. The ancient Romans had gladiators, we have football.
 
 
+2 # bmiluski 2016-01-17 13:19
You are absolutely right ELIZABETH...... We as a species have not changed that much. Oh we make tsk, tsk, sounds about violence but we still love to see the outcome of violent acts.
 
 
+3 # dbrize 2016-01-17 16:58
Quoting bmiluski:
You are absolutely right ELIZABETH......We as a species have not changed that much. Oh we make tsk, tsk, sounds about violence but we still love to see the outcome of violent acts.


So true.

"We came, we saw, he died". Cackle.
 
 
+5 # Radscal 2016-01-17 13:46
Like ancient Romans, we are fed "bread and circuses." And for the same reasons.
 
 
+8 # REDPILLED 2016-01-17 10:59
Of course football (or "brain mash", as it should be called) is unethical, as are hockey and boxing, for the same medical reasons.

But there is so much $$$ to be made that sensible policies based on medical research have no chance against greed.

And football's conscious and cynical connection to U.S. militarism disguised as "patriotism" will keep it as the No. 1 professional U.S. sport, with help from the military.
 
 
0 # vilstef 2016-01-17 12:50
I'm an Iowan, and I look no further than this on what football can do to young lives. The case of Jack Trice is a bit more complicated than just brain injuries.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Trice
 
 
0 # chapdrum 2016-01-18 17:29
On top of which, is its relentless association with all things military.
 

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