Category Archives: Brain Injury History in Football

1900-1912: ‘The First Concussion Crisis’ For Beloved Football

Part Two in a Series

Brain Injury in American Football: 130 Years of Knowledge and Denial

By Matt Chaney,

Posted Saturday, January 30, 2016

Revised Friday, April 6, 2018, for adding historical information such as original “heads up” tackling theory and the 1907 condemnation of football for juveniles by JAMA, doctors on editorial board for Journal of the American Medical Association

Copyright ©2018 by Matthew L. Chaney

I. Introduction

II. 1900-1904: Doctors, Football Officials Clash Over Brain Injuries

III. 1900-1902: Football Brutality and Call For ‘Open Game’

IV. 1903: Football Officials Tout New Rules, Sell New Helmets

V. 1876-1900: Roosevelt Embraces ‘Strenuous Life,’ Football

VI. 1901-1904: Football Fan and Father in The White House

VII. 1905: Football Tempest Explodes on Presidential Intervention

VIII. 1905: Football Tempest Subsides on Presidential Instruction

IX. 1912: Forgetting Football TBI and Disease For Posterity

By outset of 1910, the official promise of “debrutalized” football had not produced for America. Football appeal was spiking, drawing millions of spectators and enticing thousands of players for games at college stadiums, school fields, and local parks. “Enthusiast” presidents, among the famous, lent vogue to football fandom while the popular press made celebrities of college players. But the injury plague persisted, for inherent risks of the collision sport.

Former president Theodore Roosevelt may have “saved” football in 1905, per that blossoming story, but only from destructive infighting and scattered abolitionists.  Apparently no one could develop “Safer Football”—the headlined mission entrusted the game since Roosevelt’s intervention—and officials were acknowledging reality after years of failed policy.

“The majority of representatives want safer football,” said Amos Alonzo Stagg, University of Chicago head coach and member of the NCAA rules committee. “As to specific rules effecting this, it is impossible to say much. It’s easier to make attacks upon the rules… than to make the game safer.”

“Coach Stagg declares that there is a great demand for safer football,” intoned a newspaper commentator. “No doubt there is, and no doubt, too, there is as great a demand down below for a cooler hell.”

Another news writer faulted critics of football, for their “attitude” and nil help toward reform:

The game will have to be changed because of the fatalities and injuries of the last season [1909]. Many of the persons who are loudest in their demands to have alterations made, however, are those who cannot or do not suggest just what things should be done.

American “foot-ball” had blended rugby with soccer following the Civil War, and from 1880 onward officials struggled to control increasingly vicious field contact, along with managing hordes of player casualties. Various types of injury threatened football players in 1910, with doctors virtually powerless to treat lethal conditions such as brain hemorrhaging, spinal paralysis, and infection.

Traumatic brain injury [TBI] occurred routinely for the impacts and indirect “jars” above neckline. Players charged headlong into each other on every play, naturally and necessarily, ramming with forward leverage then slamming against ground. Thus countless brain injuries posed the greatest challenge to game organizers and medical professionals. Symptoms of TBI ranged in players from headache to hemorrhage, and diagnosis was sketchy with scant treatment option.

The so-called football experts had pursued several ideas to protect players, including reduction of head contact in blocking and tackling. Since the 1890s rules had been designed to foster “open play,” which many believed would lessen field risks. Colleges and schools were encouraged to station athletic trainers and doctors at sideline, and coaches tried to teach hitting with shoulders and chest.

For years the football experts had promoted helmets or “headgear,” armor designed largely by trainers and coaches to prevent trauma, foremost “concussion of the brain.”

Any positive results were negligible and public outcry rose anew in winter 1909-10. College rulemakers opened meetings in New York City amidst a flurry of football criticism, speculation for congressional hearings, and “radical changes” for high schools. Many game insiders said boys should not play until physical maturity around age 16.

“FOR SAFER FOOTBALL,” headlined The Washington Herald in the nation’s capital city, where prep coaches outlawed the forward pass and mandated penalty for tackling “above the shoulders.” Elsewhere, lawmakers, doctors, and clergymen sought bans of school and “pee wee” football.

Once again, the onus fell upon college coaches and administrators to act decisively, effectively.

“SAFER FOOTBALL AIM OF EXPERTS,” reminded a headline in North Dakota, accompanied by national report. “Protests have gone up from all parts of the country against the dangers of the game as now played.”

Brooklyn sports fan W.C. Taylor declared, “I want to make a football confession,” in his letter to The New York Times, continuing:

I have followed the ball and howled along the side lines with the noisiest enthusiasts, and waxed wrathful of the enemies of the game; but now, with a clearer and fairer view, although with no cooling whatsoever of my ‘sporting blood,’ I want to go on record as saying that football is the biggest fool of an institution in America as a sport.

But this angry fan wasn’t without hope for the game. His football criticism concluded in common fashion, denouncing “mass play,” the oft-heard scapegoat, and suggesting rule changes would fix the game.

1900-1904: Doctors, Football Officials Clash Over Brain Injuries

By turn of the 20th century, brain “concussion” was elemental of news events, including for criminal assaults and industrial accidents, according to an electronic review of historical newspapers by this investigator. Waves of TBI cases resulted from transportation mishaps involving horses, buggies, railroads, and the new motorcars.

Motorcyclists and aviators donned leather football helmets for protection while polo players wore cork headgear covered in cloth, like Dr. Livingstone in the jungle, hoping to soften their head-first falls from horseback.

Newspapers regularly reported sport TBI in the early 1900s, especially in boxing, football, baseball, and horse racing. Death in sport garnered biggest headlines, but concussed athletes in recovery were also newsworthy.

During football season, TBI incidents dotted the “sporting” pages, describing injury conditions of players such as dazed, confused, insensible, “knocked senseless,” “knocked out,” and concussed. Many cerebral casualties attempted returns to football with mixed results, documented in news.

“The concept of brain concussion had been traveling through common and medical knowledge for centuries,” science historian Emily A. Harrison, Harvard PhD, wrote for her article “The First Concussion Crisis: Head Injury and Evidence in Early American Football,” published by American Journal of Public Health in 2014. Harrison continued:

As early as the mid-16th century it had been defined as a blow resulting in escape of blood from ruptured tissue. By the early 19th century it was described as an “external violence” that caused “derangement of the brain.”

Medical knowledge of TBI advanced after the Civil War, driven by casualty studies of railroad accidents. Harrison noted:

[T]rain collisions, frequent in the late 19th century, had generated a large study population for observing long-term effects of concussions of the brain and spine. Physicians said that the new frequency for which they were observing concussions made the long-term behavioral consequences clinically visible—in children and adults.

The field collisions of American football—a sport that expanded throughout society coincident with rail transportation—produced numerous brain casualties as well. But the health problem was regarded indifferently by football  officials, perhaps in part for lack of known treatment. TBI was recognizable in symptoms, by coaches, trainers and doctors, but then basically a mystery.

The medical field and football clashed over cerebral injury, pitting conventional specialists versus coaches, trainers, team doctors, and injured players themselves.  Proper recovery time posed the prime question or sticking point.

Conservative medicine followed the Hippocratic ethic of Do no harm, exercising caution for cerebral disturbance of impact or shock, primarily a prescription of rest for days, weeks, even months. Dr. W.H. Earles, in a 1903 review for Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], wrote:

Clinical reports of competent observers, coupled with everyday experiences, have clearly demonstrated that blows or falls on the head may cause serious trouble, both present and prospective, without producing fracture to the skull wall.

Every case of recent head injury, however trivial it may appear, should, we believe, be treated with the greatest consideration, lest damage to hidden and important structures escape our attention, thus leaving a foundation for future trouble which too often is irreparable.

Turn-of-century medicine increasingly endorsed rest, careful recovery for brain-injury victims of all types. Doctors advised many concussed football players to sit out remainders of seasons, and some were told to quit entirely.

Contrarily, football personnel favored quick return for the brain-injured athlete, if side-lining him at all, and preferably under the authority of coaches and in-house technicians. Football trainers and hireling doctors were branching into their paradigm to become known as sports medicine, applying concepts beyond standard practice, and they assumed control in many casualty situations.

Such as the 1901 intercollegiate championship game between Harvard and Yale, before a record crowd of 37,000 at Cambridge, Mass. Both teams were affluent gridiron powers with trainers and doctors, and each saw a key player suffer TBI.

Harvard captain Dave Campbell, an All-American end, became “so groggy he did not see,” recounted The Washington Times, “but he did not leave the game.” Yale star John De Saulles was knocked unconscious while launching a “flying tackle” in goal-line defense. De Saulles experienced seizures on the sideline then revived briefly in a locker room, where reportedly “a doctor gave him an opiate and said that it was best for the boy to sleep it off.”

Following Harvard’s victory Saturday afternoon, doctors in Boston diagnosed De Saulles with a “slight attack of cerebral concussion” and admitted him to Massachusetts General Hospital. On Sunday morning, the “Yale football association” sent for De Saulles, intending to take him home with the team, but hospital officials refused to release the patient.

Doctors said De Saulles was “resting comfortably” and would recover within the week, “improving as rapidly as could be expected.” But by Monday night De Saulles was back in Connecticut, on campus, where headlines proclaimed “YALE HERO” was “Out of Danger”:

New Haven, Conn., Nov. 25.—(Special)—Johnny De Saulles, Yale’s quarterback, returned to his college home in the cloister tonight with his roommate, Arthur Barnwell, the Yale [baseball] center fielder, who took him from the Massachusetts General Hospital today and brought him here.

The non-bylined report quoted Yale football officials, but no doctor, in announcing De Saulles had recovered from brain trauma sustained in a body shot on the field:

De Saulles is still weak, but danger of permanent injury from cerebral concussion is over. Trainer Murphy says that it was a solar plexus blow received when De Saulles tackled Marshall which threw him into convulsions on the side lines after the game. Head Coach Stillman shares that opinion. De Saulles has been ordered to keep quiet for a few days.

No direct quote was attributed to Walter Camp, Yale coaching director, the football powerbroker and rules leader who presumably presided over the matter of De Saulles. Instead the writer noted Camp felt “exhausted by the strain of the last few weeks” and would depart on a vacation.

Social Darwinism was a dynamic here, spawning worry of an emasculated America, a male population ill-prepared to fight wars. Hysteric notions of manhood were popularized, along with symbols of ruggedness like Teddy Roosevelt and football. The macho-acting, tough-talking “T.R.” worshiped the gridiron, extolling it in news quotes and speeches. Roosevelt pushed his sons into the blood sport, although he never played as a student at Harvard.

“Manly” mindset often prevailed in cases of football injury, particularly TBI, the invisible wound. Concussive incidents could be ignored by everyone, including the injured players, although many could not help themselves.

During a college game in the Midwest, 1904, a badly concussed player resisted anyone’s assistance on the field, and eventually got his wish to manage himself, even if delirious. Illinois Wesleyan end Robert Ramage had absorbed a blow rendering him “dazed,” observed The Decatur Daily Review:

He was wholly out of his head at the field, and it took three men… to hold him and to keep him from running back into the game. … J.W. Race offered his carriage, and in it Ramage was taken to the hospital.

At the hotel Dr. E.J. Brown attended to the injured man. [The doctor] said that is was plain there had been concussion of the brain that had caused the dazed condition, but that as far as he was able to see there was no fracture of the skull, nor any cut on the scalp. There was a bad bruise on the leg.

Dr. Brown ordered the man to go to bed, and to stay at the hotel until the early morning train, instead of going home with the team at 6:15 [in the evening].

At about 6 o’clock [Ramage] presented himself at the hotel office and announced he was going to the station and home with the boys. No objection was made, and he went. He was rather weak, but was able to get to the depot, where he joined the team and was taken home.

Two days later, the local newspaper pronounced Ramage “recovered” without attributing medical authority for the information.

In the same week, Delaware, conflicting viewpoints surrounded the game injury of Vernon Gill, football captain for Maryland Agriculture College. Doctors at a Wilmington hospital said Gill suffered a concussion, but the senior administrator of his college disagreed. The Washington Times reported:

It was learned today… from Major Sylvester, president of the M.A.C., that the injured player is not suffering from concussion of the brain, and is in no serious danger. He was badly shaken up, but is expected back with the rest of his teammates in a few days.

But neural specialists conflicted with the college president on brain injury, which they regarded as serious for any symptoms. Undoubtedly, TBI in acute phase could alter the senses, mental state, personality and behavior.

Brain-injured football players could struggle with schoolwork, such as Yale end William J. MacMahon, who was advised by his personal physician to quit the sport and leave law studies for the semester in October of 1904. Yale coaches called the injury report a “rumor” and denied knowledge, but MacMahon did not return to football. [Later, both MacMahon and John De Saulles made national headlines as former Yale stars in stormy marriages and court proceedings. De Saulles was shot dead by his ex-wife in 1917, amid acrimony over child custody and adultery. MacMahon was criminally indicted for assaulting his second wife in 1928, beating her into critical condition with a flashlight during a car trip home from the Yale-Harvard game; the charge was dropped.]

Doctors knew concussion could spur violence in acute phase, at least, and football was blamed in part for a player’s suicide, according to this national report:

Janesville, Wis., Oct. 9—Leon Ayers, one of the brightest and most popular students in high school, committed suicide at his room in the Y.M.C.A. building last night with chloroform. It is thought that he was mentally unbalanced, the result of a fall from scaffolding last summer and subsequent injuries in a football game a week ago.

The Ayers case was included among football deaths for 1901, in lists compiled by newsmen.

Many specialists believed TBI could leave permanent damage, and concern for re-injury after a diagnosed concussion led to side-lining of football players around turn of the century. Princeton tackle Albert T. Baker had to leave the team in 1903 because of severe trauma. His hometown newspaper in Pennsylvania reported:

Baker was kicked on the head and was in the hospital with concussion of the brain for several weeks. Surgeons examined the wound and decided that it would be dangerous to allow him to play again this season, as a kick or blow on the same spot of the first injury would probably result fatally. Since that time he has not been allowed to play and has been coaching the Freshmen eleven of the school. The coaches speak favorably of Baker’s chances for next year and say he would have made the team this year but for his unfortunate injury.

Casualties of TBI were sometimes committed to mental wards, such as this schoolboy football player in 1903:

Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 16—Earl Neff, aged 16, was brought to the state hospital for the insane here Saturday from Kingston, Ohio. He is incurably crazed from injuries received in a game of football. He sustained concussion of the brain. He has a mania for studying electricity, in which subject he was interested before the accident.

JAMA editors likened football risks to warfare, declaring, “To be a cripple or lunatic for life is paying high for athletic emulation,” and courts were recognizing long-term TBI affliction from accidents outside sport. A former Purdue player injured in a wreck of the team train sued the railroad over permanent injuries, including brain damage that impaired his eyesight, hearing, memory, and reasoning while paralyzing him on the ride side. The judge awarded him $10,000 compensation. Elsewhere, a young man died years after a brain injury in football. A report stated:

Chicago, Oct. 11 [1902]—Max Henry Fleischer is dead as a result of an injury received in a football game six years ago. Until two months ago Fleischer did not know of [his condition], but as soon as his father learned of it he had an examination made which showed that the young man’s skull was depressed. The skull was trepanned [surgically opened], revealing a diseased condition of the brain.

During the last six years Fleischer had suffered from severe headaches. Several times he was found unconscious. When the accident occurred Fleischer was 15 years old and was anxious to get a place on the regular football team at school. He was kicked on the head and picked up in a dazed condition, but he exacted a promise from his playmates not to talk of the accident for fear his mother would not allow him to play anymore.

While medical science lacked a smoking gun to prove permanent cerebral damage of football collisions, circumstantial evidence abounded. Harvard president Charles Eliot, arch enemy of football, proclaimed the game was a health menace. In February 1905, Eliot stated, “Sprains, concussions of the brain and injuries to bones are apt to leave behind them permanent weaknesses, which in later life become troublesome.”

1900-1902: Football Brutality and Call For ‘Open Game’

When football controversy struck again in the early 1900s, brutality and injuries were issues, but spectators complained chiefly for the plodding “mass” formations that obscured ball-carriers, like blocking “wedges” and scrums. Fans clamored for a completely “open game” of running and forward passing; player protection was a minor concern.

Even university presidents, football’s notorious adversaries, typically advocated an open format to ensure the game’s survival. The ballyhooed rules revision of 1894 had failed to end deadly gang blocking, other than the 10-man “flying wedge,” and subsequent tinkering with code left loopholes for mass offense.

Human wedges or walls still flourished on the field. The ploy known as “guards back” was standard, shifting two offensive linemen into the backfield before center snap for an early charge for trampling defenders. And Glenn “Pop” Warner, coaching “genius” of the Carlisle Indian School, designed the “end-over” formation, touted as “flying interference within the rules” for erasing defense on outside runs.

Public backlash rose during football season 1902 against mass play, coaching tactics, and the rules committee steered by Walter Camp at Yale. Player deaths caused tension, and a Presbyterian synod in Tennessee condemned football; the church had begun by denouncing bullfighting but that was dropped as “not being on par with football.”

The gridiron maw proved mortal for a player of a Baptist college in its opening game: “Harry Jordan of Sioux Falls, S.D., became mixed up in a mass play and was so severely injured that he died soon after,” The St. Louis Republic reported.

Defensive linemen also formed walls, evidenced in the ruthless smashing of a young man who tried to make a town team in Pennsylvania. “KILLED AT FOOTBALL,” headlines announced, continuing, “Players Piled on One of Their Number, Crushing Out His Life.” The national report followed:

Sharon, Pa., Oct. 21—During a practice game of football at Transfer yesterday, William Martin, 21 years old, sustained injuries that resulted in his death a few hours later. Martin was playing center on a scrub team, and when the ball was [snapped to quarterback] he was carried backward for some distance, and then hurled to the ground with great violence. The opposing players piled on him… Physicians were summoned. They stated that Martin had sustained internal injuries and was suffering from concussion of the brain. He did not regain consciousness.

Martin’s violent brain injury was nevertheless ruled “an accident” by local officials, and he was among at least 10 football deaths in 1902. The grid season’s survivor casualties also included “a number of concussions,” reportedly. In Missouri, a lineman for Central College “bore the brunt of many [mass] attacks and played after he should have been taken out,” a newspaper declared. “He was helped off the field in a dazed condition and afterward examined by a physician, who found him suffering from concussion of the brain.”

Criticism overtook game officials once again. “RULES MUST CHANGE,” declared the headline over a news report from the East:

Syracuse, N.Y., Nov. 24—Chancellor James R. Day of Syracuse University caused a sensation in the chapel by stating that unless the football rules are radically changed so as to abolish mass plays, he would go before the board of trustees and ask them to disband the team at Syracuse. He said:

“I have always supported football, but the time has come when I find it difficult to defend the game. When, before the season is two-thirds over, half the members of a team have been in the hospital and some of them compelled to leave the game permanently, when men have been killed throughout the country and scores upon scores have been maimed, there must be something wrong with the game.”

The Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], premier medical publication, ripped football rulemakers for play “made absolutely murderous at times. Among the serious casualties of the game this year we have fractured skulls, injured spines, brain injuries resulting in insanity, as well as broken legs, ribs, collar-bones, etc.” Atlantic Monthly noted football presented mortal risks “justified only in professions like fire-protection, life-saving, sea-faring and railroading.”

New York Independent editors chided universities for allowing football “associations” of young men to rule campuses and besmirch educational mission with their blood sport:

Why should the policy of universities in so important a matter be left to the dictation of the undergraduates [players] and overenthusiastic athletic graduates [coaches]? … There needs to be careful discrimination made by competent authorities between what is essential and what is both non-essential and injurious in the game.

Competent or not, the same insider committee of football “experts”—coaches, a referee, game-friendly professors—were tasked with overhauling the rules yet another time. But outside intervention was possible, sources told The New York Sun, which reported:

Well-informed persons say that the Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee will have to abolish mass plays from the gridiron before the season of 1903 begins. If the committee does not do so on its own initiative, the presidents and faculty athletic authorities of many of the big universities will, it is said, will take up the matter and deal with it… Several of the college presidents have been severely outspoken in their disfavor of existing conditions. … President [Woodrow] Wilson of Princeton has… said that the game would have to be altered if it is to continue to have a place on Princeton’s calendar of sports.

The St. Louis Republic declared the rules committee must redesign football: “For many seasons the cry of the general public has been for a game where there was more open work, that is, more passing, kicking, and playing in the broken field.”

Vanguards of the status quo held their ground. They defended football as-is and particularly the rules encouraging mass formations, such as a first down for advancing five yards and the ban on forward passing and quarterback runs. This group known as the football “conservatives”—with Walter Camp at top—blamed existing open play for terrible injuries, by creating fiercer collisions of faster-moving athletes.

Players faced less risk when “bunched in scrimmages,” remarked Julian Curtiss, a designer of football helmets and managing partner for A.G. Spalding athletic equipment in New York City. “Those who are clamoring for more open play should bear in mind that there are more injuries.” Curtiss, an equipment magnate and associate of Camp, was a former Yale football player who promoted his alma mater’s games in New York with Harvard and Princeton, events generating enormous crowds and lucrative profit for grid associations at each university. Curtiss told a New York writer that 30,000 paying customers for a game “strikes me as pretty good evidence that the present style of [mass] play is what the spectators like to see.”

Spalding sponsored the annual football rulebook written by Camp, old friend of Curtiss in New Haven, among commercial ventures the company enjoyed with the sport icon and his Yale athletic association. Camp claimed his rules committee had already opened-up football, well enough. Camp echoed Curtiss in contending open play was risky and that popular opinion favored mass play, upon which peerless Yale football was founded. In Camp’s statement disseminated by newspapers, introducing him as “the eminent authority” of football, he wrote:

Just at this time is transpiring one of the periodically occurring movements against the game as it stands. Football, wherever played, has always been a subject for critics. … Changes are not advocated now solely for the sake of avoiding injury, but rather in order to make the game more interesting to spectators. … There is no doubt that the men who are most interested in the sport of football are especially desirous of seeing it kept up to its present interest, both to player and spectator; that as far as possible the liability of injury be eliminated; and, finally, that the ethos of the game be kept as high as possible.

1903: Football Officials Tout New Rules, Sell New Helmets

Walter Camp discussed football risk, manhood, and ethics for an address of the Yale Club in Chicago during February 1903, as the game drew blame for gambling among college students. “There is no increase in the so-called evils of football,” Camp reassured alumni and boosters. Gambling on campus, he argued, was modeled after beloved poker play and more games of chance, like lotteries to fund construction of churches and university buildings.

“Then they want the dangers eliminated from football,” Camp said, indicating rulemakers felt besieged by complaints while lacking fresh ideas for football safety. “It would be agreeable to schoolmasters and parents, probably, if we could devise sports which would not contain any elements of danger, but it cannot be done.”

Technology had already failed to reduce football’s most devastating risk, brain trauma, through unsuccessful “headgear” models produced by game officials. For years trainers and coaches had designed helmets they claimed would prevent “concussion of the brain” ranging from headaches to hemorrhaging, along with skull fracture.

Trainers and coaches controlled the boom business of football equipment and outfitting, in concert with partners like Curtiss at Spalding. While they aimed to protect players, the head armor was counterproductive, often spurring vicious colliding. A player felt safe in a helmet but also emboldened to hit head-on or absorb blows above the neck, particularly for building speed and forward leverage in open-field ramming.

During the 1890s the development of effective anti-TBI material proved elusive. Early headgear or “harness” included rubber and cowhide forms for injured players at Princeton and Kansas, but no protection resulted. Then hard leather helmets proliferated, firm as a boot sole, only to cause trouble.

In 1900 the influential Yale coaches decried “heavy leather helmets which are now worn by nearly all the players, especially the end rushers,” a reporter wrote from New Haven. “The ends dive headlong at the backs… Cook, Sharp and Hale, the three most powerful backs at Yale, are out of the game at present, largely because of injuries received in this way.”

It was likely Camp who channeled the following message for football at-large, through the news writer: “There is no rule forbidding… the [sole] leather helmets, but Yale men would favor a new football rule making it illegal to wear that article of football armor.” Left unsaid was Camp’s buddy at Spalding equipment, Yale alumnus Julian Curtiss, whose pet project was a “pneumatic” football helmet.

Another newspaper story head-lined Yale in its “crusade” against leather headgear, with support from the University of Pennsylvania. The report also dropped the unattributed, unproven assertion that “a good pneumatic headpiece distributes the force of a blow over the entire head instead of centering it on one spot.”

“Princeton coaches, on the other hand, favor all kinds of helmets,” the report continued. “They argue that headpieces are necessary because the injuries to the head are generally of a far more lasting and serious nature than those received in other parts of the body.”

Trainers announced new leather designs at the universities of Illinois and Michigan, and more joined the engineering race for a protective football helmet—and riches. “The gear that has caused the most experiment and thought is that for the head,” a reporter declared from the Midwest in 1901. But no one produced the dream helmet and brain trauma continued unabated in field collisions.

Officials debated potential policy on headgear and other equipment throughout the football season of 1902. Mass play preoccupied critics, and at that point the football rulemakers, or Camp primarily, determined time was right for blaming injuries on heavy leather helmets. So the headgear problem made news again: Upcoming rules meetings would involve “a determined crusade against the armor-bearing tendencies of the game,” a report announced on Jan. 4, 1903, citing anonymous inside information. “Perhaps the worst phase of the armor question is the subject of hard leather.” A rigid helmet encouraged a player to “literally ram his opponent,” the text stated, continuing:

When these are tied on there is a dome-shaped skull covering as hard as steel… The climax came during last season, when a prominent supporter of the game came across a New England schoolboy who had a [sole leather] helmet shaped to a point; a dull one, but a point, nevertheless. Then the gravity of the situation came home to the observer, who is a member of the Rules Committee, and it is safe to predict that there will be some strenuous reform urged at the next meeting.

The committee finalized rule revisions by summertime. Camp led officials in announcing “less dangerous” and exciting football for the 1903 season. Indeed, fans could compare mass play and open play since the game field had been divided into zones for both. The mass-play format stood intact from each 25-yard mark to goal line, allowing momentum formations and push-pull assistance for a ball-carrier. In the open zone, 50 yards in midfield set between the 25-yard marks, the quarterback could carry the ball if he crossed scrimmage beyond five yards either side of the snap spot. Likewise in the open zone, seven men were required on the line for each snap. The committee did not address forward passing.

Additionally, the rule-makers acted on headgear and body padding, banning sole leather. Soft leather remained sanctioned by rules, and Spalding’s Julian Curtiss stood poised to fill the helmet vacuum with his air-cushioned model featuring a pneumatic crown.

Most opportune for Spalding in the football preseason—and entirely set up—the company was able to release its sponsored press run of college rulebooks in step with advertising and news planting that touted its new helmet. The business synergy of timing new field code with equipment production was no coincidence, but merely arranged between Camp and Curtiss, according to historical news and Camp’s personal papers.

“When necessary, Curtiss had no qualms about asking Camp’s predictions on rule changes that might affect Spalding equipment such as the ‘head harness,’ ” Stephen Hardy wrote for his essay Entrepreneurs, Structures, and the Sportgeist.

“Spalding executive Julian Curtiss found his friendship with Camp beneficial when it came to selling his expanding equipment lines,” author Julie Des Jardins wrote in her book Walter Camp: Football and The Modern Man, continuing:

When [Curtiss] developed a new shin guard, for instance, he showed it to his friend to make sure it conformed to Rule Three, Section Three of the football code, which forbade the wearing of “projecting, metallic, or hard substances.” Spalding held off on production of [pneumatic] head harnesses in 1902 until Camp could influence legislation on protective headgear. The sporting goods company marketed to casual players and high school leagues too, since many of them conformed to IFA guidelines and looked to the college game for guidance. In return, Camp was able to outfit Yale athletes at a discounted rate, and Curtiss offered him first dibs on the newest golf equipment, his-and-her bicycles, and skates and sleds for the kids.

Another football figure at Yale was not beholden to Curtiss, however, especially in open competition for developing the anti-TBI helmet, holy grail of football equipment. Mike Murphy, Yale’s famed athletic trainer and coach—who was prone to switch jobs for better opportunity, including multiple stints with Camp at New Haven—focused his skill for equipment design entirely on football headgear in August 1903. And Murphy wouldn’t endorse Yale’s use of the new Spalding piece.

“Every one of us interested in football is trying to solve the problem…,” Murphy told a reporter, “and get something pliable and yet which will offer sufficient protection to the men. There ought to be, under the circumstances, a good assortment of headgear from which to select just the one we need.” Murphy saw promise in a few materials.  “Felt is a good protector and is not too hard to use. Rubber heads may be tried.”

But Spalding’s promotional blitz was rolling, drowning voices like Murphy, and “pneumatic” headgear was sudden buzzword of the game. Teams were already receiving Spalding deliveries, from Cornell University in New York to Drury College in Missouri. Rules czar Camp, for his part, regularly mentioned the Spalding design, and the popular press chimed in unquestioningly. “The most important device is for keeping the brains of the football player from spilling over the field of battle at inopportune times,” a columnist opined, praising Spalding’s contraption. “This wonderfully constructed machine is pneumatic.”

Newspaper editors reprinted Spalding releases verbatim. A nationally publicized item stated:

The rules committee… passed a rule that if head protectors were worn they should no longer be made of sole leather, papier mache or other hard and unyielding material, and all other devices for protectors must be so arranged and padded as, in the opinion of the umpire, to be without danger to other players.

To conform to this rule Spalding’s pneumatic head harness has been designed and it is certainly one of the greatest improvements in the players’ equipment… a pneumatic crown sufficient to afford absolute protection. Ventilation is provided through heavy felt. Many trainers and players from leading colleges have examined this head harness and give it their unqualified approval.

Following football reform and conflicts of interest, the games began in late September, 1903, and field action drew scrutiny for the promises of rulemakers and associates. They garnered praise for enhancing the entertainment factor. An uptick in the open style was observable, according to reviews, and media celebrated scoring when major universities unloaded on smaller schools.

After Michigan won 79-0 over Beloit, the little college lost worse next week at Wisconsin, 87-0, and the scores lit up headlines for newspapers and magazines. “BELOIT IS SNOWED UNDER” and “Crowd Goes Wild,” heralded a Chicago Tribune report from the Badger State, continuing:

Madison, Wis., Oct. 17—(Special)—Wisconsin went Michigan one touchdown better here today, defeating Beloit by a score of 87 to 0. The speed and team work shown by Wisconsin came as a big surprise to the most enthusiastic admirers, and hopes for a championship team are high in Madison tonight.

Bain made the first touchdown off tackle after one-and-a-half minutes’ play. Line bucks for short, steady gains carried the ball over the second score, and then end runs and line smashes were alternated in rapid succession until the [visiting] Congregationalists were literally swept off their feet. …

The crowd of 1,200 rooters early in the second half began calling for a score of 80, [and] when that point was reached their enthusiasm was without bounds.

Famed sports columnist Ralph D. Paine detected both positives and negatives in retreaded football, writing for The Illustrated Sporting News:

The “new football rules”… are deserving of commendation in certain ways, after actual test on a hundred fields in the first month of the season. It has been already demonstrated, however, that they are not revolutionary, that they are hardly to be called sensational, and that football is the “same old game.” …

As for the spectator, it is true that the play is more easily followed than formerly. In midfield, from the average point of vantage, it is possible to see who takes the ball from the quarterback, whither the run is directed, and to follow the runner until he is tackled. This is a distinct gain over the old-style scrimmage [conducted from 25-yard lines to goal lines] where, except when the ball is kicked or fumbled, the onlooker cannot tell whether there is a football, no ball, or an old high hat, as the bone of furious contention.

As for less violence, injury reduction, Paine saw no evidence. “Reports of rough play are as frequent as they were last year,” he surmised.

New helmet policy and complementary product had no apparent effect. The soft pneumatic headgear accomplished sales but nothing else beyond a curious appearance, strapped like a “beehive” atop a player. And while a  written rule banned heavy leather from college football, real-time enforcement was problematic, especially for inspecting the array of helmets, homemade and manufactured, brought onto game fields. Responsibility remained with umpires for weeding out illicit equipment, any type, and allegations persisted of incompetence for the task.

Some coaches swore off all headgear as dangerous, trying to expunge it from their programs, including A.A. Stagg at the University of Chicago. But “concussion” casualties remained common of football news from all levels, sandlot, school, club and college. And multiple cases beset Stagg’s team, compelling him to reissue headgear for brain-injured players. The Chicago Daily News reported:

Kirby, the short, stocky little halfback, is forced to adopt the helmet. He had his head severely bruised in one of the early scrimmages and later received a jolt in one of the practice games which put him out of the contest. … It may be that [Stagg’s] hasty discarding of almost all protective armor will prove premature, and that the Maroons will be forced to take up again the shin guards, nose guards and helmets, which they have thrown away.

So-called head protection, rigid or otherwise, did not shield a school team in Kansas. During a game at Leavenworth, the players of Olathe High were “trampled on, kicked, and rubbed in the dirt,” according to The Leavenworth Times, which detailed TBI incidents on the field and followup treatment:

No one used to the clean kind of foot ball being put up by the local team would have anticipated the serious accidents which befell three of the Olathe players in yesterday’s game. Captain Harland Lanter, left guard, and Fred Hill, left half-back, were carried from the field unconscious and George Russell, right half, was early disabled by a sprained ankle. Of the three accidents Lanter’s was the most serious.

After twenty minutes’ play in the first half Olathe, realizing the futility of her efforts to crush the heavy Leavenworth line, fell back on the third down and punted. As the team swept down the field those on the side lines saw Lanter, standing in his tracks, grasp convulsively at his headgear and then fall. When persons from the side lines ran to him he was losing consciousness and lapsed into a… state in which he walked about the field and even played out the half before his men were brought to a realization of the fact that his injuries were of a dangerous nature.

He was taken from the field at the end of the half. Though still able to walk he knew nothing of his surroundings. Taken to the grand stand and wrapped in blankets he soon lost consciousness entirely. Only after he had been taken to the Imperial hotel in an ambulance did he regain reason. He was unconscious for two hours. …

Lanter was immediately taken care of by Drs. Suwalski, Shoyer and Lane, who were spectators at the game. A careful examination at the hotel last evening showed that Lanter had received a severe shock near the base of the brain on the left side. He told that he had been injured in the same spot at Fort Scott a year ago and he was not surprised at a recurrence. Hill’s injury resulted from falling and striking his forehead violently.

In both cases slight concussions of the brain resulted. Hill was able to leave town on the 6:30 o’clock [train] last evening but Lanter is still in this city in charge of his coach. It was thought advisable for him to rest after the shock before he undertook a journey.

Football death numbers compiled from news accounts, however faulty, suggested no decrease on the playing fields in 1903. The reports, with differing fatality totals, began appearing at season’s end around Thanksgiving. A Philadelphia news group announced at least 17 deaths from football, noting the actual number, impossible to determine, “probably would far exceed this number.” The American Medical Association corroborated: “During the football season just passed, 35 deaths occurred and over 500 severe accidents happened to players of football,” a report stated. “How many of those suffering from severe accidents died afterward cannot be ascertained, but, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number cannot be less than 50.”

The Atlanta Constitution commented as though speaking of warfare: “The old question as to whether football is worth the while is being seriously discussed all over the country again just as another football season has come to an end, and people are beginning to figure up the losses of the season in killed and wounded.”

1876-1900: Roosevelt Embraces ‘Strenuous Life,’ Football

Almost anything seemed possible in America at beginning of the 20th century, including ideas for “safe and sane football.” And when football “brutality” was condemned by the people’s president, Theodore Roosevelt, successful game reform appeared imminent.

Many Americans felt personal connection to the president, simply calling him “T.R” or “Teddy.” Writers regaled the public with heartwarming stories on this heroic character of The Strenuous Life, the theme he hammered in speeches. And Roosevelt figuratively wrapped himself in football, its powerful meanings, as another manhood badge he wore along with those of cowboy, mighty hunter, war hero, explorer, boxer, wrestler, and trust buster.

“Theodore Roosevelt… promoted the strenuous life in myriad ways but granted football a conspicuously important role,” observed cultural analyst Michael Oriard in 1993, an English professor and former NFL player. “Roosevelt tied football to the development of character but also to qualities of bodily hardihood and courage in the face of physical danger that were necessary for both ‘the individual and the race.’ ”

But Roosevelt was never a football player himself, like the celebrity athletes he fawned over, recruited to surround him. He just seemed to have been a football player. This pugnacious figure was seen and heard around the sport from outset of his political career. Roosevelt positioned himself as gallant defender of football, against unjust attack, a political role he assumed before the presidency.

Roosevelt first encountered football spectacle as a Harvard freshman in 1876. He was 18, a hearty fitness buff, but weighed only 135 pounds and wore eyeglasses. Roosevelt later stated that poor eyesight prevented his playing the game. Young Teddy became a football fan instead, sought friends in players, and secured a crimson Harvard game jersey he donned for campus workouts.

When the Harvard “eleven” lost 1-0 to Yale, on a Hail Mary dropkick at the victor’s home field, student Roosevelt rued defeat and alleged dirty tricks. “I am sorry to say we were beaten, principally because our opponents played very foul,” Teddy wrote to his mother in Manhattan.

In the 1890s college football faced its concerted abolition threat, and Roosevelt rushed to the fore, vociferously supporting the game and officials in his conversations, letters, and speeches. Roosevelt’s opinion was delivered with gusto and carried weight, coming from this rising public servant, native of New York City. He derided football critics as wimps and resented their leader—in charge at Roosevelt’s alma mater, no less—Harvard president Charles W. Eliot.

“In Roosevelt’s opinion, the foes of football were wrongheaded idealists who simply refused to accept the risks that are attached to virtually any human endeavor,” wrote John J. Miller, modern author of The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football:

They threatened to feminize an entire generation. At stake was nothing less than the future of the United States: On the threshold of a new century, would the country seize its historic destiny and grow into a world power or would it stop short of this accomplishment because it had turned out, in Roosevelt’s words, “mollycoddles instead of vigorous men”?

Roosevelt addressed the football team at Cambridge in 1896, “a most enthusiastic audience of Harvard men,” reported The Crimson. Roosevelt told the players: “It is not the critic that we want… it is the hard worker, the man who has the cause at heart, who has the fighting spirit and who feels his veins thrill when Harvard scores a goal. That is the man we need. Every individual fellow owes a debt of gratitude to a man who has the qualities of mind and body to make the team and who plays for Harvard.”

Roosevelt relished speaking to Harvard players and stayed mindful of football when appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, by President William McKinley in 1897. Roosevelt helped restore football games between Navy and West Point, and tabbed college players for his “Rough Riders” volunteer regiment—hyped to extreme by the press—in America’s short military conflict with Spain at Cuba in 1898. Miller wrote:

On July 1, outside the city of Santiago, Roosevelt led his dismounted men in the Battle of San Jan Hill. His famous charge up Kettle Hill drove Spanish soldiers from the summit. Roosevelt called it his “crowded hour.” It secured his place as a national hero. Although Roosevelt might have remained safely to the rear of his charging soldiers, he faced open fire and led them to the top of the hill.

Roosevelt returned home a celebrity, in time to run for New York governor and win convincingly. Harvard football enjoyed a banner year, too, defeating Yale for the national championship and a perfect 11-0 record. The Harvard alumni threw a lavish banquet in Boston before Christmas, hosting a crowd of 500 at the American House hotel, to fete the football champions and the university’s latest figure of fame, Roosevelt. When T.R. was introduced, the room erupted. “It was five minutes before Colonel Roosevelt could speak,” a report noted, continuing:

When the tumult had partly subsided, he said: “Mr. Toastmaster and Fellow Harvard Men. This has been a good year for Harvard. The team won and I won myself, and at the present moment I am somewhat in doubt as to which was the greater achievement.”

“I realize that the team understands and appreciates the keen personal interest taken in it by Harvard’s old graduates and undergraduates. But what I am proudest of is the fact that the Harvard team played liked gentlemen and won like gentlemen. If I ever go to war again, let me have such men as they who comprised the Harvard team of this year behind me.”

Roosevelt would not return to war; he was on fast track to the White House, named as McKinley’s vice-presidential running mate for 1900. McKinley won reelection but was shot by an assassin and died, and Roosevelt was sworn in as the 25th American president in September 1901, history’s youngest at age 42.

1901-1904: Football Fan and Father in The White House

President Theodore Roosevelt was a social reformer, the buster of business monopolies, the “Big Stick” protector of workers and consumers. In historic fights from the White House, Roosevelt took on financier J.P. Morgan, the railroads, meatpacking and coal mining. And he religiously followed football and attended games, unlike presidents before him.

American football had its first fan president, a most powerful ally, which a congressman discovered awkwardly soon after Roosevelt took office. Rep. Frank Wachter of Maryland, a Republican like the president, attacked “government football” at West Point and the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Citing dangers, Wachter argued “that men who are to be officers in the Army and Navy should not subject themselves to possible injury in such rough and tumble playing as the gridiron.”

Wachter urged Congress to end football games between West Point and Navy—but Teddy Roosevelt’s shadow loomed, suddenly. “Congressman Wachter… was surprised that the President should attend the recent Army and Navy game,” commented The Richmond Dispatch, wryly adding: “[Wachter] proposes a joint resolution prohibiting… the annual contest between the West Point and Annapolis elevens, but doesn’t he, in planning this action, himself undertake a bold and interesting tackle?”

The congressman denied criticizing the president over the Army-Navy game. “He declares that he has been misunderstood in this respect, and that in commenting upon the gridiron has never stated that Mr. Roosevelt acted with impropriety in witnessing the exhibition,” reported The Washington Times.

Rep. Wachter caved and took his flogging, ceasing talk of congressional action on football as pressmen mocked him and a group of “anxious mothers.” The women had pledged allegiance to the young politician “if he would get a law through Congress not only prohibiting the Army and Navy game, but also putting a stop to football everywhere in the country,” reported The Philadelphia Press, which continued:

 And it can be taken for granted that so long as there is a man in the White House who is willing to travel 130 miles to see a game, sit two hours in a November atmosphere while the game lasts and then travel 130 miles back to Washington again—so long as that condition lasts, there will be no presidential signature put to an anti-football bill. Congressman Wachter doubtless informed himself as to that fact and then withdrew to the sideline and let the game to go on as before.

But terrible casualties would continue with the game, predictably, occurring foremost among players at the Naval Academy in Wachter’s district—and throughout Roosevelt’s presidency. Navy doctors of the decade, in fact, would advance surgical practice through their procedures on injured football players, attempting to treat catastrophic trauma cases of the brain and spine. [The Annapolis academy has ultimately led American football in player fatalities reported publicly since 1900, with eight deaths that include two ensigns from “sandlot” games on campus, from among historical newsprint available to this reviewer through electronic search.]

Meanwhile, Roosevelt had to deal directly with a fretting football mother: His wife, Edith Roosevelt, the First Lady who avoided public comment on any matter. As newsmen ridiculed Rep. Wachter and the anti-football mothers at Christmas 1901, Edith was privately disturbed over game injuries of her eldest son, Theodore, Jr., at a boarding school in Massachusetts.  “Ted” had suffered a fractured collarbone and broken front tooth. Therefore President Roosevelt contacted the school headmaster and close friend Endicott Peabody, founder of Groton preparatory academy in Massachusetts, to sheepishly question his son’s football situation. Roosevelt wrote:

White House, Jan. 4, 1902

Dear Cotty:

Pray do not think me grown timid in my old age until you read this note through. Ted would have a fit if he knew I were writing it, as I found that by having written you about his collar-bone he was rendered very uncomfortable. In addition to Ted’s collar-bone, the dentist tells me that he has killed one front tooth in foot ball, and that tooth will get black. Now I don’t care a rap for an accident in itself, but Ted is only fourteen and I am afraid if he goes on like this he will get battered out before he can play in college.

Roosevelt was apparently aware of a growing sentiment within football, that players merely had shelf life for the gladiatorial sport, regardless of individual will and fitness. Specifically, physical maturity was required to even step on a football field. Thus many football personnel believed the game wrong for typical schoolboys, a philosophy voiced regularly by college coaches, trainers and players.

Roosevelt in private letters seemed conflicted about prep football for his sons Ted and Kermit—Mrs. Roosevelt struggled with it, most assuredly. The president, drawing on opinion from buddy college players, implied to Peabody that his son should not face “heavy boys” in football:

Last night a Groton graduate, one of the Harvard substitutes, told me of his own accord that he thought it had been a mistake for Ted to play against heavy boys so much this year. I do not know whether he knows anything about it or not, but De Saulles, the Yale quarterback, who was there, added that he thought it was a pity a young boy should get so battered up, if it came from playing larger ones, as it might interfere with other playing later. Now all this may be merely a rumor, and Ted may not have been playing against heavier boys, but I thought I would write you about it anyway.

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

The president talked differently in public, however, heartily endorsing football for boys including his own. In public Roosevelt scoffed at casualty reports about football, calling the numbers overblown, declaring there were no victims among the disabled and dead. Indeed, he regularly advocated athletic injury for galvanizing a “muscular Christian,” within the movement of so-called vigorous men who played fair and square in physical conquest. “It seems to me that a good rule for life is one borrowed from the football field…,” Roosevelt would chime in familiar tone, leading an expectant audience to his famed kicker: “Don’t flinch, don’t foul, hit the line hard!” T.R. used the pet slogan in autographs for fans and apparently indulged news stories falsely claiming he had played football for Harvard while courageously defying injury; none of the tales was corrected.

Theodore did relay Edith’s darkest fear for their football sons—spinal paralysis leading to death—in his public and private communication. But he resorted to gallows humor, poor joking peculiar to this game of bad outcomes, football. “Now do not break your neck unless you esteem it really necessary,” he wrote to Ted at Groton. “About arms and legs I am no less particular, although on the whole I prefer that even they should be kept reasonably whole.”

Ted was a tough boy but both the president and schoolmaster worried of his attempt to make the varsity football team in 1903. “Unfortunately he is light,” Peabody informed Roosevelt, “and when he tackles these big chaps, and goes down under them, I expect to find him squashed!” Peabody told coaches he had to write the president before allowing Ted to play on varsity, while the boy protested and likewise wrote his father.

Upon letters reaching the White House, Theodore and Edith discussed the problem before he penned a long reply to Ted, revealing their concern.

White House, Oct. 4, 1903


In spite of the “Hurry! Hurry!” on the outside of your envelope, I did not like to act until I had consulted Mother and thought the matter over; and to be frank with you, old fellow, I am by no means sure that I am doing [the] right [thing] now. If it were not that I feel you will be so bitterly disappointed, I would strongly advocate your acquiescing in the decision to leave you off the [varsity] second squad this year. I am proud of your pluck, and I greatly admire football—though it was not a game I was ever able to play myself, my qualities resembling Kermit’s rather than yours. But the very things that make it a good game make it a rough game, and there is always the chance of your being laid up. Now, I should not in the least object to your being laid up for a season if you were striving for something worth while, to get on the Groton school team, for instance, or on your class team when you entered Harvard—for of course I don’t think you will have the weight to entitle you to try for the [college varsity as a freshman]. But I am no means sure that it is worth your while to run the risk of being laid up for the sake of playing in the second squad when you are a fourth former [prep junior], instead of when you are a fifth former [senior]. I do not know that the risk is balanced by the reward. However, I have told the Rector [Peabody] that as you feel so strongly about it, I think that the chance of your damaging yourself in body is outweighed by the possibility of bitterness in spirit if you could not play. …in this case I am uncertain, and I shall give you the benefit of the doubt.

I am delighted to have you play football. I believe in rough, manly sports. But I do not believe in them if they degenerate into the sole end of any one’s existence. I don’t want you to sacrifice standing well in your studies to any over-athleticism… Athletic proficiency is a mighty good servant, and like so many other good servants, a mighty bad master. … I am glad you should play football; I am glad that you should box; I am glad that you should ride and shoot and walk and row as well as you do. I should be very sorry if you did not do these things. But don’t even get into the frame of mind which regards these things as constituting the end to which all your energies must be devoted, or even the major portion of your energies.

Ted grasped his parents’ wish and agreed to play on Groton’s “third eleven” as a junior. Roosevelt, heartened, immediately wrote his son:

White House, Oct. 11, 1903


I have received letters from the Rector [Peabody], from [football coach] Mr. Woods, and [coach] Mr Billings. They all say that you should play on the third squad. This was my first, and as I am convinced, my real judgment in the case. If you get smashed up now in a serious way it may prevent your playing later. … I think it a little silly to run any imminent risk of a serious smash simply to play on the second squad instead of the third.

But Theodore Junior could not avoid injury in jayvee football either, suffering a fractured nose, with infection risk, to end his season. The president wrote him: “I am interested in your broken nose, and am glad the football season has come to an end as far as you are concerned.” Trying to change subject, Roosevelt wrote of other topics bu still couldn’t avoid gridiron chat for his son. “Did you ever know anything more disgraceful than Harvard’s record in football this year?”

The Harvard team itself heard next from the alumni commander in chief, through his letter of “advice and warning” addressed to the losing coach, John Cranston. “I shall feel more than surprise if they do not go on the field the day of the Yale game with a determination to risk their necks rather than see the Yale team win,” Roosevelt wrote, as a leader of both the free world and Harvard’s athletic booster organization.

Young Kermit at Groton, meanwhile, received the T.R. football message of fatherly concern, restraint. “I am glad you seem to be doing so well in football,” the president wrote the second son, “but I would rather you were on a lower eleven. I wouldn’t much care to have you on one of the upper eleven, where the boys may be too big and heavy for you. So I hope you have been reduced [demoted]!”

1905: Football Tempest Explodes on Presidential Intervention

Theodore Roosevelt reached his zenith of popularity in 1905, beginning his second presidential term after a landslide victory in the general election. As domestic and foreign issues filled his agenda in the Oval Office, tackle football remained a personal affection that he utilized for public image as well.

Football buddies were draped about Roosevelt for his March inauguration in Washington. Rough Riders on horseback flanked his carriage in parade, waving to the crowd, themselves adoringly headlined as a “Motley Collection of Cowboys, Society Leaders, Gun-Fighters and College Football Players.”

Harvard alumni discussed T.R. for someday replacing Charles Eliot as president of the university, particularly for building a football program to beat Yale. “The Rough Rider would certainly be able to organize an impregnable football team,” cheered The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Eliot seemingly condemned football, for his rhetoric. Eliot was a visionary of higher education, the builder of Harvard reputation, having transformed a small Cambridge campus into the world-renowned research institution during his leadership of 36 years. But in everyday news Eliot embodied public enemy No. 1 for cherished football.

Eliot’s annual football criticism was always subject to controversy, delivered within a Harvard report and news interviews. In early 1905 Eliot cited permanency of football injuries, including brain damage of concussion, and alleged that “visibly dazed” players on a field were targeted for further abuse. Eliot equated the “hateful” competition of football to warfare, speaking with The New York Times. “No sport is wholesome in which ungenerous or mean acts which easily escape detection contribute to victory, whether such acts can be occasional, accidental, or habitual,” he said.

Eliot’s comments surely stoked ire of Roosevelt, particularly for the academic’s staking higher ground in morality, which the president presumed for himself in any argument. Roosevelt was also seeing news exposés on college football, disclosures that included professional coaches who stabled paid players of no scholarly record on campuses.

Roosevelt soon visited alma mater Harvard, taking a break of his international negotiations for peace between warring Russia and Japan, to deliver a preachy commencement speech. A specially prepared passage defended American football while rebuking types like Eliot.

“I believe in outdoor games, and I do not mind in the least that they are rough games…,” Roosevelt said on June 28 in Cambridge, “or that those who take part in them are occasionally injured. I have no sympathy whatever with the overwrought sentimentality which would keep a young man in cotton wool, and I have a hearty contempt for him if he counts a broken arm or collarbone as of serious consequence when balanced against the chance of showing that he possesses hardihood, physical address, and courage.”

The president did not mention son Ted’s mounting injuries in prep football while rebuking “sensationalism and hysteria” on part of game critics. Roosevelt identified problems as poor sportsmanship and amoral violence on the gridiron. He blamed individual players, not inherently vicious football, declaring “when these injuries are inflicted by [miscreants], either wantonly or of set design, we are confronted by the question, not of damage to one man’s body, but of damage to the other man’s character. Brutality in playing a game should awaken the heartiest and most plainly shown contempt for the player guilty of it.”

As the football debate heated up in public, especially over the president’s attention and opinion, the game remained a private concern for Roosevelt and his wife, because rugged college football loomed for a son. Teddy would try out for Harvard’s freshman team as a lineman weighing 145 pounds, fulfilling his father’s wish and scaring his mother. Once again parents Theodore and Edith blinked at football danger, contemplating a serious if concealed issue for the First Family, apparently.

Roosevelt might have recalled addressing the Harvard Club a decade before, when he ripped into anti-football comments by the absent Eliot, “stirring up the alumni in great style,” a news writer recounted. “I say I am the father of three boys,” T.R. attested at the time. “I will say right here that if I thought any one of them would weigh a possible broken bone against the glory of being chosen to play on Harvard’s football eleven, I would disinherit him!”

Now Roosevelt felt it worthwhile to contact Eliot, of all people, regarding Ted’s football pursuit; perhaps the Harvard president could keep watchful eye like Peabody had for the kid at Groton School. “He is not an athlete of the first or even second caliber,” Roosevelt wrote Eliot, “but I suppose he will try for the freshman eleven this fall, with the hope of becoming a substitute or something of that kind.”

In mid-September, as Ted’s college start drew near, Roosevelt heard from Peabody at Groton, whose letter would spur action to become American myth  of T.R.’s “saving” football. Endicott Peabody was more than schoolmaster for Roosevelt’s sons; he was longtime confidante of the president whose old, influential New England family embraced athletics. Their relationship was not one-sided but of mutual respect and power-wielding. And Peabody knew how to motivate Theodore Roosevelt through self-righteous morality.

Peabody implored Roosevelt to do something about “the condition of Foot-ball in this country.” Peabody, advocate and host of the gridiron for schoolboys, wrote that “the teaching of Foot-ball at the Universities is dishonest,” continuing:

There are all kinds of abuses connected with the game which should be remedied, but for most of these we can afford to wait. But this fundamental dishonesty calls for immediate treatment. What is the use of teaching a boy to play fairly at school if he is going to be subjected at college to a pressure which he can hardly be expected to withstand to play a tricky game?

Peabody overlooked injuries too—as a Muscular Christian or muscular moralist like T.R.—worrying instead about demoralization of youths if the college game were not reformed. Optimistically, Peabody spelled out how Roosevelt could accomplish the mission:

A complete revolution could be worked if we could get the coaches of Harvard and Yale and Princeton together, and persuade them to undertake to teach men to play Foot-ball honestly. … If you should talk to these three men, and point out to them the importance to the country that this great game should be freed from the stigma which rests upon it they would, I feel confident, acquiesce, and we should start on a new road which should itself be clean, and would lead to many other reforms.

Peabody added, quite optimistically: “You are the one man, so far as I know, who could accomplish this without much effort.”

Roosevelt replied, naively, “I agree with you absolutely,” and set up the meeting as Peabody prescribed. The president contacted coaches and associates at college football’s “Big Three” universities, and they agreed to meet him at the White House in October.

Football season began for the Roosevelt sons with 18-year-old Ted at Harvard; Kermit, 15, at Groton; and Archie, 11, and Quentin, 7, at home with their parents in Washington. “Have you started your football? I think this is important,” the president wrote Kermit, promoting the game’s roughness and fraternity as beneficial for boys. “Archie is playing football with much zeal. Quentin as yet does not care for any sport in which he is likely to get hurt.” For son Ted at Harvard, Roosevelt offered advice on handling the press: “Do not let these newspaper creatures and kindred idiots drive you one hair’s breadth from the line you have marked out in football or anything else.”

But football posed high challenge for Ted, and he had the ignominious distinction of becoming the first Harvard player injured in 1905, sustaining a facial blow and laceration in practice on Oct. 5. A press mob witnessed the injury and sent stories nationwide. “Theodore, Jr., Laid Out,” announced a headline, then another: “Teddie Failed to Make Team: President’s Son Could Not Meet Beef Requirements at Harvard.” The accompanying report quoted a Harvard coach, unnamed, as saying, “Young Roosevelt is full of grit and is game from start to finish. But he is not heavily built, neither is he speedy enough, both of which are essential qualities for an end.”

Football occupied the president on Oct. 9, if not Teddy’s setback, as Roosevelt expected grid leaders in Washington. The Monday was busy at the White House, with government officials among visitors passing through. “To-day I see the football men…,” T.R. wrote Kermit, “to try to get them to come to a gentlemen’s agreement not to have mucker play.”

Roosevelt conducted the meeting that afternoon with representatives of college football’s “Big Three” programs. Those in attendance were: Harvard coach Bill Reid, a football rulemaker, along with Harvard team physician Dr. Edward H. Nichols; Coach Arthur Hildebrand of Princeton, and athletic director John B. Fine, also a football rulemaker; and Yale football coach John Owsley accompanied by, of course, Walter Camp, the Yale athletic director, football rules king, Spalding equipment endorser, sport author and columnist—the most powerful man in American athletics, unparalled. Secretary of State Elihu Root was also present in this room where football rivalry and bias hung heavy, among the Harvard contingent led by Roosevelt and the parties of Yale and Princeton.

But all were football advocates, united to preserve the game from harm, and so went the meeting. Player health was no main topic, apparently, including  brain trauma increasingly cited by medical experts like Dr. Nichols of Harvard, present there at the White House, co-author of a study on football injuries pending publication. No meeting notes were recorded but the press heard details afterward, including T.R. quotes secondhand, and injuries had no priority, if mentioned.

“President Roosevelt avowed his purpose to ‘inaugurate a movement having for its object absolutely clean sport and the eradication of professionalism, money making, and brutality from college games,’ ” stated one news report, and another: “Mr. Roosevelt is especially desirous that the great American college game should not suffer through the unsportsmanlike conduct of players who may willfully injure a member of an opposing team in the heat of the contest.”

The president assigned homework to the football coaches, and they worked together on an evening train from Washington, drafting their official pledge. Headlines ensued: “SWEAR TO IMPROVE GAME” and “Representatives of Big Universities to Follow Roosevelt’s Advice,” with the report:

New Haven, Conn., Oct. 12–Walter Camp, Yale’s general athletic adviser, last night gave out a statement in regard to the conference of the representatives of Yale, Harvard and Princeton, with President Roosevelt Monday, which was held for the purpose of considering reforms in the game of football.

The statement was made public after word had been received from President Roosevelt, and is as follows:

“At a meeting with the president of the United States, it was agreed that we consider an honorable obligation which exists to carry out in letter and in spirit the rules of the game of football relating to roughness, holding and foul play, and the active coaches of our universities being present with us pledged themselves so to regard it and to their utmost to carry out that obligation.

“Walter Camp,

“John B. Owlsley,

“J.B. Fine,

“A.B. Hillebrand,

“Edward H. Nichols,

“William T. Reid, Jr.”

These men represent Yale, Princeton and Harvard.

Since this legendary football confab of Roosevelt, analysts have searched for substantive action and results, evidence of real reform.

“The conference was a public relations triumph but even a superficial reading of the [prepared] communiqué reveals its shortcomings,” observed modern author Mark F. Bernstein. “No one acknowledged that there were any problems with the game that a stricter application of the existing rules would not fix.”

“The president’s reform interest was in attitudes rather than rules,” wrote Guy Maxton Lewis, for his widely cited doctoral dissertation in physical education at the University of Maryland. Lewis continued:

He [T.R.] liked the physical combat in football, but was an outspoken critic of those in sport, business or government who broke “the spirit but not the letter of the law.” … Roosevelt had no interest in rules reform to reduce the injury risk… .

Challenge confronted world leader Roosevelt in trying to resolve football crisis, which his presidential attention stamped instantly for the national agenda. “Roosevelt later remarked that he found his attempts to resolve the conflicts in football more complicated than settling the Russo-Japanese War. Certainly, those attempts proved less successful,” wrote John Sayle Watterson, author of College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy, continuing:

Unfortunately for the president, football did not lend itself to mediation as readily as diplomacy or politics. By singling out football, Roosevelt’s intervention had an unintended effect. As if by publicly acknowledging that serious defects existed, Roosevelt gave legitimacy to past and future criticism and spotlighted a debate on football injuries which had been ongoing for a decade but had never received so much attention in so many parts of the country.

News opinion covered the spectrum on T.R.’s football-busting. Many commentators ridiculed Roosevelt, calling his action absurd, unbefitting of presidential office; while others praised it as characteristically progressive. In Pennsylvania, The Altoona Tribune editorialized:

Some presidents of the United States would have regarded the discussion of the foot-ball problem beneath their dignity. President Roosevelt, however, has a universal mind. Nothing is too high for him, nothing too trivial. The upshot of the whole matter is that the president is opposed to [football’s] abolition, but heartily in favor of its transformation into a respectable and comparatively safe game.

But the notion of safe or “sane” football was oxymoronic, opined The Washington Post, and of no demand by the general public. The football debate raged primarily among educators, game officials, doctors, politicians and theologians, and stood magnified only for the T.R. touch.

True reform was unattainable, critics charged, with the same foxes in charge of the hen house. “The president with characteristic vigor has tackled a hard job,” Eliot said from Harvard. “It is hard to bring about a reform through the very [football] men who have long known about the existing evils, and have been largely responsible for their continuance.”

Others declared football violence was beyond any fixing, judging from their eyesight. Congressman Charles B. Landis said “fighting, cock-fighting, and bull-fighting are Sabbath-school games in comparison with modern football.” Landis was an Indiana Republican and brother of federal judge Kenesaw Landis, future commissioner of baseball.

“Sport that necessitates the presence of physicians—well, that is simply another evidence that the brutal instincts in man and woman will crop out,” Rep. Landis commented after watching football in the capital city. “Early in the contest one of the captains was carried off the field insensible, and the game went on. There was not a boy in the game who did not run the risk of receiving an injury that would send him through life a hopeless cripple.”

Mass play reared anew as the foremost culprit of football ills. Moreover, while “open play” or lack thereof had dogged Camp and rulemakers for decades, this touted antidote was maturing as a panacea, assured to eliminate field brutality and spectator boredom, according to latest spin.

Abolition of football was hardly espoused anymore, not as a 20th century solution for problems. An outright ban seemed implausible in industrialized America, for this nationalized sport so planted economically, socially, and ideologically. Eliot loathed football but even he had to acknowledge the contribution to higher education’s image. Football cast a romantic aura of campus life, offsetting scholarly drudgery; the game was “firmly entrenched,” Eliot stated, “in the affections and interests of students.”

Football fans and critics alike pleaded for open play. Rulemakers were implored to drop restrictions on forward passing and outside runs while eliminating mass formations—then they would realize “SAFE AND SANE FOOTBALL,” blared The New York Tribune. The resolution was obvious for practically everyone, even William Howard Taft, the jovial war secretary and Yale man who professed knowing little of the collision sport beyond hearing from friends like T.R. and Camp. “I am not an expert on football,” Taft said, “but in common with others, it seems to me that if the game can be more open and the heavy mass plays abolished, the change will be beneficial.”

“The president has discussed football with me several times lately,” Taft continued. “There is no doubt in my mind that football as played is unsportsmanlike. There is altogether too much rough play and unnecessary injuring of players. The passion for winning the game at any cost has led… to bitter recrimination until underhand methods give way to out-and-out slugging.”

Taft and Camp blamed individual athletes and newsmen, not inherently dangerous football, when they addressed a rousing St. Louis meeting of Associated Western Yale Clubs. A scribe reported that Taft, who would become Roosevelt’s handpicked successor as president, “took occasion to speak a good word for football, supporting Mr. Camp’s contention that it is not the game but the individual player and sensational journalism that is responsible for the present agitation against the game.”

At Harvard, meanwhile, football posed brutality for young Ted Roosevelt, with every player violent on the field by necessity, including him, not merely unsportsmanlike characters. Father Theodore surely understood; the president sympathized in letters from Washington when Ted was initially publicized as failing to make the freshman team. The president wrote:

Were not your first few days—or nights—at Harvard rather too full of incident to lend towards football proficiency? … I expected that you would find it hard to compete with the other candidates for the position of end, as they are mostly heavier than you.

Ted was not finished as a Harvard football player, however; he would stay on the field. Theodore stressed commitment to studies and sport, writing to Ted:

In all these things I can only advise you in a very general way. You are on the ground. You know the men and the general college sentiment. You have gone in with the serious purpose of doing decently and honorably; of standing well in your studies; of showing that in athletics you mean business up to the extent of your capacity, and of getting the respect and liking of your classmates so far as they can be legitimately obtained. As to the exact methods of carrying out these objects, I must trust to you.

Ted secured a backup position on the Harvard freshmen team, but injuries struck again when games began. Playing part-time at end, Ted was led off as a casualty before most contests ended. “Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., was injured in a football scrimmage Saturday,” cracked a Minneapolis columnist on Oct. 30, taking swipe at the president.  “Football had just as well take off its headgear and prepare for another swat by the big stick.”

During games Ted suffered a chest injury and absorbed head blows, as most reporters lauded his “pluck.” In a loss for the Harvard freshmen on Nov. 5, Ted was “tackling low and hard and seeming not to mind the way his opponents trampled on him,” a scribe recounted. “Once he was laid out, and for three minutes the play was delayed.”

Ted contacted his parents after the game, asking to come home. Theodore replied immediately, urging his son against doing so because of the upcoming freshmen game versus Yale. “Of course we would be overjoyed to see you, but I don’t want you to leave if it is going to interfere with your football,” the president wrote. ” You must not lose the chance of getting into the Yale game.”

Ted obeyed his father and competed well in an interim game before Yale, as the Harvard frosh defeated Cushing Academy. “Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., played an excellent game for the Crimson, made a number of good tackles, and twice fell on the ball after a fumble,” The New York Tribune reported.

Cushing Academy was not Yale University, however. The Yale association predominated American football, boasting fearsome players on every squad. And Edith Roosevelt knew as much in Washington, fretting over Ted’s pending risk against Yale freshmen; his father worried, too, while also anticipating glorious opportunity for the son.

The freshmen season would climax on Nov. 18 at Cambridge, Harvard versus Yale, the opening match in a week-long series between famed grid rivals to culminate with clash of varsities. Alum Teddy Roosevelt, wistful perhaps for football magic on the Harvard campus, and unmistakable in the proud concern of a player’s father, wrote Ted:

Of course I hope you get into the Yale game, but it doesn’t make much real difference, for you have been on the team and at the training table and you have evidently shown that you are a game player. Orville Frantz [of Harvard YMCA] was here at lunch the other day and he said that you had been playing with just the right spirit. Still, though I would not have had you fail to play, and think it was a mighty good thing for you, I sympathize with Mother in being glad that after next Saturday your playing will be through!

Your loving father

Scrawny Ted Roosevelt needed his dad’s “right spirit,” or pride, prayers and whatever more to withstand Yale football. The game became Ted’s personal worst and most injurious as Harvard lost, 16-0. “Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., was so repeatedly pounded by the heavier Yale freshmen…  that he was taken out in the second half and carried off the field,” The New York Times reported on Sunday morning, Nov. 19. In Washington, The Post placed a graphic account atop Page 3:


President’s Son Carried from the Field Unable to Stir

Special to The Washington Post

Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 18—Worn out by hard fighting against a team of men far heavier than he, battered and smashed by end plays, in which he was trampled down and stepped upon, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., was to-day laid out in the Harvard-Yale freshman football game so that he had to be carried from the field.

When he was in the play, young Roosevelt put up a plucky game. He tackled low and hard, and although light, he got into every play fiercely. When the Yale giants began finally to wear him out he did not show the least signs of quitting, but fought it out gamely until he was fairly staggering with exhaustion.

He made some fearless tackling, but after he got groggy, Yale sent play after play at him.

Once he was knocked out and lay on the ground for some time, but persisted in remaining in the game. Finally a play came around his end that proved too much for the 145-pound boy. When the whistle blew and the men were pulled off the heap, there, underneath everyone else, lay young Roosevelt, cut, bruised, and bleeding, unable to stir. This time he did not protest, but allowed himself to be carried to the locker building, where he was patched up under the doctor’s care.

“Too bad he’s so light,” said McClintock, the sandy-haired coach of the Yale team. “He’s the pluckiest man on the team, and if he had a little more beef he’d make things just a little more interesting.”

Reading The Post at the White House, Edith Roosevelt and daughter Ethel reacted angrily, convinced that Yale targeted Ted for the beating. Theodore acted as football politician, muscular moralist, in writing—or coaching—his son.

Dear Ted:

Good for you! Of course I am sorry that Yale beat us, but I am very glad you made the team and I am not merely glad but very proud that you should have played as you evidently did play in the game. Of course I only know what the papers say but they are united in praising you for having put up an exceedingly resolute and plucky fight and they say that in spite of being lighter than any other man in the line on either team you nevertheless held your own well until you got groggy under the battering plays directed at you. If one of the Boston papers gave a fuller account of the game I wish you would sent it to me. I only hope there will not be any feeling caused in your class by the prominence the newspapers have given to you. …

Incidentally I very sincerely hope that now that football is over you will be able to do better in your studies. A record of C’s with an occasional D does not allow much margin for accidents, and while I think it was entirely satisfactory during the time you were playing football, I hope you can improve upon it a little now. …

Mother and Ethel were very indignant about Yale, and Mother especially was inclined to take a very dark view of the conduct of the Yale team in playing at you. I think it was rather a compliment than otherwise; but anyhow you are the last man in the world that would squeal about it. I think it is evident that the Yale men admire you, judging from the comments of their coach, and of course your game is to be perfectly good-natured and friendly with them and say that everything was all right. I am very proud of what you have done and I feel that you have lived right up to the doctrines you have preached and that you have upheld the family credit in great shape.

The president’s typed letter concluded with a P.S. in his handwriting. “I am mighty glad you played football this year,” he repeated to Ted, “and I am not at all sorry that you are too light to try for the varsity, so that this will really be your last year hard at it.”

Ted replied to his parents in positive language, writing:

They [Yale] played a clean, straight game and played no favorites. I met a good many of them whom I knew after the game and we had a friendly drink together. They beat us by simply and plainly outplaying us. … The report in the paper about Yale directing their interference against me was all bosh. Of course I knew all that rotten talk about come out in the papers, but it could not be helped.  … Well, I am very glad that I made the team anyway. I feel so large in my black sweater with the numerals on. Saturday’s game was a hard one, as I knew it was bound to be. I was not seriously hurt at all. Just shaken up and bruised. I broke my nose.

Ted’s crushed nose would require surgery. An eye was blackened and the neck wrenched, and he likely sustained brain trauma, for symptoms visible during the Yale game. A reporter located him in Cambridge, looked at the teen’s swollen and discolored face, the bloodied eye, and asked Ted if football were brutal and whether he agreed with his father on reform.

“I don’t wish to be in the newspapers,” replied Theodore, Jr., reflecting his mother. “I’ve been there altogether too much already.”

Roosevelt wrote Camp to say that Yale played fair against his son, without malicious intent as alleged by the First Lady. But from thereon in football crisis, the president entrusted less authority to Camp and his Yale-tilted committee for resolving anything. “The moral reform movement became a personal concern of the Roosevelt family after the Yale-Harvard freshman game,” surmised Lewis.

1905: Football Tempest Subsides on Presidential Instruction

Within days of Ted’s injury against Yale, T.R. strengthened his presidential stance on the football question. Having begun the dialogue six weeks before, Roosevelt decided to issue rule recommendations for football reform. He summoned another gridiron insider to Washington for relaying message to the press, Dr. J. William White of Philadelphia, a University of Pennsylvania football booster and professor of surgery.

Foremost, the president opposed a ban on tackle football and sought “to minimize danger while preserving the essential manly and vigorous characteristics of the game,” newspapers reported after White’s trip to Washington. Roosevelt wanted a uniform athletics code for amateur eligibility, presumably administered by a national organization. Roosevelt wanted field rules without loopholes and rigid enforcement by referees. He called for penalizing institutions and coaches when athletes committed severe violations, and for “gentlemen’s agreement” among schools to ensure compliance. T.R. wanted football officials to eliminate brutality and dirty tricks on the field.

“Brutality and foul play should receive the same summary punishment given to a man who cheats at cards, who strikes a foul blow in boxing,” said White, reciting statements of Roosevelt for newsmen. “The umpire must have the widest latitude in enforcing this principle, even to the extent of ordering not only individual players, but whole teams off the field, and college presidents should hold to the sharpest accountability the umpire who permits for brutal football in any game.”

So-called brutality should include “slugging” and “kneeing,” said Penn officials, while “piling on” and “straight arm” jabbing should constitute “unnecessary roughness.” A case occurred on Thanksgiving Day, when star quarterback Walter Eckersall was flattened unconscious in a controversial 2-0 win for the University of Chicago. A referee ruled a Michigan player maliciously decked Eckersall and kneed him in the head, and the offender was ejected from this title match of western football.

Roosevelt demanded such uncompromising enforcement of football code and began pushing his plan privately with game officials and college leaders, communicating largely by mail. He met personally with Woodrow Wilson, for example, the Princeton University president destined for Washington and the Oval Office.

Roosevelt visited the Princeton campus to attend the Army-Navy game on Dec. 2, leading a “most brilliant official throng” of his cabinet members and congressional lawmakers, affirming grid fandom on Capitol Hill. The New York Tribune observed that “the President saw a smart, able exhibition of the great American undergraduate game, strenuously played… but free from any taint of foul play or personal rancor.”

Football season wound down in 1905, awash in news of injury and death, and a professor blasted the game from the University of Chicago, proclaiming the only option to be “stop playing it.” Shailer Mathews, dean of the Chicago divinity school, accused newspapers of elevating football into “a social obsession—a monomania.” Mathews labeled the football institution as a cartel, a “boy-killing, man-mutilating, money-making, education-prostituting, gladiatorial sport.”

Football abolitionists like Mathews were scarce, including among educators, and game injuries inspired no one’s forceful countermeasure.  Social Darwinism pulsed through cultural thought and behavior, especially with blustery T.R. in the White House, and even academics could sound blood-thirsty.  When committees opened work nationwide to tackle football issues, none touted a priority of ensuring player protection to resolve the tempest.

But severe injuries were systemic of American football, from colleges to sandlots, and the 1905 casualties seemed extraordinary under intense spotlight. The Chicago Tribune announced 19 fatalities for the football season as of Nov. 26, but data were actually routine besides the death of a young woman, and unverifiable, also typical of annual press reporting.

Coaches and trainers summarily discounted casualty figures. “The number of deaths from football this season was nineteen. The number last season was about the same, and I don’t think there has been any increase in the death list for many years,” said Columbia coach Bill Morley. “When you consider that during the football season probably 100,000 players are engaged in the game, then the death rate is wonderfully small.”

Officials declared football safe as basketball, bicycling and polo, and safer than baseball, the sporting “pastime” which would kill excessively until advent of hard headgear. Football officials blamed death in their sport on poor player specimens, along with inadequate training and medical supervision, but they overlooked common violence as a factor.

Game insiders also argued with each other,  about helmet designs, colliding technique to avoid head impacts, and definitions of brutality and unnecessary roughness. They divided sharply over Walter Camp, whether the recognized Father of American Football should continue as czar of rule-making after 27 years. Camp had image problems. Journalists were exposing cash riches and shady professionalism around Yale football, and many foes questioned the winning regime—22 national championships in 34 seasons—that they believed Camp rigged through rule-making and further influence. Many in the sport wished to see him dethroned from atop the rules committee.

John Heisman, coach of Georgia Tech, alluded to football infighting for his commentary in The Atlanta Constitution on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Heisman claimed that “truth to tell, this rules committee has never quite succeeded in satisfying the game’s detractors.” Heisman wrote:

At the close of the season 1904 the demand for radical changes became so widespread and insistent that it seemed a heavy impression would surely be made upon the committee members and startling legislation would be the result.

But, though the members really sat up and took notice, really took an interest in the discussion, pondered much and discussed more, the absolute result of their deliberations was nil—the changes made proved trifling in the extreme and the game this year is just about as it was last year.

The effect… there is now more criticism—intelligent and otherwise, more howling down—of the game than has ever been known before, and in this crisis it becomes the duty of everyone who knows football by experience and observation to speak up manfully, yet with discretion, with well-weighed words and temperateness, but, above all, with honesty. Let neither the cranks for, nor the cranks against the game permit their prejudices to run away with their sound common sense.

Heisman agreed with Camp that a “10-yard rule” for awarding a first down would discourage the grinding interior plays to gain just 5 yards for retaining possession, as the rule stood. But Heisman was staunch advocate of forward passing, and after years of backroom lobbying with the likes of Camp, fruitlessly, he publicly revealed the stonewalling:

Last year, I suggested to the rules committee that if they really wanted to open up the game… they might rule forward passing permissible. This, too, was discussed and partly favored but was finally dismissed for the reason that is would make the game too much like basketball. To my way of thinking, no great harm would be done if it did resemble basketball a little more.

In one word, then, I think mass play is the trouble with modern football. … Let us do away with mass pushing and we can get the smaller fellows into the game again—many more of the general run of students at large can take part in the game.

Secondly, it will do away with what brutalizing tendency the game now may have.

Thirdly, it will please the spectators by its greater attractiveness. …

I confidently predict that with the abolition of the mass play, the adverse criticism will subside if not entirely die out.

The large majority of college administrators echoed Coach Heisman, supporting “radical revision” of football for the open format. Only a handful of schools banned football. The headliner was Columbia University, where administrators abolished the sport during Thanksgiving break, enraging students upon their return. Educators elsewhere sympathized—with Columbia students.

“I think that is going entirely too far,” remarked Cyrus Northrop, president at the University of Minnesota. “I am not in favor of the elimination of football from college sports. There is no question but that changes should be made in the game as played at present. In my opinion, the rules can be so amended as to make the plays more open [with] more punting and end runs, and fewer mass formations and scrimmages.”

Camp, for his part, maintained that “the 10-yard rule suggested by him last Spring would cure the game by opening the play,” reported The New York Times. Camp said, “In open play the slugging and dirty work sometimes done in scrimmage would be impossible, because it could be seen. If we can get the game so that the spectators can see all of it, public opinion would stop foul play. The 10-yard rule would allow lighter men to get into the open game, which would be an advantage that some people are urging.” Camp promised his committee would finally fix football, but skeptics were legion.

“No Experts Need Apply,” The Times headlined over a story with Harvard president Eliot, who sneered: “I find it impossible to believe that the committees, coaches, and umpires that have ruined the game are to be trusted with the reform or replacement.”

Eliot also professed no faith in a fledgling group of educators and athletic representatives, outside the Camp committee, who where meeting to pursue new football structure. The organizer was chancellor Henry B. MacCracken of New York University, who asked Eliot to lead the upstart organization, but the Harvard leader declined. Eliot proposed a moratorium on football, a “cooling down” period for ridding the game of unsportsmanlike attitude. “To get rid of this vicious spirit, I think we must stop intercollegiate football for a time,” Eliot said.

The MacCracken group did impress Harvard men besides Eliot, including Roosevelt and football coach Bill Reid, an attendee of the White House summit and member of Camp’s rules committee. MacCracken’s national organization was building momentum, adding representatives of more colleges large and small. The group sought to preserve football through “radical revision,” with casualties to be expected. “Football is football: It is not a parlor game,” said a group spokesman. “What we shall aim to do in changing the rules will be to limit, so far as possible, the number of injuries.”

When the MacCracken convention appointed its committee for representation in football rule-making, newspapers heralded the development. The Harrisburg Daily Independent in Pennsylvania reported:


Resolutions Pass Denouncing the Game As Now Played

New York, Dec. 29—The great college game of football will be saved to the American public. The greatest movement in behalf of the sport was inaugurated at the Murray Hill hotel yesterday when representatives from sixty-two colleges and universities from every section of the United States convened at the invitation of Chancellor MacCracken, of New York University… football reform seems assured.

The salvation of the convention hung upon a resolution favoring the appointment of a committee to request a conference with the [Camp] committee that has had the keeping of the game in its hand in former years. This was the battle of the meeting. The radicals advised self-constituted committee, and it was a difficult task to swing the sentiment of the convention into a favorable consideration of this resolution. However, after the hardest kind of battle, the practical men in the conference managed to convince the others that recognition of the present Intercollegiate Rules Committee was necessary if any effective reforms were to be made, and that the work of revising the rules would have to be undertaken with that body as a part to any action.

A committee of seven was therefore appointed to revise the rules and to seek an amalgamation with the present Rules Committee.

Harvard football men saw chance for a coup in rule-making: By politically playing the new group against the standing committee, Camp and Yale could be dislodged from central power. Harvard associates also sought control of the football debate for keeping their own program intact at Cambridge, heading off threat of suspension by the Eliot faction. Harvard men began making noise about leaving the football establishment if Camp’s committee were not receptive to “radical” reform. Speculation had Harvard in position to lead a new football association that would envelop the MacCracken group.

But before Harvard powerbrokers could gerrymander policy to “clean” the collision game—with help from booster Roosevelt at the White House—they confronted a pair of roadblocks: defection of a star Crimson player and frightful research on team injuries.

Harvard football had barely missed calamity with captain D.J. Hurley, a halfback who suffered delayed brain hemorrhaging of hits from Dartmouth on Nov. 18. Symptoms presented days after the game in Hurley’s bizarre behavior and slurred speech on campus. Hurley, hospitalized for a week until the intracranial clot subsided, would never play football again.

Star tackle Karl Brill quit the Harvard team in December, citing his class load in engineering, but primarily for protesting football’s inescapable violence. Brill’s decision was headlined as unprecedented for a talented player in his prime. He wrote in a prepared statement for press:

I have been in the game 10 years, playing tackle most of the time. I believe the human body was never meant to withstand the enormous strain which football demands. Moreover, I don’t believe the game is right. I dislike it on moral grounds. It is a mere gladiatorial combat. It is brutal throughout. When you are opposed to a strong man, you have got to get the better of him by violence.

I fail to see where the gray matter in a man’s head is exercised at all, nor am I able to see how football is the intricate game some proclaim it to be. Neither do I see how the game can be reformed or remedied. Sooner or later I believe we shall come to our sense and abolish it from all American institutions of learning.

A landmark medical study rattled Harvard football in January, documenting the program’s injury plague for 1905, co-authored by team doctors and published by Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. Lead author Dr. Edward H. Nichols, a Boston surgeon and Harvard professor, worked closely with football coach Bill Reid and was well-acquainted with fan alum President Roosevelt. Nichols, a Harvard baseball legend as a former star captain-coach, had attended the White House football summit with Reid. The medical news was breaking just as Reid orchestrated inside overthrow of the Camp committee.

The Harvard football study startled anyone with comprehension, particularly for revelations on brain trauma. Nichols and co-author Dr. Homer B. Smith gathered casualty information through surveying players and monitoring practices and games. Approximately 150 players aspired for the varsity or ” university team,” with about half accounting for the bulk of collision exposures, and 145 injuries were recorded, qualified in severity ranging from “moderate” to “great.”

Twenty-two bone fractures occurred in breaks of fibula, pelvis [4 cases], rib [5], clavicle, finger [9], nose and neck—the latter a case of fracture in the second cervical vertebra, which apparently did not involve permanent paralysis and deadly bed infection. Hurley’s brain bleed was perhaps worst among Harvard injuries, and his recovery continued into 1906.

Injured players were sidelined from football for a total of 1,057 days and cumulatively missed 175 days of college classes. After the season, 35 players of 110 who answered queries confirmed they were still recovering from injuries, and researchers suspected significant under-reporting of lingering pain and dysfunction. “Many of the joint injuries are of such a character as to be likely to be progressively worse and many of the injuries to the shoulder are certain to cause some disability in later years,” Nichols and Smith wrote for BMSJ.

For “head injuries,” news scribes highlighted the findings on Harvard football; Nichols and Smith had diagnosed 19 brain concussions on the 1905 varsity. Newspapers reported:

A sensational feature of the observations of the surgeons is their statement that cases of concussion of the brain were frequent. In fact, only two games were played during the entire season in which a case of concussion did not occur.

A range of symptoms accompanied brain trauma on the football field, often detected from the sidelines. In the journal article, Nichols and Smith stated a concussed, oblivious player might “run through a considerable series of plays before his mates noticed that he was mentally irresponsible.” The researchers continued:

The mental state of the players who had concussion was variable, some being highly excitable and hysterical, others merely confused, and in a few cases, knocked completely unconscious. In every case there was a certain loss of memory, both previous and subsequent to the injury. … Concussion was treated by the players in general as a trivial injury and rather regarded as a joke.

Possible brain damage of football players was incalculable, but many specialists believed TBI could lead to mental disorder, chronic disease, and suicide. “The real seriousness of the injury is not certain,” Nichols and Smith observed.

For general casualty among major sports, tackle football ranked first, far ahead, according to the following study conclusions:

(1) The number, severity and permanence of the injuries which are received in playing football are very much greater than generally is credited or believed.

(2) The great number of the injuries come in the “pile” and not in the open plays, although serious injuries are received in the open.

(3) The number of injuries is inherent in the game itself, and is not due especially to close competition, as is shown by the fact that the proportion of injuries received in games and in practice is about the same.

(4) A large percentage of the injuries is unavoidable.

(5) The percentage of injuries is incomparably greater in football than in any other of the major sports.

(6) The game does not develop the best type of men physically, because too great prominence is given to weight without corresponding nervous energy.

(7) Constant medical supervision of the game where large numbers of men are engaged is a necessity and not a luxury, although it is a question if a game, requiring the constant attendance of two trained surgeons, is played under desirable conditions.

(8) The percentage of injury is much too great for any mere sport.

The Harvard study was publicized nationwide, drawing “much interest” as debate raged over football, according to The New York Tribune, and response was strong from the American Medical Association in Chicago.

The medical writers of JAMA editorialized against football as a health menace: “We may say at once that their [Nichols and Smith] conclusions are entirely against the game as judged from its medical standpoint.” JAMA editors rated concussion findings as likely the “most serious feature” of the research and discussed potential brain damage for impact victims such as football players; they wrote:

When a condition like [concussion] develops as the result of an injury, the central nervous system has received a very severe shaking up. There was a time when it was considered that convulsions and other untoward incidents in the conscious life of the individual were not likely to be followed by serious consequences. This is not the opinion at present time, however. One of the questions always asked by nerve specialists with regard to nervous disease developing later on in life, is whether or not the individual ever suffered from convulsions in childhood. A state of affairs in which the individual acts as an automaton after an injury is not so different from a convulsive seizure. If the one is supposed to have serious consequences so may the other. At the present time no one is ready to say whether concussions of the brain may or may not have serious consequences in after life.

JAMA editors viewed the Harvard study as red alert for educators who sanctioned football’s bloody spectacle at schools and colleges, as well as for the medical institution’s prevailing laissez faire approach. Game officials and advocates were chastised for their rationale that football benefits somehow outweighed risks. The JAMA editorial continued:

The whole report of the two surgeons in charge of the Harvard squad should be read by every prominent educator throughout the country, and it should be the duty of the members of the medical profession to see that it is called particularly to their attention. Surely, no one will consider after this calm exposure of the inside history of football injuries, even at a great university where no effort is spared to bring the men into the pink of condition, that football is to be considered a game without serious risks, no matter what the preparation, or that it is to be compared with any of the other sports in this matter of liability to serious injury. An attempt has been made to gloss over football’s worst aspects by widely published suggestions that no game is entirely without the danger of death under accidental circumstances. In football, however, as the Harvard surgeons emphasize, the injuries are absolutely dependent on the present methods of playing the game itself, and are bound to occur.

In 2014, science historian Emily A. Harrison characterized the Nichols-Smith literature as resounding for the problem of traumatic brain injury in American football, long ago at Harvard, grid bastion of the day. “Concussion was deemed something that could happen almost invisibly in the noise and action of a game,” Harrison wrote. “The concussion crisis had begun.”

Nevertheless in 1906, lest any football abolitionist took up the research of Nichols and Smith, the Harvard team physicians couched political caveat within passages they wrote largely like a sport condemnation. In fact, these sports doctors asserted football casualties could be reduced to acceptable margin. “Leaving out all other objections to the game, ethical and practical…,” Nichols and Smith wrote in their conclusion No. 9, finishing the BMSJ article, “the conditions under which the game is played should be so modified as to diminish to a very great degree the number of injuries.”

All shades of football supporters denied field danger was insolvable, purporting that injuries were controllable through reform. Harvard men bore this popular banner with Dr. Nichols out front, discussing his football study with press on Jan. 15, saying,  “I think the rules can be changed to make them answer the demands for an improved game.”

Events followed in formality. The MacCracken committee gained a place at the rule-making table, joining up with the old committee after members relented, and autocratic Walter Camp was overthrown as chief. Reid keyed the maneuver, encouraged by Roosevelt; the Harvard coach was appointed as rules secretary, supplanting Camp at top.

The conjoined committees adopted a name, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, for establishing a bureaucracy extending beyond elite eastern football, evolving toward becoming known, in a few years, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA. “Abuses did not end with the organization of the Association,” surmised Guy Maxton Lewis, a half-century later. “Profits to support winning teams continued to motivate athletic associations.”

Football rolled on, with official concern for player protection only when convenient, or hardly ever. The football institution focused on protecting itself, which was the realistic mission always within reach. The casualty drumbeat continued, impossible to tone down, modify, legislate away.

In July 1906 football rules secretary Bill Reid detailed newly ratified measures in his lengthy review published by newspapers and journals. The new rules required advancing 10 yards within three plays for a first down, to encourage outside runs; required a “neutral zone” or scrimmage line between teams, of ball’s length, to provide clearer view for referees and spectators; allowed forward passing with restrictions; defined illicit tactics constituting brutality and unnecessary roughness, to aid  enforcement; and required minimally six offensive players on the line of scrimmage at snap of the ball, limiting mass formations.

During the 1906 football season pressmen collected fewer cases of death and survivor casualties, and the unvalidated numbers were generally considered as sign of improvement. Critics still scoffed, but “safe” football was never the serious goal of reformers, anyway, reminded The New York Times. On the contrary, mass formations had become maddening for spectators, according to the editorial: “It was the dullness of the shove and push, the ‘mass and charge,’ that was really deadly.”

The Times praised new rulemakers for creating quick, agile field action, stating “it seems that they have saved the game of football.” President Roosevelt drew credit, too, at home and in Canada, where tackle football had taken root. “His influence is expected to be far-reaching,” opined The Winnipeg Tribune, “and the next few years will doubtless see a marked improvement all along the line.”

Roosevelt wasn’t so sure himself. Speaking at Harvard in early 1907, he claimed football reform was succeeding at preparatory schools because of moral administrators like his pal Endicott Peabody at Groton—but not at the colleges, still. The president continued to belittle “nonsense” of football abolitionists, but he blamed college officials and referees for poorly enforcing the new rules he helped establish. “[Roosevelt] declared that it was his opinion that the right kind of umpiring and refereeing would remove the evils of football,” reported The Boston Daily Globe.

Roosevelt said, “The preparatory schools are able to keep football clean, and to develop the right spirit in the players without the slightest necessity ever arising to so much as consider the question of abolishing it. There is no excuse whatever for colleges failing to show the same capacity… the experience of every good preparatory school shows that the abuse is in no shape necessarily attendant upon the game.”

The president’s dubious philosophy on football “abuse,” including upholding prep schools as above the maw, fell apart the following season, when schools private and public produced the majority of reported fatalities in the tackle game.

JAMA editors responded quickly, issuing their unprecedented medical condemnation of football—for juvenile participants, at least—following the championship games of 1907. Regarding college football, JAMA charged that officials and associates weren’t delivering on their promise of “safer” play.

“It was confidently asserted that as the years went on and the new rules came more and more into vogue, and the open game more played, the number of fatalities and injuries would decrease further,” JAMA doctors editorialized. “To most people this sounded plausible enough, and we are not prepared to declare the new regulations a failure simply because of this year’s increase of 40 percent in the number of [reported] deaths. For all the fatalities except two were in high school or boys’ teams, by whom the new rules are not so carefully followed, and over whom coaches and trainers do not generally exercise supervision. It is only fair, therefore, to withhold final judgment on the effect of the new rules [for college football] until more facts are at hand as to their definite relationship to the games in which injuries and death resulted.”

“There need be no such hesitation, however, in deciding that football is no game for boys to play.”

1912: Forgetting Football TBI and Disease For Posterity

Football deaths made major headlines for years after 1905, with reported data unverifiable and varying. Journalists collected fatality cases by “clipping” newsprint flows, and their 1909 tallies figured badly for so-called football reform—“the most disastrous season in the history of the sport,” remarked a New York scribe—with reported numbers ranging from 29 to 33 deaths, mostly schoolboys. Although Harvard’s Dr. Nichols was recording dwindling casualties on his team, year by year, news analysts and independent doctors saw injuries only rising in football, particularly for cases of brain trauma or “concussion.”

Many critics blamed the emerging open format for riskier colliding among speeding players, compared to slower mass formations. A national news commentary stated “not even the football rulemakers can wipe out the bone-breaking features of the game by substituting one kind of danger for another.” And The Washington Herald opined: “The open play game, brought about by the 10-yard rule and other innovations, supposed to lessen the perils of the gridiron, seems to be a failure as far as any great saving of life and limb is concerned.”

Herald editorial writers contended brain concussion “may cause permanent bodily effects,” adding that TBI “seems a direct argument against the open game, as practically all of the brain injuries reported were received in running tackles, made prominent by the open game, in contrast to the close struggles in the mass plays of the past.”

The theory of tackling with “head up” and placed to one side, heard since turn of the century, entered public discussion once again after the 1909 season, debacle. A New Jersey sportswriter intoned: “In any event ‘tackle’ with heads up should be substituted for ‘tackle’ with heads down in the football contest. Athletes may get along with broken noses and gradual elimination of front teeth but the skull is valuable and rules should be made to hold it intact if possible.”

Former president Theodore Roosevelt detected folly in football policy, regardless his own responsibility. In 1910 Roosevelt spoke at Cambridge University in England, where he complimented rugby, the British collision sport of running, passing and kicking. Roosevelt liked rugby for having no scrimmage line and prohibiting “interference” or blocking to lead ball-carriers. And there was no armor.

T.R. lamented the state of American football. “There is one thing I wish I could learn from you…,” he told the British audience, “how to make football a less homicidal pastime. I don’t wish to speak as a mere sentimentalist, but I don’t think manslaughter should be a normal accompaniment. I do think a first-class football match between two American university teams is a corking game, but I should like to modify the game in order to draw the teeth of the men who cry out against football, and thus deprive them of a valid argument against a good sport.”

“He Makes a Plea for Human Football,” The New York Herald headlined back home, of Roosevelt abroad.

While T.R. no longer steered football rule-making, NCAA officials professed their aim for humane play. They approved new, unrestricted forward passing, and critics were appeased. Forms of the forward pass had been sanctioned in rules since 1906, but restrictions discouraged its use, such as mandate on when to throw on the field, where to throw and how far, and loss of ball possession for an incomplete attempt.

Stifling rules were loosened in 1910 then done away with by the NCAA. The forward pass was fully legalized in 1912, for throwing from anywhere on the field behind the line of scrimmage, for any distance.

Fans loved action of the passing game, but effect on football risk was unclear in coming years. The sporting press reported slight decline in deaths through World War I, but game mortality and injury rates were not ascertained. The NCAA did not bother with football research, fewer journalists cared anymore, and no valid epidemiological frame was launched. Football ills became passé as world and national affairs occupied public concern and rhetoric.

The gridiron had survived, endured as prime human escape, American fantasy, nothing to really worry about. The nation stood enraptured, gratified with football and its social rituals of the season. Theodore Roosevelt continued glorifying “clean” football, speaking to boys and parents, and Woodrow Wilson applied the T.R. model for exploiting the game to enhance his own presidential popularity.

Wilson, elected two terms to the White House from 1913 to 1921, traveled with his “Wilson Guard” of football stars for appearances. The pacifist president and academic had served as secretary of the Princeton football association in college, avoiding the field battle himself. President Wilson applauded NCAA measures to finally establish the open game, years after the failed reform of Roosevelt’s influence. “The new rules are doing much to bring football to a high level as a sport, for its brutal features are being done away with and better elements retained,” Wilson said.

One football official wasn’t convinced, given the ongoing pervasive casualties. “I am in doubt as to whether the game is safer…,” said Jonas A. Babbit, NCAA rules chairman, “but public opinion seems to hold that it is safer.”

A century later, the analyst Harrison rued football’s historic whitewash for brain injuries and disease, commenting for the Somatosphere website. Harrison wrote that “ample evidence existed at the turn of the 19th century to make a convincing case of concussion’s dangers at that time.” She continued:

Society forgot what it knew because significant work was done by football’s supporters to hush up evidence in the media and other popular discussions, to discourage scientific research, and to legitimize football by allying it with morally-reputable institutions and with cultural ideals of manliness that carried great weight at that time. What was known was unlearned, forgotten, pushed away into a corner. Over time, the first surge of the concussion crisis settled away into the storage bins of history.

“In the long history of the concussion crisis there is a story,” Harrison concluded, “that once a society comes to know something is unsafe, those with a stake in its perpetuation prefer that people forget.”

Matt Chaney is an author, editor, and consultant on public issues in sport, specializing in American football. Chaney, MA in media studies, is a former college football player and coach whose books include Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, self-published in 2009.Chaney’s study for graduate thesis, co-published with the University of Central Missouri in 2001, analyzed print sport-media coverage of anabolic substances in football from 1983-1999. Email him at or visit the website for more information.

The 1890s: Brain Risks Confirmed in American Football

Brain Injury in American Football: 130 Years of Knowledge and Denial

The 1890s: Cerebral Risks Confirmed on Gridiron

Part One in A Series

By Matt Chaney

Posted Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Copyright ©2015 by Matthew L. Chaney

As American football officials tell the story today, brain injury among players is a fledgling issue, identified only in recent years, the 2000s.

Administrators, coaches, trainers, doctors, and researchers of contemporary football say they have only begun to grasp brain risk for players, while otherwise declaring no need for alarm. Officials say parents and children must not worry because dangers are exaggerated and countermeasures are in place.

The game embraces “concussion awareness” as never before, committing unprecedented dollars to research and prevention. “Heads Up Football,” for example, the program said to teach headless hitting to youths, is a household term for its $45 million in development and publicity funded by the NFL and players union.

But are traumatic brain injuries [TBI] and policy-making actually newfound for the collision sport?

Is the football institution—generations of administrators, coaches, trainers, doctors—really just comprehending TBI among players and what might be done? That’s the official claim, anyway, especially for legal defense against lawsuits filed by former players and families.

Historical events tell a different football story, meanwhile, in an extensive review of news databases by this investigator. Generally, the factual past conflicts with official versions proffered today.

Because the dilemma of head injuries inherent for tackle football—brain “concussion” foremost, broadly defined for varying states of severity—has reared regularly in public since the Victorian Era. Periodic controversies have spanned three centuries and affected most decades of the game, including the 1890s, 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 2010s.

Along the way, football has seen every type of brain trauma in players, consistently, predictably. Countless cases publicized since the 1800s have ranged from debilitating headaches to fatal hemorrhaging, and officials have tried much for preventing casualties while managing “return to play” of injured athletes, if never realizing success.

Several outright failed initiatives have been recycled, repackaged and promoted anew in periods over the continuum—like old “head up” theory, publicized in 1899 but presently sold as cutting-edge, Heads Up “technique.”

ChaneysBlog presents a series on the history of football collision, brain injury, and policy, with this first article examining football in its formative phase, the latter 1800s—when officials made promises of safety reform that echo yet.

So-called protective helmets, rule changes, medical supervision, proper coaching, and safer colliding have been promoted for a century and longer in American football.

1892: Gridiron Violence, ‘Flying Wedge’ Ignite Public Furor

As American football’s first injury crisis festered in 1892, the Harvard University team stoked controversy, unveiling its “flying wedge” blocking formation against rival Yale during the most publicized game of the year.

Returning a kickoff, two wings of Harvard players sprinted downfield on the attack, leading the ball carrier. At last instant 10 Harvard men converged in a V-wedge, “flying into Yale’s right wing like a crimson simoon,” a writer recounted. Twenty yards were gained on the return, a substantial run for grinding “mass” football of the time.

“What a grand play!” proclaimed The New York Times, for “a half ton of bone and muscle coming into collision with a man weighing 160 or 170 pounds.”

“The trick was so pretty that even the Yale men were disposed to applaud,” reported The New York Evening World. Yale “coachers” pronounced the latest wedge scheme “as one of the finest plays ever seen.”

Critics of football, in turn, deplored the flying wedge as epitome of gratuitous violence in sport, and on behalf of higher education no less.

“The fatal twisting of the neck of a football player and several other horrifying details in the football news… add to the growing demand that unless the leaders of the game themselves will ‘regulate’ the playing as they promise and profess to do, the police shall,” The Boston Advertiser editorialized. “The public cannot stand these harrowing casualties.”

“That the rules governing intercollegiate football must be changed seems to be the general opinion of the sporting public and those college graduates who are making a constant study of the great game,” asserted a national commentary. “The increased opportunities for accidents and the brutality which has marked many of the recent big games have made radical changes necessary.”

Football supporters laughed, contending dangers were exaggerated, led by Harvard dean of engineering Nathaniel S. Shaler, a former player. “I have never known a single man, personally, to be killed or permanently hurt in the game,” Shaler said. “The death rate in football is way down.” By comparison, Shaler noted that horse transportation and boating had killed nine of his friends.

The Charlotte Observer editorialized “that there is a good deal of humbuggery in all the recent clamor about the dangers of football,” continuing that boys “are liable to get hurt at almost any game in which they engage—unless it be croquet.”

“This question of football is a matter of family government rather then the public’s business,” the newspaper continued. “If the parents are willing for the son to play football and take chances, it is none of the public’s affair. After the player passes 21, it is nobody’s business but his own.”

Football advocacy did not impress many Americans. Some wanted “foot-ball” banned from college campuses that hosted it in pursuit of financial gain and prestige, a quarter-century after students organized the game at eastern universities.

Opposition flourished in higher education and the popular press, pressuring game policy-makers to act, particularly Walter Camp of Yale University, the coach, referee and rule-maker who would be known as the Father of American Football.

Camp headed the Yale coaching staff enamored with mass plays like the flying wedge, but he knew football suffered for its image as a sanctioned brawl. “The protest… by the faculties of a large number of colleges is having its effect,” he acknowledged.

The game was dangerous and barbaric at eyesight, and no one could calculate the casualty numbers, undoubtedly high, as football expanded west through schools, colleges, and athletic clubs.

The sport had begun as an “open” game of rugby sprints and passes, but rule changes led by Camp in the 1880s established a line of scrimmage between opposing teams of 11 men each, and ball possession for one side at a time. Possession was retained for gaining five yards in three “downs.”

Rules legitimized “interference,” or blocking for a ball carrier, then “low” tackling. Offensive planning evolved to emphasize brutish players for “momentum” starts, clustered in walls and wedges, to make running strikes at a defense.

Analyst Michael Oriard observed that the rule allowing tackling below the waist “virtually eliminated open-field running, led to increasingly brutal (and boring) mass play, altered the very shape of football players by tilting the advantage overwhelmingly toward sheer bulk, and necessitated the development of padded armor to protect the newly vulnerable players.”

A news writer panned the Harvard-Yale game in 1893, complaining that “the great battle did not bristle with interesting plays. There was a constant pile in the middle of the field, from which it was half the time impossible to pick the man with the ball.”

Hazardous tactics created repulsive scenes. Players pushed and pulled their ball carriers for yardage, inflicting injury. Elbowing abounded, along with grabbing, tossing, trampling, and punching. A New York reporter noted a “rule disqualifying a man who uses his clenched fist is strongly advocated.”

“The players on the line often sparred with one another, shoved, or even slugged one another before the snap of the ball,” wrote historian John Sayle Watterson. “Guards and tackles could take up positions in the backfield because the rules did not specify the linemen had to be at the scrimmage line.”

“Once a player left the game, he could not return. Hence, injured players often staggered around the field until they collapsed or asked to be taken out of the game.”

At end of the 1893 football season, officials could dally no longer on reform. “There is quite a popular demand for the abolition of the flying wedge and other dangerous mass plays in football,” stated a Kansas writer.

The New York Times editorialized: “A game in which some of the players are almost certain to be knocked senseless is a game in which some of them are very liable to be maimed for life or even to be killed outright.” The Times pegged injuries as mere elemental byproducts, proclaiming “no game so extremely perilous should be permitted to be played.”

Camp weighed in, as supreme powerbroker of football’s maturing enterprise at American universities. Camp said daily practice sessions posed higher risk than games, but he voiced support for new rules to “remove the so-called brutalizing character” of competition.

“There is no doubt that the game as played the last year or two has been attended with a great deal of danger to the players,” Camp stated. “In improving from the old [Rugby Union] game we have admitted the interference [blocking], which is the element of danger in the game. The Englishmen look upon our style of playing with a great deal of abhorrence. Yet it is just that style that has commended the game to the American people and aroused such a great interest in it.”

Camp suggested a “convention” of football representatives from colleges could address the questions, and thus it materialized.

Newspapers soon announced “five football experts” would gather to discuss, draft, and ratify new rules. The 34-year-old Camp was named to the committee, obviously, while the others were likewise young “football men” and former players of the universities represented, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Pennsylvania, and Wesleyan.

“The football reform movement at last begins to assume a tangible shape,” noted The Evening World, optimistically.

The anointed experts released their new rules in spring 1894, football’s first in the mission of safety for players. Among changes, a kick receiver could signal “fair catch” for avoiding contact; there would be “less use of hands and arms obstructively”; piling on a man when down would be penalized; and a “linesman” was added to field officials.

The focus of attention was Rule 30 (c.), reading as follows: “No momentum mass plays shall be allowed.” An enthusiastic news commentator said “anxious parents, friends and companions” of players could now rest easy, as if football’s dreadful “wedge” action were eliminated.

But that depended on definition and interpretation. “A momentum mass play is where more than three men start before the ball is put into play,” stated a news report. “Nor shall more than three men group for that purpose more than five yards back from the point where the ball is put in play.”

The public expected much from anti-wedge policy, yet football’s safety code produced negligible results during the 1894 season, with collisions still violent and injurious throughout. Critics howled in derision of officials.

New York Evening Post editorial ripped the incorrigible violence of college football, chiding the hypocrisy—or calculated rhetoric—of organizers and supporters who tried to label boxing the only barbaric pastime. The Post opined:

There is one characteristic of the new football which all those who promise us its reform seem to overlook, and that is that it is the only athletic sport which brings the whole bodies of the players into violent collision.

In short, is not the distinction between the ring and college football as played Saturday a distinction without a difference? Is not the attempt to make a [perceived] difference a bit of sophistry of which the champions of the game ought to be ashamed? It is true [the boxer] plays a game which consists in wasting his adversary’s strength so that he can no longer resist.

But how does this differ from college football? Is not the slugging of the enemy’s best men so as to close their eyes, strain their hips, break their noses, and concuss their brains, and thus compel them to withdraw from the field, exactly the pugilist’s policy?

Chicago Tribune editors denounced alleged gridiron reform. “The Football Slugging Match,” the newspaper headlined after Harvard versus Yale. Brutality was “the conspicuous feature of the game,” the report began.

“It was played under new rules, but the new rules were formulated not so much to make the game a test of skill, agility, and endurance as to invite personal encounters and increase the opportunities for slugging. That they worked well is shown by the list of maimed victims. Seven men were more or less severely injured.”

North of the U.S. border, The Winnipeg Tribune followed American debate over tackle football as the sport was introduced in Canada. “And the game is seriously threatened,” the newspaper editorialized, “for it is impossible to ascribe the violence of the contest to any special kind of tactics.”

“Last year the flying wedge and momentum players were made the scapegoat for all the accidents of football. The public was easily deceived… The papers are asking the university authorities what they propose to do about the matter.”

A Chicago preacher wanted impact changes, Rev. J.J. Tobias, who denounced amoral football and collegiate administrations before his Episcopal congregation. “Is football essential to manly sports? Certainly not for physical culture…,” Tobias scoffed, “for our gymnasiums and athletic clubs afford every facility.”

“[Football] is called a science…,” he continued from pulpit, mocking Walter Camp’s frequent claim, “yes, the science of disabling, wearing out, or killing by violent personal concussion of the antagonist. It is the science of brute force.”

Rev. Tobias doubted the courage of universities for standing up to the “football associations” so affluent and omnipotent on campuses nationwide, backed by exploding fan base.

“It is a lack of real moral manliness on the part of the governing powers,” he decried. “There is a mania and rivalry for large numbers on the campus rolls which makes presidents timid and under a compromising policy. It is a betrayal of a holy trust.”

“Will they be brave enough to face the howling mob, or do they shift responsibility?”

1894: Talking Points in Official Denial of Football Injuries

If health reform fell short of protecting football players, the official talk and committee meetings proved to protect the game itself. Policy-making could hardly alleviate risk and casualty for individuals, but rhetorical spin, committee posturing, and suspect cures would ensure survival of the football system.

Cultural historian Michael Oriard analyzed the politics and communication in play, a century after Walter Camp seated himself to direct young coaches and rule-makers he anointed as “experts” for reversing the bloodshed.

“Fewer than a dozen young men, all representing elite universities and relatively privileged classes, controlled the game during those crucial early years of its development,” wrote Oriard, an English professor and former player in college and the NFL, for his book analysis titled Reading Football [1994]. “The creators of American football seem to have had power but little control, as they revised the rules again and again.”

Unavoidable injuries stalked officials who were hapless to find legitimate solution.

“The chronicle of rules made, broken, amended, circumvented, amended again, abused again, in endless cycle, seems to reveal a game that developed without intention, by simple necessity after an initial accident,” Oriard concluded of the football’s first half-century, after his research of Golden Press newspapers and magazines.

“Once the scrimmage line and the five-yard rule were instituted (by young men unable to anticipate the consequences), subsequent revisions were required to guarantee them, then to modify them as they became unworkable.”

Officials’ revision of injury information also occurred, involving early incidents of brain trauma.

A rash of athlete calamities befell Yale football in 1885. Aspiring player John Arnot Palmer collapsed and died of a brain aneurysm, one day removed from football practice. Most doctors at autopsy believed “violent exercise” of the sport led to the blood vessel’s bursting, according to first news. Yale physician William O. Ayres contested their conclusion, however, dismissing football as a factor; the pathology findings instead indicated kidney disease spurred Palmer’s cerebral bleed, Ayres announced to press.

Following the death, two Yale players collided with “fearful force” at practice, injuring one. Halfback W.R. Crawford was “knocked off his feet, landing heavily on his back and head,” reported The Chicago Inter Ocean. “He was removed to his room and medical aid summoned.” Crawford lay “unconscious for about two hours,” the newspaper continued. “He is reported… as being all right.”

Yale football officials, headed by Camp, were described as “reticent about the affair.”

Camp, if never experiencing brain trauma himself in football, evidently saw the condition as a player, coach, and referee. Writing of his freshman year as Yale player, 1876, Camp recalled “stunning” an opponent with his tackle, causing momentarily unconsciousness. Thirteen years later, Camp refereed a college game in New York when a Wesleyan player was “knocked insensible” and continued competing. And numerous Yale players and opponents were publicly identified as concussion casualties during Camp’s decades at the university.

Evidence suggests Camp understood both danger of brain injury and potential ramifications for tackle football. A recorded game incident of TBI ended up omitted from his 1894 book, Football Facts and Figures, which Watterson [2002] ripped as “a resoundingly pro-football polemic” containing “a barrage of football propaganda.”

“Anyone who read Camp’s book, especially the introductory excerpts, might come away wondering what all the critical full was about. According to the ‘facts and figures’ so authoritatively interpreted, no one suffered permanent injuries, and all but a cranky handful agreed that football’s virtues outweighed its shortcomings.”

Camp had solicited input from players, and one recalled suffering brain trauma. Former Penn captain William Harvey wrote to Camp that he suffered “serious injury” during a game in 1883, when “I was knocked insensible but recovered in about fifteen minutes.”

But Harvey’s record of brain concussion was ignored for publication of the book, which would be “cited for decades as reliable evidence supporting continuation of the game through controversy and reform,” observed modern researcher Emily A. Harrison.

“Harvey’s response was included in Football Facts and Figures, but only in part,” Harrison revealed of her investigation. “On his original letter, preserved in Camp’s papers at Yale University, Harvey’s description of his head injury has been blatantly crossed out in crayon.”

No one could control football violence, but public perspective could be shaped, and a template of official rhetoric was printed in concert with Camp’s book.

Eugene Lamb Richards, Yale math professor whose sons starred in football for the university, writing for Popular Mechanics in 1894, outlined the talking points of safer football that endure today, including the following assurances:

Qualified trainers and doctors will patrol sidelines.

State-of-art medical care will treat the rare grave casualties.

Injury tracking will cut rates already in decline.

Coaches will properly train players.

Medical prescreening for every player.

Experts will research and ratify rules.

Referees will enforce rules of the experts.

Players will follow rules of the experts.

Richards’ timeless essay of football advocacy channeled further assertions of Camp:

News media exaggerate gridiron injuries.

Football teaches teamwork and courage, builds mind and body.

Football is part-and-parcel of a complete education.

Football saves urban or underprivileged boys from the streets.

Football teaches manhood to boys everywhere.

Football provides healthy catharsis for male aggression.

Serious casualties are genetically predisposed to injury, too weak in their resistance.

Not surprisingly, Richards also penned the introduction to Camp’s book.

“Walter Camp worked with fellow supporters of football to stave off critics and to create a climate of opinion favorable to the college game,” Watterson wrote.

Harrison noted: “Camp and the [rules] committee set to work saving the game through persuasive selection of evidence, technical reform, and pressure on college administrators and faculty.”

Yale football men apparently exerted campus clout at New Haven in 1894, for a football revolt over the notorious game with Harvard. The Associated Press reported anonymous members of the Yale faculty said “pugilistic brutality of the game must be stopped” and they would ensure cancellation of the university’s pending game with Princeton.

Campus football leaders immediately refuted the story, announcing Princeton remained on schedule. “Captain Hickey of Yale and his football [teammates] are back to hard practice again,” newspapers stated. “The report that was circulated, saying the Yale faculty would forbid the game with the Tigers… is denied.”

1890s: Football Brain Risks Documented in News

Camp’s description of TBI symptoms in an opponent he tackled in 1876 stands among earliest reported incidents of American football, according to texts available in electronic search. Newspapers publicized “concussion of the brain” in football stories by 1885, such as the year’s aforementioned incident at Yale, the practice collision that concussed a player.

In period lexicon, the term concussion could mean anything from cerebral dysfunction to lethal hemorrhaging. Journalists routinely attributed concussion to players who were rendered comatose or killed, but many doctors knew the condition typically presented with symptoms such as headaches, confusion, memory loss, “delirium,” and temporary unconsciousness, if any.

And medicine of the late 19th century encountered concussed football players galore. The gory spectacle achieved wide appeal for its colliding combatants, fighting headlong over a ball—“contact ballet… annihilation hanging in the balance,” Oriard wrote—constituting a fertile culture for brain impacts that likely topped horseback riding, among riskiest endeavors.

“For the idea of the modern football captain…,” intoned The San Francisco Morning Call, praising the game, “is to fling such a force upon the holder of the ball that [the ball carrier] shall be knocked down, and probably knocked senseless.”

“EIGHT PLAYERS KNOCKED SENSELESS,” blared a newspaper headline in 1891, after Purdue University defeated Wabash College, 44 to 0. During another game in Indiana, a football-playing college professor “fell on his head and was knocked senseless.”

Men and boys were “knocked senseless” in football from Manhattan Island to the Hawaiian Islands, newspapers revealed, and many more were medically diagnosed with “mild” or “slight concussion,” such as Harvard captain Bert Waters in 1893. The star guard was injured against Yale and removed from the game, then sidelined for his team’s season finale versus Pennsylvania.

A Minneapolis football crowd of 1894 witnessed a “peculiar feature” when University of Wisconsin quarterback Theron Lyman bumbled around behind center, forgetting signals and directions, beset with his repetitive brain injuries. “He did the same thing at Chicago, and it is due to a concussion of the brain some time ago,” reported The St. Paul Globe.

That season’s infamous Harvard-Yale game—with Camp serving as umpire—produced a “slight concussion” for Fred Murphy, a Yale tackle rendered unconscious for hours. Murphy returned to football practice within days and played in the next game.

Many if not most head injuries in football’s plodding scrums occurred of rips, falls, kicks, and crushes. In 1895, Central University halfback Will Lyon took a foe’s foot to his head and was transported by coach ambulance to the team hotel. “There he lost consciousness and did not regain sensibility until about 7:30 o’clock last evening,” reported the Sunday morning Louisville Courier-Journal. “It is thought he suffered slight concussion of the brain, but will be able to leave for Richmond today.”

Many doctors loved football and medical schools fielded teams nationwide. In 1896, the “football eleven” of the Chicago College of Physicians and Surgeons met Beloit College for a brawling contest in Wisconsin. The Daily Tribune described the game as “one of the wickedest in the matter of slugging that was ever played anywhere,” continuing:

The doctors outweighed Beloit and seemed to want to kill someone and do it quickly and so began slugging from the start and it was not long before the rough work was not confined to one side by any means. …

As the [scoreless] game was drawing to a close Hansell, one of the doctors, who had put up a fine game as left half-back, began to act queer and was taken off the field, when he became unconscious and lay in that condition for several hours, but is recovering now. Some think he suffered from concussion of the brain.

The Yale team doctor diagnosed at least one concussion casualty that season, halfback Hamilton F. Benjamin, who was flattened against Princeton and “kicked in the forehead,” stated a news report. Benjamin “received a contused scalp and slight concussion of the brain, injuries not necessarily serious.”

A headshot rocked a Chicago schoolboy quarterback in 1899, causing “temporary insanity,” per a report. “He raved several hours before he could be calmed. It is feared he suffered concussion of the brain.”

Medical authorities referred to a “second consciousness” for victims of brain concussion. Doctors said the injury was “frequent in football, when a player is sometimes knocked out, apparently recovers, plays out the game, and comes to himself only after a considerable period, remembering nothing in the interval,” reported The New York Times.

1900: Do Football Helmets Cause or Prevent Trauma?

By 1893 in New York City, capital of football universe, “an epidemic” of long-haired men struck a fashion statement. “On the streets, in the theatres, in cafes, and everywhere where people gather together, may be seen flowing locks adorning the heads of men of all kinds,” The Boston Post relayed. “This capillary profusion is particularly noticeable in the case of young men.”

Football players with press popularity had started the trend, although initially not for looks; they simply believed that growing hair long protected them from head injuries on the gridiron. “From the time he begins practice early in the fall until the last goal has been kicked in November, the collegiate player does not indulge in the luxury of a hair cut,” stated The New Orleans Times-Picayune. ”This hirsute matting does not add to his personal attractiveness, but it protects the player’s head from cold and injury.”

Princeton All-American quarterback Phil King drew media attention for his blonde curls’ covering ears and eyes like “a huge chrysanthemum.” King bragged to writers he could “butt a stone wall” without concern of skull fracture or brain concussion.

Hair padding aside, football already favored firmer countermeasures for protection above neckline. Harvard players wore the patented Cumnock nose mask, designed of rubber by a former team captain, and the material had been taken further by a contemporary player, Charles Mackenzie at Princeton, a talented, injured backfield mate of King.

The speedy Mackenzie was attempting a football comeback from brain trauma, after a physician sidelined him a year for “a severe blow on the head… which if repeated the doctor fears might result seriously,” newspapers reported. Mackenzie now donned “a head protector made of hard rubber and can go into the thickest of the fight without fear of any serious result.”

Other types of football “headgear” or helmets were developing too, but protection for ramming athletes remained elusive.

In 1896, for example, the University of Kansas football team added William Baine, a Sioux Indian recruited away from Haskell Institute. Baine was stocky, fast, intelligent, but at KU he suffered multiple brain injuries.

On Oct. 31, Baine was “laid out by a fierce tackle” against the Kansas City Medics, stated a news report. “After that he did not know what he was doing. The doctors said he was in a bad way and feared concussion of the brain.”

Baine’s symptoms of “slight concussion” persisted the next week, recalled the Kansas quarterback decades later, Dr. Bert Kennedy, a dentist. The KU coaches were former players at Princeton, where padded “harness” to cover head, ears, and nose had been constructed for years. Kennedy said “we fashioned a padded canvas headpiece to protect [Baine].”

“It was the first football helmet I ever saw.”

That Saturday Kansas met rival Nebraska and Baine scored his team’s first touchdown. Then KU played to hold the lead: “We were trying to stall and I called a right end run merely to get the ball in the middle of the field,” Kennedy said. “The Indian protested that his head ached and he couldn’t run. But he traveled 60 yards to a touchdown so fast the Nebraskans never laid a hand on him.”

The Kansas squad beat Nebraska but unfortunately would experience a worst-case scenario of repeated brain injuries in football—victimizing an opposing player, Bert Serf of Doane College.

Serf was trampled by a Kansas “rush line” on Nov. 14, attempting a goal-line tackle. He did not regain consciousness and died that night. “The injury was to the back of his head, and concussion of the brain doubtless caused his death,” reported The Lawrence Weekly World.

“The attending physicians are confident that [Serf] died largely from the effects of a previous injury. It is known that in a game at Tarkio, Mo., he was seriously hurt, and from that time he should have been taken off the gridiron.”

Serf apparently played without headgear despite his “similar concussions,” but Baine’s helmet could not have shielded his repetitive trauma, either.

Baine played college football almost a decade for various institutions, often as a mercenary athlete—and with a progressively “primitive temper,” observed historian Tom Benjey. Once Baine was ejected from a game for raging and throwing the football at a referee’s face.

Baine died at 29, while firing a pistol during a drunken binge in his native Fort Sisseton, S.D.; a night watchman shot him to death. “William Baine’s short, but eventful, life ended violently,” wrote Benjey [2008]. “One cannot wonder if his ‘mild concussion of the brain’ had anything to do with his end.”

A football death in 1897 refueled debate over brutality. University of Georgia player Von Gammon died of brain injury sustained in a game, incurring outrage of football critics. The Pittsburgh Daily Post opined:

A conservative medical journal, the Philadelphia “Medical Record,” makes a weighty deliverance against football. The “Record” holds that the game as now played ought not to be allowed, on the grounds that it can no longer be viewed in the light of innocent recreative amusement, with harmless and healthful athletics as its object; but that, even with “slugging” ruled out, it is “productive of the greatest variety of surgical injuries to every part of the body,” and that the effect of such injuries is life-long in a large proportion of cases.

The Georgia legislature hastily passed a bill to ban football, which the governor considered for a month before declining to sign it. The governor said his decision finalized on letter from the dead player’s mother, imploring him to keep football alive for the state.

The next year, a helmet manufacturer released a model that “completely protects the head and ears,” announced a news item. “The crown of it is made of tough sole leather, filled with air holes and lined with soft felt. It is believed that the helmet will be generally worn by members of all the big teams this year.”

But TBI continued on football fields, and coaches and doctors clearly understood the gravity of such injury, if not the biological mechanisms. And “protective” equipment only exacerbated health risks, with adoption of stiff leather helmets and metallic masks, along with hard pads for shoulders, elbows, hips and knees

“It has been charged that these things have been brought into use not so much to provide protection for the wearers as to inflict injury upon opponents, and there is a general cry that there have been more injuries and bruises this fall because of this armor than ever before,” The Fort Wayne Daily News reported in 1900, continuing:

Cameron Forbes and Ben Dibblee, Harvard’s leading coaches, say that a good headpiece gives to a man increased confidence and tends to make him strike an opponent with his head instead of his shoulder in bucking the line.

The Princeton coaches, on the other hand, favor all kinds of helmets and harness. They argue that headpieces are necessary because the injuries to the head are generally of a far more lasting and serious nature than those received in other parts of the body.

As the 1890s brought American football’s first crisis over brutality, the turn of the century would mark “The First Concussion Crisis,” which is title of Emily A. Harrison’s ground-breaking review for American Journal of Public Health in 2014. Harrison researched the article while completing her doctorate degree in science history at Harvard.

“Contrary to popular opinion, concussions are not a recent discovery in football, and this recent upwelling is not the first coming of the concussion crisis in American sports,” Harrison cautioned. “It emerged more than a century ago, in the very first decades of football.”

Matt Chaney is an author, editor, and consultant on public issues in sport, specializing in American football. Chaney, MA in media studies, is a former college football player and coach whose books include Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, self-published in 2009. Chaney’s study for graduate thesis, co-published with the University of Central Missouri in 2001, analyzed print sport-media coverage of anabolic substances in football from 1983-1999. Email him at or visit the website for more information.

NFL Deaths Reflect Inept Care and Record-Keeping

Since 1960 at least 16 NFL players have died of injury, a game-related condition or a possible link to football, impacted by inadequate medical management. Meanwhile, “public football” stokes a hot Q&A with Irv Muchnick, the iconoclastic sports journalist whose new book chronicles fall of the game as we know it.

By Matt Chaney

Posted Saturday, February 28, 2015

Copyright ©2015 by Matthew L. Chaney

In 1960 America, a football player was not only exposed to lethal injury and illness of the extreme sport. Once a casualty, he was vulnerable to shoddy medical response as well, beginning in professional football.

A worst-case scenario unfolded October 9th in the new American Football League, amid a sweltering Sunday on the Texas seaboard, where the Houston Oilers hosted the New York Titans—the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and New York Jets franchises today, respectively.

Air temperature topped 90 degrees with dense humidity for the 1 p.m. kickoff at Jeppesen Stadium, and early in the game Howard Glenn, an offensive guard for New York, was struggling to stay on his feet.

Teammates thought heat was affecting Glenn in the first quarter, when he complained repeatedly in huddles. Titans offensive tackle Ernie Barnes urged Glenn to stay in the game since coaches wouldn’t allow him to stop and sit. Team trainers would support the coaches, Barnes reminded his buddy, and no doctor made the road trip from New York.

Collisions on the field were viscous, meanwhile. Football’s head-on contact had steadily increased since advent of hard plastic helmets during World War II. Face bars became standard by the mid-1950s, when physics, technology and human will converged to make head bashing commonplace in the game.

In 1960, Howard Glenn donned a double-barred face mask on his helmet. The muscular 6-foot-2, 245-pounder fired low into foes at scrimmage, neck forward and face-first—in the law of modern football—and sometime around halftime at Houston, two opposing linemen smashed Glenn between them.

Clearly injured, Glenn rose unsteadily. No stretcher was available on the Titans sideline so a teammate helped him off the field, but head coach Sammy Baugh ordered Glenn back to the huddle, witnesses later told The Houston Chronicle.

Accounts vary whether Glenn played in the second half, which he basically spent on the sideline. A spectator recalled seeing Glenn wandering near the Titans bench in a daze, unattended.

No one realized Glenn’s neck was broken, with a fractured cervical vertebra just below his brain.

Trainers helped Glenn to the locker room after the game. He undressed and sat nude on a metal folding chair, clutching a towel and quivering in labored breaths. A teammate, Art Powell, yelled at the trainers: “Why in hell don’t you get a doctor to him?”

Glenn deteriorated rapidly. The Associated Press would report he became “belligerent in the clubhouse then hysterical” as he fell from the chair, convulsing.

Two Houston doctors were summoned and Glenn was finally taken to a local hospital at 5:30 p.m., while rest of the New York team headed for the airport.

Within an hour Titans players learned Glenn had died, as their plane sat on a runway, and tackle Ernie Barnes wept in his seat. The two young black men had bonded as friends in Glenn’s short time with the team, especially for art, a mutual love. Now Barnes remembered their final scene together: Glenn stricken on the locker room floor as teammates rushed out from showers, dripping wet.

“The news shook my heart,” Barnes later wrote. “The hurt deepened and all I could see in my mind was Glenn’s body lying in the water on the cement floor. He died a lonely death. It took time and reasoning for me to get over Howard’s death… it enters my mind often.”

Authorities were perplexed for Howard Glenn’s case, initially. According to a Houston team doctor “Glenn wasn’t hurt in the game or… his injuries were not serious enough to be noticed,” reported The AP.

Some Titans officials readily discounted football as a factor, speaking with media that first night, and many observers believed heatstroke caused the fatality, Barnes among them.

But the next day an autopsy revealed Glenn’s neck had crumbled apart in the hours after injury, primarily because Titans staff failed to recognize or diagnose. Harris County medical examiner Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk said “the fracture was very near Glenn’s brain and did happen during Sunday’s game,” reported The AP. “He said death was not instantaneous because the edges of the fractured bone had to cut the spinal cord before death occurred.”

Jachimczyk remarked, “The unusual thing about these cases is not the quickness of death but that the victims even live at all.”

Glenn was buried at Louisville Cemetery in Mississippi, his native Winton County. Besides AFL experience, Glenn played for the New York Giants of the NFL and the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the CFL. Earlier, at Linfield College in Oregon, Glenn starred in football and track and field.

Following the tragedy, Barnes requested his release from Titans brass. “I told them I didn’t want to play on a team like this,” he said. Barnes retired from professional football in 1965 and his career as an artist blossomed; he died in 2009.

Contemporary blogger Bill McCurdy concluded that Glenn in 1960 was “a victim of the times and what can happen to those who play football under the worst of circumstances—or even the best of conditions.”


In American football today, detection and treatment of heartbeat arrhythmias and more cardiac malfunctions in young players remain inadequate, most experts agree. But football was primitive about managing cardiac risk during the Vietnam War era.

The NFL was no exception for lax action despite exploding revenues and expanding resources over TV rights and its merger with the former AFL. No uniform policy for cardiac management existed, basically.

League and franchise officials certainly knew young athletes suffered “heart attack,” in the catch-all term. Medical literature was plentiful by 1970 while sports pages and television reported cardiac incidents from multiple activities, regularly, led by basketball and football. Historically, two NFL players had died after games, Stan Mauldin and Dave Sparks, in the decade following World War II.

Moreover, the Detroit Lions had experienced recent cardiac fatalities off the field. Promising Lions tackle Lucien Reeberg, 21, died in the 1964 offseason [see below] while free-agent line prospect Ed Schreck, 23, was briefly under contract before he succumbed during heart surgery in 1968.

Yet the Detroit franchise stood unprepared for a third event, in 1971, and this time on national television. Chuck Hughes, 28, a 6-foot, 180-pound wide receiver for the Lions, was naturally gifted to catch a football. But a genetic heart defect stopped the blonde Texan on Oct. 24, apparently triggered by physical exertion.

Nearing end of the Sunday NFL telecast, Chicago at Detroit, Hughes dropped face-down after a pass pattern, “twitching uncontrollably,” a witness said, as a crowed of 54,419 “silently watched.”

Television viewers were horrified. “They turned the TV cameras on him [Hughes] for us until the spirit left him,” Barnard Collier would write for Esquire magazine, “and then they turned away.”

Time was precious for Hughes but Lions doctors had to be waved onto the field, by Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, because of a silly league rule. Then they could only roll Hughes over, pound his chest and deliver mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, unsure about his distress. An off-duty anesthesiologist charged out of the stands, like he could help.

While the Lions had prepared meticulously for playing the Bears, down to practicing Sudden change! for a turnover, no medical procedure was in place for sudden cardiac collapse of a player.

The impromptu treatment of Hughes was crude, futile, pathetic. Apparently there was no electronic defibrillator machine, state-of-art treatment for cardiac victims, on the premises at Tiger Stadium.

The football player was dying, his wife Sharon realized from the stands, and she began screaming. “After what seemed forever, Hughes was placed on a stretcher,” spectator Richard Bak later recalled.

An ambulance came onto the field and Sharon Hughes was summoned from the stands for ride to the hospital. But with everyone loaded, ambulance drivers groped for the misplaced ignition key. At this point Sharon figured it was too late for her husband.

“She stared at what the doctors were doing and she watched as Chuck’s ear turned slowly black and blue,” Collier recounted for Esquire. “Now she knew that Chuck was beyond reviving. After that, time slowed so much that hurrying did not matter. She kept thinking about their marriage and how much Chuck was in love with football.”

At the hospital, defibrillator shocks were administered but no heartbeat restored. Machines kept Hughes alive until he was pronounced dead at 4:41 p.m., an hour after the Lions game ended.

Team doctors still couldn’t pinpoint cause of death, whether it occurred at the heart or brain. “I’ve never seen anything like it in professional football,” said Dr. Edwin Guise, Lions physician.

Franchise owner William Clay Ford expressed bafflement. “I’m horrified and shocked. He [Hughes] was a great player and a great person,” Ford said.

An autopsy confirmed hardened arteries caused the coronary malfunction in Hughes, who had family history of heart disease.

In fact, Hughes had been tested for heart trouble months before his death, by cardio specialists at Henry Ford Hospital. Hughes was hospitalized again for chest pains in the preseason, after being crushed by tacklers in an exhibition game, but tests were negative and he returned to the football field.

Sharon Hughes, widowed with a toddler son, ultimately won a settlement of undisclosed amount from Ford Hospital. Her lawsuit against the facility and unnamed doctors alleged a heart problem had been detected but “they willfully and wantonly” failed to inform Chuck.

“The defendants well knew that Hughes was a professional athlete and as such was required to engage in strenuous physical activity not advisable for one who had suffered heart damage,” the complaint stated.

Sharon Hughes also won a $43,250 claim for workman’s compensation. Insurance representatives of the Lions, bound to indemnify the franchise for court losses and costs, had argued the death of her husband was unrelated to football.


From 1960 to 2010, at least 16 active or contracted NFL players died of a) football injuries, b) game-related conditions or c) possible link to the sport.

The annotated cases below are deaths of those players in the NFL and former AFL, collected in my ongoing review of news reports on casualties in football history. The incidents are harvested largely through electronic search of news databases.

I make no medical claim of the information and little for its scientific value. This qualifies as raw data, news content, comprising case leads in need of expert follow-up by multi-disciplinary specialists of medicine and science, particularly for establishing or dismissing a football link in the majority of incidents.

No qualified epidemiological team has ever been assembled and funded to reliably assess fatality rates of vast American football—none—despite a purported entity at the University of North Carolina, the so-called National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research,  funded by the American Football Coaches Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Federation of State High School Associations, and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.

The NCCSIR has no facility of street address on campus. Officials have declined to answer my email queries since 2011.

Presently, 8 of 16 NFL cases below are omitted from “total” football statistics self-published by the sports academics representing UNC in Chapel Hill. None of the cases involves cancer, drug overdose or suicide. Likely some omitted cases can be verified as game-related, still, by credible researchers. Others probably cannot be accurately assessed for a football link, either way.

Deaths of NFL and AFL players in the last 55 years include the following cases available in news reports:

1960: Howard Glenn, 26, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound offensive guard for the New York Titans, of the AFL, died on Oct. 9 of a broken neck sustained in a game with the Houston Oilers. [See story above.]

1960: Ralph Anderson, 24, a 6-4, 225-pound wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers, was a rising star in pro football and subject of a “tampering” lawsuit against his AFL team by the Chicago franchise of the NFL. But the talented athlete was diabetic, challenged to stay in the lineup, and in early November he missed a Chargers game. Anderson came back with big performances but was stricken again as he lay down on Friday night, Nov. 25. Anderson was found dead the next morning, and an autopsy ruled diabetic seizure as the cause. The athlete was survived by a 3-year-old daughter, and when the Chargers later played in the AFL championship game, the team voted that Anderson’s share of player proceeds be presented to his girl. Head coach Sid Gillman also gave his share to the child. Sources: Associated Press and United Press International.

*The death of Ralph Anderson was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded reviewers. His case is not included in 1960 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.

1961: John Sherer, 20, a 6-3, 240-pound defensive tackle on the inactive list of the New York Titans, had foregone college football at the University of Miami after being drafted by the AFL. Sherer was a schoolboy legend in his native Pennsylvania, where he led a team of prep all-stars to victory over a squad of standouts from other states. Sherer barely missed making 1961 Titans roster, cut on the last day in training camp, so he played semipro football in hopes of getting a call from New York during the season. But on Sept. 26 Sherer collapsed and died following a gym workout in Philadelphia, of a reported heart malfunction. Sources: New Castle News and Associated Press.

1963: Stone Johnson, 23, a 6-1, 180-pound running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, AFL, was touted as one of the fastest men in pro football. Johnson had been a sprinter for the U.S. Olympic team in Rome and a football player for Grambling College. He left college football after being drafted by the AFL, but he suffered a broken neck as a Chiefs rookie, trying to tackle in an exhibition game against the Houston Oilers on Aug. 31. Emergency surgery stabilized fracture of the C5 vertebra and Johnson was placed in traction, but the spinal-cord nerve bundle was damaged and he died on Sept. 8. Some in football alluded to individual fault for the tragedy. Game officials were touting “head up technique,” their new theory for headless hitting, and the Football Coaches Association’s anointed death researcher chimed in, Floyd R. Eastwood. As a PE professor who went by “Dr. Eastwood” with the press, this college teacher held only a PhD in education, far short of a medical or science doctorate and follow-up certifications. Nevertheless, Eastwood routinely promoted untested concepts for casualty prevention in football—parroted widely by sportswriters—that placed responsibility primarily on individuals, not the system. Following Johnson’s death in 1963, Eastwood said “degree of skill” could dictate mortality of a football player, without mentioning the field physics of forward colliding in shatterproof headgear and pads. “Most injuries are sustained while blocking or tackling and if more players were trained properly in these respects, fatalities would take a sharp decline,” Eastwood declared. Sources: Associated Press and United Press International.

1964: Lucien Reeberg Jr., 21, a 6-4, 300-plus offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, NFL, was a rising star publicized as the “baby-faced giant” of pro football. But Reeberg was unhealthy, ballooning as high as 317 pounds. Hospitalized in Detroit, Reeberg died of cardiac arrest caused by chronic kidney disease on Jan. 31, 1964. Reportedly the Lions had wanted Reeberg evaluated for weight loss when he mentioned blood in his urine to a nurse. Team physician Dr. Richard Thompson said, “The disease [uremia] will crop up one day and not the next, and as a result of this, the young people tend to ignore the disease.” Reeberg, a native of Bronx, N.Y., had played college football for Hampton Institute, which he left after being drafted by the NFL. In 2011, blogger Bill Dow interviewed Reeberg’s old roommate, former Lions linebacker Ernie Clark. “Lucien was Christmas morning,” said Clark. “I think about him all the time, and after he passed away my heart really wasn’t into football and I’ve never been the same.” Sources: Jet magazine,, Newspaper Enterprise Association, Associated Press and United Press International.

*The death of Lucien Reeberg was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded academics. His case is not included in 1964 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.

1965: Mack Lee Hill, 25, a 5-11, 235-pound running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, averaged 5.2 yards a carry over two seasons in the AFL. Nicknamed “The Truck,” Hill suffered torn knee ligaments in a game and underwent surgery on Dec. 14. Complications developed, spiking Hill’s temperature to 108 degrees and causing respiratory distress and convulsions. Hill died on the operating table of a pulmonary embolism, blood clotting blocking lung circulation, attending doctors told the AP. But differing expert opinion followed, regarding a football link or none, as in hundreds of player deaths since the 1960s. The Kansas City Star reported that an autopsy by hospital pathologist Dr. O. Dale Smith involved “interesting speculation” to blame a rare form of heatstroke unrelated to football. Smith noted further research was needed, but he concluded “that the very strength of young Hill, especially his powerful musculature, contributed to his vulnerability to a temperature crisis in his body” during anesthetic and surgical stress, The Star reported. Football-funded analysts like Eastwood, however, apparently classified the Hill case as game-related of “indirect” cause.

1969: Frank Buncom Jr., 29, a 6-2, 235-pound linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, was a three-time all-star in the AFL and looking forward to the new season. Then blood clotting lodged in his lung arteries early on Sept. 14, Sunday morning of the opening game. Buncom’s gasping rousted his roommate in the team hotel, but the athlete died before medical help arrived. The linebacker and his wife Sarah had an infant son, Frank Buncom III, and an education trust fund for the child was established by players of the Bengals and the San Diego Chargers, Buncom’s former team. Decades later, 2015, the late AFL star’s grandson, Frank Buncom IV, committed to play college football for Stanford University. Sources:, Associated Press and United Press International.

1971: Charles “Chuck” Hughes, 28, a 6-foot, 180-pound wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, died of a coronary attack suffered during a game against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 24. [See account above.]

1979: James Victor “J.V.” Cain, 28, a 6-4, 225-pound tight end for the St. Louis Cardinals, was “a perfect physical specimen” who passed a preseason physical “in great shape,” reported The Associated Press. But Cain collapsed in humid 85-degree weather the night of July 22, after running a pass pattern without contact at training camp in St. Charles, Mo. Team doctors and trainers administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Cain, working without a defibrillator machine. “When [75 players] saw that CPR was started, it just got dead silent,” said Cards spokesman Steve Curran. “At one point, Coach [Bud] Wilkinson had the players on a line in prayer. They kept yelling, ‘Come on, J.V., come on, J.V.’ There were tears. It was very emotional.” Cain, a 6-year team veteran, was pronounced dead at a local hospital 90 minutes after he was stricken on the football field. A pathologist concluded the cause of death was cardiac arrest from an “extremely rare congenital condition” known as myocardial fibrosis. Sources: Associated Press, United Press International and Washington Post.

*The death of J.V. Cain was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded academics. His case is not included in 1979 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.

1980: Melvin Johnson Jr., 25, a 6-foot, 175-pound running back for the Kansas City Chiefs was an undrafted prospect the team had a penchant for signing and developing, like Mack Lee Hill before. Unfortunately, Johnson ended up mindful of the Hill tragedy [above] when he too died during routine surgery in Kansas City, in his case for a wrist fracture of football. Surgeon Dr. James Whitaker said cardiac arrest caused the death. Johnson had ranked among the nation’s fastest teenagers during high school in Louisiana, and he played college football for the University of Colorado. The Chiefs signed Johnson as a free agent in 1979 but he spent the season on the disabled list, never appearing in an NFL game. “We had very high hopes for him,” said Chiefs spokesman Doug Kelly. “He had good ability and a great deal of speed. We thought his chances of making the team [in 1980] were very good.” The deceased athlete’s younger brother, Troy Johnson, later played four seasons in the NFL. Sources: United Press International, Salina Journal, Thibodaux Daily Comet and

*The death of Melvin Johnson Jr. was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded academics. His case is not included in 1980 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.

1983: Larry Gordon, 28, a 6-4, 230-pound linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, was a highly regarded player who helped lead his teams to playoff victories and a Super Bowl, flashing brilliance throughout his seven-year career. Dolphins coach Don Shula still expected greatness from Gordon, his former No.1 draft pick from Arizona State gifted in athleticism and physique. On June 25, amid desert heat at 6 p.m., Gordon was jogging in preparation for upcoming NFL training camp when he collapsed near a relative’s home in Arizona, said police. Gordon, a Florida resident married with two children, was pronounced dead at a Phoenix hospital. An autopsy by medical examiner Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig identified the cause as congenital heart disease, idiopathic cardiomyopathy. “His coronary artery was in perfect shape. He didn’t have a heart attack,” said Bob Edwards, of the Maricopa County morgue. Toxicology exams found no drugs in the body; specifically, no cocaine was detected in a gall bladder sample. In 1986, as cocaine toxicity killed athletes in the NCAA and NFL, the question arose publicly regarding Gordon’s case. His brother Ira Gordon, a Phoenix drug counselor and former NFL player, told The Arizona Republic that evidence of cocaine use was found in a bedroom that Larry occupied at time of his death. Ira said he had personally requested the autopsy and toxicology assays that tested negative for narcotics. Sources: Arizona Republic, Miami Herald, Associated Press and United Press International.

*The death of Larry Gordon was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded reviewers. His case is not included in 1983 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.

1998: Leon Bender, 22, a 6-5, 300-pound draft pick at defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders, suffered fatal mishap at his agent’s home in Atlanta on May 30, following team mini camp. An epileptic, Bender died on a bathroom floor at some point before a scheduled workout. Autopsy results were inconclusive while toxicology results were negative for drugs and alcohol. Bender had talked on the phone to family members until 3 a.m., including his wife Liza, before being discovered dead about noon. Bender’s epilepsy wasn’t lethal in itself, and a single episode couldn’t be detected postmortem—neither could some forms of cardiac malfunction. What was known, a grand mal epileptic had no body control in a seizure, which Bender’s family members believed he experienced in the bathroom then suffocated for his landing position and obstructions. Leon and Liza Bender had a 2-year-old daughter at time of his passing. Source: Associated Press.

*The death of Leon Bender was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded academics. His case is not included in 1998 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.

2001: Korey Stringer, 27, a 6-4, 335-pound offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, reported to training camp as an All-Pro from the previous season. Oppressive heat enveloped most of the country as the Vikings opened workouts on Aug. 1 in Mankato, Minn. Several players struggled through drills and Stringer faltered and vomited, having to sit out. Next morning, Stringer was back on the field in full pads until collapsing amid 98-degree temperature and stifling humidity. By the time Stringer was transported to a hospital he was comatose with a body temperature of 108 degrees. Organs began failing, including both kidneys, until finally the heartbeat stopped, unable to be revived. Stringer was pronounced dead about 2 a.m. on Aug. 3, and public debate erupted. Vikings coaches met with media while Stringer’s teammates were kept off-limits for interviews. Head coach Dennis Green suggested the players preferred public silence. “It’s a private thing and they deserve their privacy,” said Green, who snapped at a reporter for questioning whether team medical personnel should be available. “We chose not to,” Green replied. “I’m not going to discuss that… so you can step back.” Offensive line coach Mike Tice said a newspaper photo spurred the tragedy, not decisions of the coaching staff, by shaming Stringer when camp opened, picturing him doubled over at the sideline, looking weak. So the prideful Stringer came back the next day “out to prove to people that he was a leader and that he wasn’t going to let anybody embarrass him like that,” Tice said. “It’s very unfortunate that he worked himself to death.” Elsewhere, football’s anointed death researcher, exercise professor Fred Mueller at UNC, withheld blame of Vikings staff when pressed on CNN by news anchor Carol Lin. “I just heard about this… I don’t really know any of the details,” said Mueller, demurring as the so-called expert who’d agreed to discuss the case on international television. Despite heavy evidence of heatstroke and negligence on part of the football system, “Dr. Mueller”—funded by football organs, with his PhD in education—speculated about the individual, Stringer, saying “there’s a possibility it could be attributed to some other health problems.” But Mueller would have to include this highly publicized death in his next “study” from Chapel Hill. Postmortem investigation including autopsy left no question that heatstroke killed Stringer, driven by lack of policy and prevention on part of the Vikings and NFL. Heat illness plagued every football level, contributing to deaths of an arena player, college player and a high-school player the same week as Stringer, and critics assailed the sport. Football officials had promised since 1960 to eliminate heat illness that experts declared was completely preventable—but practices and games had only come to start earlier in hot weather, over decades, and necessary measures weren’t standardized such as sideline ice bath in a kiddie pool. In August 2011, Kelci Stringer settled her final lawsuit against parties found culpable of her husband’s death, including the NFL and helmet maker Riddell. That same summer at least seven high-school football players and one coach collapsed and died from July 22nd to September 1st.  Lawsuits followed, targeting schools and personnel for wrongful death of football heatstroke—a decade after Korey Stringer in the NFL. Sources: St. Paul Pioneer Press, New York Post, Associated Press, CNN, CBS News,, Carlisle Sentinel, Reading Eagle, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, WSVN-TV, Miami Herald, Florence Morning News,, KDAF-TV, WTEV-TV, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB-TV, WXIA-TV, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, KLRT-TV, KRIV-TV, ABC News and Dallas Morning News.

2005: Thomas Herrion, 23, a 6-3, 315-pound offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, collapsed and died on Aug. 20 following a night exhibition game amid cool weather at Denver. An autopsy determined ischemic heart disease caused the death, blockage of a coronary artery. Greg Aiello, NFL spokesman, said Herrion “may be a case of an unfortunate hereditary condition that is not easily detected, even by the regular and thorough cardiac screening used by NFL clubs.” Herrion was clinically obese by criteria of the Body Mass Index, like a horde of NFL athletes, and controversy flared again over his death. So league officials changed their story regarding the plethora of 300-pound players, upwards of 500 behemoths in training camps every year, compared to less than 10 on record prior to 1970.  Earlier in 2005, year of PED hearings in Washington, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and cohorts told Congress the herd of mammoths wasn’t because of widespread doping, drugs like anabolic steroids and synthetic growth hormone, but for a modern wave of “fat” athletes. They told politicians like senators John McCain and Henry Waxman that drug abuse producing artificial specimens in the NFL was an epidemic of the past resolved by “steroid testing.” Pot-bellied players had taken over, said league and union officials. But their excuse flip-flopped months later, when media criticized obesity in the league that impacted health of Herrion, as chronicled in my book, Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football: “Now officials contended the NFL primarily featured muscled specimens with low body fat, so the league could argue BMI standards were an invalid application for its athletes. League medical liaison Dr. Elliot Pellman said the question of obesity among players still had to be answered by research. The league was commissioning its own studies. ‘There’s a 1-in-200,000 chance that an individual the age of Mr. Herrion will suffer a sudden death,’ Pellman said. ‘It happens, and no one knows why it happens.’ Pellman said obesity was a cultural problem, not football’s. Officials dismissed a study, based on the BMI, that concluded virtually all NFL players were overweight or obese. Bears nutritionist Julie Burns said NFL players were abnormally muscular humans. Taglibue said, ‘We have athletes that are fitter than most people in society, bigger than most people in society, and doing things that are different and more demanding than many people in society.’ PEDs, meanwhile, did not apply. ‘Huh?’ remarked Sam Donnellon, the Philadelphia Daily News, on mixed messages from the league.” Additional sources: Contra Costa Times, Associated Press, NBC News and CBS News.

2007: Damien Nash, 24, a 5-10, 220-pound running back for the Denver Broncos, knew well about cardiac disease. Nash’s close older brother, Darris, 25, had a heart transplant for dilated cardiomyopathy, discovered for his cardiac episode while playing basketball. So Damien, training during the offseason at home in St. Louis, hosted a local fundraiser for the Darris Nash Find A Heart Foundation. Damien played a portion of the charity basketball game featuring his NFL and college friends then greeted people in the crowd. Festivities moved to Nash’s home in Ferguson, Mo., but he suddenly collapsed. Damien Nash was pronounced dead at a hospital, and initial autopsy results were inconclusive. Family members suspected a cardiac problem, but cardiomyopathy like his brother’s normally wasn’t genetic, said doctors. Such damage likely would have emerged already in Damien, for his life and job in elite athletics. And he passed several heart screens by NFL teams that his agent trusted as thorough. Damien did not drink nor use drugs, said family members, and toxicology results came back negative. Cause of death remained “undetermined” in the final report, issued by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office. “It was a natural death of cardiac origin,” said a spokesman, “but we were unable to determine an exact origin.” Nash and his wife, Judy, had a 7-month-old daughter at time of his death. Sources: Associated Press, Denver Post and

*The death of Damien Nash was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded academics. His case is not included in 2007 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.

2010: Gaines Adams, 26, a 6-5, 258-pound defensive end for the Chicago Bears, was an athletic specimen who had been drafted No.1, fourth overall in his college class, by Tampa Bay. Traded to Chicago midway through the 2009 season with 13.5 career sacks, Adams wore the label of “bust” but kept potential intact, like a 4.55-second speed in the 40, with no serious injuries or apparent heath issues. But weeks following season’s end, on Sunday morning, Jan. 17, 2010, Adams collapsed at home in Greenwood, S.C., and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Autopsy found that cardiac arrest of an enlarged heart killed the athlete, who had no such family history. Relatives and friends were shocked. “I am honored to have been able to know [Gaines Adams] and to have been his teammate,” said Bucs center Jeff Faine. “A truly bright soul.” Sources: Sarasota Herald Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Associated Press and

*The death of Gaines Adams was either missed or deemed unrelated to football by game-funded academics. His case is not included in 2010 football fatality data posted without scientific vetting on a website from UNC-Chapel Hill.


Football’s on-field tragedies of Howard Glenn, in 1960 at Houston, and Chuck Hughes, 1971 at Detroit, framed the period’s dangerously inferior medical planning and response for players of all ages.

During the Vietnam War era, America’s sparse emergency-care system led to more football deaths than any other factor, according to my review of severe casualties appearing in news. I’ve collected thousands of fatality and survivor cases, including about 350 player deaths from the 1960s and about 275 from the 1970s.

The subsequent reduction of football fatalities isn’t measurable in close terms, much less absolute numbers, say independent experts. Undoubtedly, however, the trend is due primarily to society’s widespread establishment of EMT crews, modular ambulances, life flights, emergency rooms and trauma surgery.

Within the game, the NFL has improved its own medical management—but not to the point of effecting “safer football” like officials claim today.

“Anyone with two eyes on a Sunday afternoon [in season] can see that’s not so,” said Irv Muchnick, the investigative journalist and independent blogger with cunning for exposing dark underbellies of sport-entertainment conglomerates.

Muchnick thoroughly dissects football ugliness, amid contemporary crisis for the game over brain injuries. He focuses on ill-resourced outback levels below the NFL, particularly the public schools and municipal “youth” leagues with millions of juveniles colliding in helmets and pads. Many American kids play tackle football on public property before they enter first grade, while they cannot legally drive a car until age 16 nor buy cigarettes until an adult.

Change looms, as Irv Muchnick chronicles in his new book, Concussion Inc.: The End of Football As We Know It, published by ECW Press of Canada. In an email Q&A for ChaneysBlog, Muchnick addresses football problems and more, notably his current co-investigation, with independent journalist Tim Joyce, of sexual assault in U.S. Swimming:

Q1. Discuss your new book, the circumstances drawing you into the football issues by 2010.

Basically, it went like this: In late 2009 my book on the Chris Benoit murder-suicide came out. The book immediately got inserted into the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Connecticut between Democrat Richard Blumental and Republican Linda McMahon. Blumenthal is a liar who claimed military service “in Vietnam,” when in fact he had a cushy stateside Reserves stint during Vietnam. McMahon is the wife of Vince McMahon and the former CEO of WWE. She poured $50 million of their wealth from this publicly traded company into the failed race against Blumental, and $50 million more into another failed Senate race two years later, against Chris Murphy. Such sterling choices in our democracy!

Alerted by the fine early work on football by Alan Schwarz in The New York Times, and aware that I had a unique perspective on and reportorial resources for the concussion crisis story, I waded in, and by late 2010 I had “rebranded” my blog, naming it Concussion Inc. I answered only to a crazy boss: me.

Benoit had been the first CTE study announced in 2007 by Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute and Center for the Study of CTE in Boston. (The Benoit study was done by Bennet Omalu — now coming to the silver screen, but back then being written out of the story not just by the NFL but also by Schwarz, Nowinski, and Cantu, the Northeast Gold Dust Trio.) Chris Benoit’s father and now my good friend, Mike Benoit, had insisted throughout my research for Chris & Nancy that I was underplaying brain disease and overplaying drugs and other generic explanations for his family’s tragedy, and I came to see how right he was.

From there, all the connections flowed—principally Dr. Joe Maroon of UPMC … and WWE, and the NFL, and anti-aging huckerism, and the goofy hype for resveratrol supplements, and his proximity (at minimum) to the steroid/HGH abuse on the multiple-champion Steelers.

There was no major publisher market for the book I was writing, so like the late Red Smith, I undertook my “daily spelling lesson” at what I jokingly call LLP. The topics and the obsessions were spontaneous responses to the news of 2010-11-12. My main narrative interest was in exposing the interlocking ecosystem of problems and commercial “solutions.” I hope that readers come away convinced that safe tackling, better helmets, better mousetraps are the filtered cigarettes of the 21st century. I credit a little-known fellow native Missouri writer by the name of Chaney with a game-changing insight on how state “concussion awareness” laws are not just bullshit, but jiu-jitsu bullshit— magically creating new private profit centers from the public trough, principally our public high schools.

Along the way, I jousted a couple of times with Bob Costas, an acquaintance-friend from the St. Louis sports mafia. The book collects and reorganizes all this material the way books are supposed to do: to put the author over.

In all seriousness, there’s some stuff there that I’m very proud of. No other journalist has gone deep with the story of Dave Duerson’s role on NFL-NFLPA disability benefits board. No one else has called out the Congress of Neurological Surgeons for giving Roger Goodell a standing ovation before his lame speech at their convention. No one else documented how the Centers for Disease Control accepted unprecedented private funding from the NFL for the federal government’s “concussion education campaign,” or how the National Institutes of Health helped Maroon and his cronies develop their phony, for-profit ImPACT program to the tune of millions in research subsidies.

Q2. What is “public football”?

There is an answer, perhaps not as flip as it sounds, that all of football is truly “public” football—up through and including the NFL, a phony nonprofit that gets municipal subsidies for stadiums (plus other things). Since this situation will probably get worse before it gets better, as the industry has both the federal National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control in its pocket, I expect that within a few years the Super Bowl will be coordinated with the Presidents’ Weekend national holiday: the regular season and playoff schedule will have expanded yet again, so that fans don’t have to go to work the Monday after the game.

The thrust of what we mean by public football, however, is taxpayer-funded programs at the professional sport’s feeder levels. I say go ahead and allow all the fools who want their sons to play club and private school football. But let’s get our public school systems out of it. “Death of football” ideology is wishful thinking, but with new levels of “awareness” of traumatic brain injury—and with the failed prevention costs and litigation flowing from that awareness—the goal of stamping out public football in this targeted way is achievable.

Q3. Furthering this point, you’ve been characterized as bent on banning football. But isn’t that a simplistic view of, or strategic response to, your argument in the debate?

I’m not out to ban football. Prohibition of just about anything is too blunt an instrument. It’s not fair to the zealous and it doesn’t work.

But adult statecraft involves more than simply rambling about personal choice. I find it amusing that many of those who accuse people with my viewpoint of “having an agenda” are blind to their own as they grasp at commercial rearguard initiatives, such as helmet technology, more “professional” coaching of kids, or tail-chasing Zackery Lystedt state laws. We don’t ban boxing, but it has a somewhat saner footprint on our culture than it used to have. We don’t ban tobacco, but cigarette marketing is curtailed and kids are protected.

Last rejoinder to this straw-man argument: I refuse to play the game of having to prove my bona fides before I can join the football debate. Put your guns down and let’s talk about football as an activity, not as a religion. I’m not an expert—thank God. But it’s better to have common sense than no sense at all.

Q4. Compare the “blogosphere” with traditional daily news media, when it comes to reporting and analyzing public issues in sport.

Let’s stipulate that new media and mainstream media types are simply blaring their bugles from different formations of the same march against human folly. I know that, minus the filter of an editor, I’ve shown my own ass plenty of times. It doesn’t matter if the public learns the truth about football from me or The New York Times or Professor Hieronymus Buttocks. And if Schwarz hadn’t started doing what he was doing in 2007, you and I are not even having this conversation today.

But did Schwarz and The Times take anything close to the number of shots downfield they should have? Give me a break. When Schwarz wrote about his buddy Chris Nowinski getting a $1 million NFL grant, the story all but giggled like a schoolgirl. After Bennet Omalu fell out with Bob Cantu, Schwarz basically blacked the former out of coverage, while quoting the latter in the venture-capital hype for Xenith, a space-age helmet company. In his account of the fed investigation of Riddell’s promotional claims, Schwarz treated the lying Joe Maroon with kid gloves. Schwarz’s takeout disclaimer on the death of the Cincinnati Bengals’ Chris Henry was cringeworthy; The Times quoted NFL’s latest consulting face, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, to the effect that sometimes bad behavior is just bad behavior, and Schwarz reminded readers that nice white quarterbacks, like Steve Young and Troy Aikman, who also had sustained concussions, were not “on C block.”

Eventually Schwarz became associate producer of a documentary funded by the billionaire developer of the King-Devick Concussion Test.

I don’t want anyone to think I’m picking on Schwarz. Jim Litke, the national sports columnist for the Associated Press, has done some great stuff on how Roger Goodell co-opted Mommy sports bloggers with cornball clinics on “safe tackling.” But AP analysis of how state Lystedt Laws “lack bite”—thank you very much—are just playing “gotcha.” Nowhere do I see a single passage about how these laws were designed, in the first place, to offload football industry liability onto the public sector.

In an age of rampant advertorial, you’re daft if you don’t acknowledge that bloggers, social media, what have you, can be a useful check and balance.

Q5. Discuss your co-investigative series with Tim Joyce on sexual predator coaches and athletes in U.S. Swimming.

Swimming is the right next book in several respects. Because it’s a niche sport, Tim and I have more of the field to ourselves (though outlets like ESPN, of course, which for the most part ignore the story, do manage to “big foot” us from time to time).

Just as a large segment of our boy population is getting systematically brained in football, disturbing numbers of girls are getting raped at all rungs of our Olympic sports system. As with concussions, we are less interested in being designated cops than in following the money. The profiteers of so-called amateur sports and the nonprofits of “Child Abuse Inc.” play defense much faster than the public realizes or perhaps cares.

But to get down to business: 400,000 kids, 12,000 coaches — you don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis in order to extrapolate from the scores of known and under-reported cases; to factor in the forms of denial and cover-up; and to conclude that this is, bar none, the largest-scale molestation narrative outside the Catholic Church. It makes Penn State look like a garden party by comparison.

The hardest part to explain is that every institution has its own sick dynamic. In swimming, it’s not willy-nilly opportunistic pedophiles. Rather, there is a unique power imbalance. Most often it’s a 30-something male coach and an early or mid-teens star girl swimmer, who is emerging from the physical and emotional changes of puberty, and is desperate for adult approval, college scholarship, Olympic glory. Parents are asleep at the switch; they are totally invested until something bad happens to their own kid.

The rippling societal costs, in terms of life-long cases of eating disorders, substance abuse, and broken relationships and families, are incalculable. Yet all we see above ground is NBC’s feel-good patriotic package for a fortnight every leap year summer.

With the Rio Games upcoming, Tim and I are going deep with the story of Brazilian national Alex Pussieldi, who is the Rowdy Gaines of swimming coverage on the country’s SporTV network. Two years ago Pussieldi fled South Florida, where he had gotten his start in American coaching under the recently deceased Hall of Famer Jack Nelson, whom Diana Nyad credibly accuses of molesting her for years at the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. In the course of reviewing thousands upon thousands of pages of discovery documents USA Swimming tried to suppress, Tim and I told the full story of the cover-up by that organization as well as local police, city government, and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, of Pussieldi’s 2004 physical assault and Peeping Tom practices against a Mexican boy who was swimming and being boarded by him. Pussieldi was a major creep and international human trafficker, and his rise to prominence was aided by former USA Swimming president and conflicts-crazed consultant Dale Neuburger, who steers contracts with foreign national teams to coaches like Michael Phelps’ guy, Bob Bowman. Neuburger also was an architect of swimming’s scam offshore insurance subsidiary, the “United States Sports Insurance Co.” in Barbados. ESPN’s Outside the Lines still won’t tell its viewers, but all this is under investigation by the FBI and the Government Accountability Office.

Q6. The U.S. Swimming scandal is monumental with much yet to uncover and untold victims in need of light. So it doesn’t sound like you’re returning to football analysis anytime soon, not in your former diligence that produced the new book.

That is correct. The football follies are now out there for all to see and interpret. Geez, our friend Bennet Omalu is about to be portrayed by Will Smith. I’ll continue to comment on a connection or two as we move along–and of course I reserve the right to change my mind–but the focus of my energy is swimming and Rio ’16.

Q7. For what may be called the “genuine iconoclast” writer in sports issues, it appears there’s often little competition on reporting a problem, however terrible, because few media are willing to probe and pay the price to do so. Correct?

Yeah, no doubt I’m a little bit nuts, and I don’t have the excuse of having played football. Maybe I should have gone straight and gotten a real job, but it’s way too late for that. My name is on a Supreme Court case involving writers’ rights in new media, and Concussion Inc. is my third book, and I’m proud of those things. They’re not rewarding financially, but they’re rewarding.

Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. Chaney’s 2001 MA thesis at the University of Central Missouri involved electronic search for thousands of news reports on performance-enhancing drugs in American football, a project inspired by his experience of injecting testosterone as a college player in 1982 (Southeast Missouri State). Email him at For more information, including about Chaney’s 2009 book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at

Football Officials Alerted to Brain Damage, Concussion—80 Years Ago

Contemporary experts of law and medicine in sport discuss an historical news period, 1928 to 1933, when football officials learned of brain risk to players, understood research questions—and even devised a sideline concussion test

By Matt Chaney

Posted Saturday, January 31, 2015

Copyright ©2015 by Matthew L. Chaney

During football season in 1928, late October, American sports pages headlined ominous findings of fledgling research on brain damage in boxers:

“’Punch Drunk’ May Apply in Other Sports”

“American Medical Association Publishes Article Raising Question”

The accompanying news report quoted Dr. Harrison S. Martland, of Orange, N.J., whose newly published case studies of deceased boxers revealed a “punch drunk” syndrome to become known as “chronic traumatic brain injury.”

Utilizing microscopic pathology, Martland had identified diseased brain cells of boxers “due to single or repeated blows on the head or jaw,” he said, warning that likely all athletes of contact sport were at risk.

Research avenues were obvious and urgent for football leaders and officials of more activities in America.

“The condition can no longer be ignored by the medical profession or the public,” Martland said, long ago—and wowing experts today.

“Dr. Martland’s observation was spot-on,” said Bob Fitzsimmons, legendary sports attorney, during an email exchange this week. “Unfortunately it took over 80 years to follow his advice, even though the problem was right before us all the time.”

“If only the stakeholders in football would have heeded Dr. Martland’s warnings in 1928…,” said Paul D. Anderson, sports-injury lawyer and professor, “the science of football-related brain injuries would have been exponentially advanced and numerous lives could have been protected.”

“Instead, the stakeholders and guardians of football were willfully blind.”

Here is full text of the 1928 Associated Press report published in Sports sections nationwide:

NEW YORK, Oct. 20 (AP)–The “punch drunk” condition of boxers has stepped into the medical field for determination whether others than boxers get it.

The American Medical Association has issued in its Journal an appeal by Harrison S. Martland, M.D., of Newark, N.J., to find out the nature and extent of this state, which he says fight fans describe as “punch drunk, cuckoo, goofy, cutting paper dolls or slug nutty.”

The symptoms in slight cases are a “very slight flopping of one foot or leg in walking, noticeable only at intervals, or a slight unsteadiness in gain or uncertainty in equilibrium.” In severe cases “there may develop a peculiar tilting of the head, a marked dragging of one or both legs, a staggering, propulsive gait.” Finally, marked mental deterioration may set in.

“I am of the opinion that in punch drunk there is a very definite brain injury, due to single or repeated blows on the head or jaw. I realize that this theory, while alluring, is quite insusceptible of proof at the present time.”

Dr. Martland suggests that if punch drunk exists in the form he suspects [then] it afflicts others than boxers and that establishment of the facts is important to courts and labor compensation boards in handling head injury cases. He foresees disadvantages in the field which may be opened for “so-called expert testimony” and says:

“While most of the evidence supporting the existence of this condition is based at this time on the observations of fight fans, promoters and sporting writers, the fact that nearly one-half of the fighters who have stayed in the game long enough develop this condition, either in a mild form or a severe and progressive form, which often necessitates commitment to an asylum, warrants this report. The condition can no longer be ignored by the medical profession or the public.”

The Martland story is a “great” artifact, said Fitzsimmons, who represented family members of Mike Webster, the deceased, brain-damaged NFL lineman at center of landmark court action a decade ago. The Webster estate won $2 million in retroactive disability payments from the league and players union, setting legal precedent for claimants of brain injury from football.

Harrison S. Martland paved the evidential path. The pioneer sport neuro-pathologist, longtime medical examiner of Essex County, N.J., was also known for identifying disease states in workers of radium processing. Martland compiled boxing case studies until his death in 1954, and authorities of football like Fitzsimmons feel indebted.

“Much still needs to be done but I am encouraged by the numerous doctors and scientists who are now studying and researching CTE,” Fitzsimmons said. “Advances are being made and hopefully treatment is not far off.”

Two modern pathologists are prominent for their postmortem series on football players, beginning with former Pittsburgh ME Dr. Bennet Omalu, a friend and colleague of Fitzsimmons who’s now a county medical examiner in California and subject of a feature film in production.

Following Webster’s death at age 50 in 2002, Omalu delivered the groundbreaking micro-autopsies identifying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in brain tissue of the Steelers icon and more deceased NFL players.

At Boston University, Dr. Ann McKee has found brain disease in 78 of 82 NFL players analyzed postmortem, damage of impacts including hallmark tauopathy. “We have known about CTE since the 1920s, when it was first associated with boxing,” McKee said, speaking recently in Texas.

“CTE results in memory loss, mood swings, change of behavior, and sometimes suicide.”

Dr. Lester Mayers, a New York physiatrist and author of journal reviews, is versed in the literature lineage of brain trauma in athletes dating to boxing’s earliest. “Dr. Martland cautiously pointed out that evidence of [the boxing] affliction was anecdotal at that time,” Mayers stated this week in email.

“Since then, many studies of professional and amateur boxers utilizing a variety of [research] techniques have found that greater than 50 percent suffer substantial brain damage and disability. The significance of these findings is that the extent of brain damage correlated best with the number of non-concussive impacts experienced by the fighters over their careers.”

“There seems to be an obvious parallel with the current experience unfolding in football.”

Mayers knows the football maw close range, as former medical director for athletics at Pace University, where he treated casualties of all games. Mayers doesn’t see much if any wiggle room for football and its inherent violence, regarding improvement for so-called safety.

“Anyone who watches football games at any level from the sidelines, junior through professional, will observe the constant occurrence of head impacts intrinsic to the game—500 to 1,000 per season according to Helmet Impact Technology,” Mayers observed.

“I believe that when the extent of resulting brain injury and disability is better documented in future studies that football participation will decline substantially, placing the future of the game at risk.”

Some researchers, typically funded by football interests, say more studies are needed to draw conclusions about collision risk for the brain. They note longitudinal studies have yet to be performed on living players—without adding that football organizers have avoided exactly that research since Martland’s call 87 years ago.

Central New York clinical psychologist Dr. Don Brady, PhD, PsyD, NCSP, researches sport concussion and provides consultation for NFL retirees, their families, and other athletes. Brady has studied the literature of sport-related concussion for three decades, devouring Martland but taking his review deeper, back to 19th century research. Dr. Brady rebukes the notion that accumulating discovery isn’t documenting football danger.

Information such as the 1928 Martland news “serves to further thwart attempts by concussion revisionists and manufacturers of doubt to ignore, deny, minimize and sanitize the existence of adverse medical history accounts…,” Brady stated in email, “that pertain to brain injury or concussion in sports and other life aspects.”

“Concussion history literature of the 1800s and early 1900s is rich with documentation on the adverse effects of both sport and non-sport-related concussion.”

Attorney Paul Anderson concurred, discussing historical information in context of present-day lawsuits by thousands of former NFL players and families.

“Dr. Martland’s [1928] statement is another bullet in the plaintiffs’ chamber when they seek to prove the NFL knew or should have known about the long-term, devastating effects of repeated blows to the head,” Anderson, representing family of late college player Derek Sheely in an NCAA lawsuit, wrote for ChaneysBlog.

For more regarding what football organizers have known about brain trauma, and when, see below the annotated timeline of news articles from 1982 to 2001, first posted at ChaneysBlog in 2012.


Public fallout for Dr. Martland in 1928 emanated primarily from boxing circles.  “His brains are scrambled from taking them on the chin,” cracked a dim pugilist, unwittingly affirming Martland theory [and, no, the doctor wasn’t a boxer].

Martland won more support than opposition for his conclusions about chronic TBI in boxers. A powerful opinion leader in Martland’s camp was Dr. Morris Fishbein, widely known official of the AMA, for his four decades in spotlight as editor of Journal of the American Medical Association.

Fishbein endorsed the boxing research in this installment of his syndicated newspaper column, “Daily Health Talk”:

Punches in Prize Ring Often Injure Brain

By Dr. Morris Fishbein

Pugilists know the condition that results from a terrific pounding in the prize ring in which the recipient of the mauling suddenly finds himself unable to move his legs, dizzy, or as it is commonly expressed, “out on his feet.”

Dr. Harrison S. Martland recently read before the Pathologic society of New York a discussion of the condition called “punch drunk,” which the fighters themselves all characterize by the terms “cuckoo,” “goofy,” “cutting paper dolls,” or “slug nutty.”

He points out that the condition usually affects fighters of the slugging type who are usually poor boxers and who take considerable head punishment, seeking only to return a knockout blow.

It usually takes the fighter one or two hours to recover from a severe blow on the head or jaw. If he has been “punch drunk,” he may notice later a flopping of one foot or leg in walking, and sometimes mental confusion lasting several days.

Dr. Martland is convinced that the condition called “punch drunk” results from a definite brain injury due to a single or repeated blows on the head or jaw which cause multiple small hemorrhages in the deeper parts of the brain.

In the late stages, therefore, the disease resembles the condition known as shaking palsy or Parkinson’s disease.

He has presented microscopic studies of the brains of persons who have developed this condition, showing the pathologic changes which occurred in the brain, and which substantiate his point of view.

Furthermore, he presents the names of 23 fighters who have been “punch drunk,” and their present condition indicates the permanence of the physical changes.

The AMA and JAMA already stood opposed to boxing at outset of the Depression Era, and membership immediately adopted Martland studies for accruing argument.

AMA ethical policy then and now essentially outlines Hippocratic creed of Do no harm, or When in doubt, protect the patient. To recommend avoidance of pugilism, especially for children, amounted to simple rationale for America’s leading medical body.

But AMA and JAMA simultaneously supported dangerous football, curiously or hypocritically [see news timeline below for the dichotomy in recent decades].

Fishbein himself publicized perhaps the first sideline concussion test, apparently referencing a 1933 NCAA publication detailing the protocol, Medical Handbook for Schools and Colleges: Prevention and Care of Athletic Injuries.

Fishbein addressed traumatic brain injury in football and symptoms to watch for, reporting the following in newspapers:

Most serious of all [football] injuries are those affecting the brain and the skull. A concussion of the brain means that the brain tissue actually has been bruised, with possible small hemorrhages in the tissue.

The first sign of such injury is loss of memory for recent events. The least important sign is a slight dizziness. But coaches and trainers should not, however, be unimpressed when a player comes out of a sudden impact with another player merely slightly dizzy or dazed.

The first thing to do in any such accident is to put the player immediately at rest, to determine extent of the injury. When a player has had a head injury, he should be put into a reclining position, questioned as to the headache and dizziness and given the test as to his memory for recent events.

If he cannot remember the names of his opponents, which side is on the offensive, the score, the day of the week, or similar matters, it is not safe to permit him to play again. If, however, he merely is dizzy, he should be permitted to stand and move about, to determine whether he has lost his sense of balance.

Any sign of a loss of sense of balance is serious, and the player should be removed from the contest.

Fishbein was channeling the NCAA publication, undoubtedly.

Kansas City attorney Paul D. Anderson has studied the 1933 NCAA document. And he keeps seeing perfect fits of additional information, then and now, like the historic news items about Martland, the AMA, and brutal sports.

“The doctors [from 1928 to 1933] clearly identify a causal link between football-related head blows and punch-drunk syndrome,” Anderson surmised.


A 2007 episode of Friday Night Lights on NBC centered on a lawsuit against a high-school football coach, for failure to instill “proper tackling” in a player who ended up paralyzed by a helmet hit. This TV show was based on fact, not fiction.

Heads Up, football coaches and wives, because you’re legally liable for the theory of “head up” or headless hitting by players, the alleged “technique” and accompanying rules proven inapplicable and unenforceable since at least 1976.

Yes, coaches are legally responsible for ensuring that headless hitting is applied in tackle football, which is, lest anyone forgets, a forward-colliding frenzy that pits large, helmeted combatants to ram each other. No one can actually teach and instill Heads Up nonsense, of course, revived by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and league offspring USA Football.

Nevertheless, coaches of all levels are integral to the show of “proper technique.” The vast majority serve public lip service, promoting Heads Up for every gullible news reporter, of the legion.

Meanwhile, the unfortunate few coaches—and their families—become legal shields for King Football, as targets for lawsuits. Individual  homeowner’s insurance becomes exposed for paying potential settlement or damage award, among liabilities.

Since 1971, coaches, colleges, schools, youth leagues, local government and helmet makers have been sued over “head up” or “proper contact”—and with no backing of the prime purveyors like Goodell, who quickly acknowledge lacking scientific proof for Heads Up when pressed.

Lawsuit plaintiffs—from whom Goodell effectively insulates—are player casualties of football’s predictable severe injuries, calamities occurring much more frequently than reported by game-funded “studies” posted on a website from University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Contemporary plaintiffs include a former NAIA college player, Nathaniel Seth Irvin, whose lawsuit alleges he suffers concussion damage “as a result of bad coaching and improper helmet use” during the 1980s, reports The Chicago Tribune.

In California, the mother of a quadriplegic former Pop Warner player is suing coaches, their wives, and youth-league organizations. Crystal Dixon alleges in the court complaint that her son, Donnovan Hill, was paralyzed in Pop Warner football for “a negligent tackling technique he was taught and instructed to use by his coaches.” Hill was 13 when paralyzed during a game in 2011.

Defense attorneys replied: “To encourage aggressive play in football is simply to encourage participants to play the game as it should be played.”

Such lawsuits could also target football players and referees.

I played and coached in college football 30 years ago, when the so-called anti-butting rule of the NCAA and national high schools—supposedly banning the striking of a helmet facemask for initial contact—was already a joke.

And we coaches at Southeast Missouri State didn’t have to specifically instruct players to ram. We only lined them up to play the dumb game, which inherently dictates head-on collision between opposing players, clashing from opposite directions. This is a very simple matter of modern football covering law–ramming–because of natural physics and shatterproof head armor.

The idea of chest-bumping and “shoulder leverage” in football with modern helmets isn’t only impossible. It is quackery for the public presentation today. And every football official above low-informed knows it, especially coaches who played.

Yet cultural authorities like the American Medical Association have espoused “head up” versions first devised by a coaches association in 1961, then pumped by AMA press releases in 1967—despite medical literature’s lacking a peer-reviewed article on the concept, still, much less one credible researcher to sign his or her name.

No Heads Up theorist claims responsibility yet, not academically, scientifically or legally.

That should say everything for anyone.


This year’s Super Bowl City serves as ‘Cautionary Tale’ for subsidizing sports and more questionable entertainment ventures.

Read past the hype or rhetoric about being an “NFL City,” and Glendale, Ariz., is almost bankrupt for building stadiums and hosting events like the Super Bowl. And monetary shocks spread further, affecting greater Phoenix and taxpayers across the state.

“To fiscal conservatives, Glendale serves as a cautionary tale for suburban cities across the United States that want to throw public money at professional sports projects,” note Associated Press writers Josh Hoffner and Jaques Billeaud, for this week’s must-read analysis.

“Overall, it’s a bad move for cities,” said Kurt Altman, attorney for the Goldwater Institute. “As much as they say it’s going to make the city a destination, it just doesn’t.”

A mathematical reality confronts any region for public giveaways to the NFL and other sports like the NHL (the garage league utterly underwritten by American taxpayers):

There can be no public payoff unless a sport franchise imports new consumers and industry from out of state. But that never happens.

The glittering civic toys of subsidized stadiums and entertainment districts merely steal in-state customers from local businesses, those paying full taxation and operating without government aid.

Even a region’s temporary injection of Super Bowl fans, corporate sponsors and major media produces negligible return for public coffers—or just more red ink.

In Glendale, the tax-paying citizenry will lose millions this week over the Super Bowl, says Jerry Weiers, the mayor tasked with sorting out a sports mess left by predecessors in city government.

The municipality is dropping “huge amounts of money on overtime and police and public safety costs associated with hosting the Super Bowl but getting very little in return,” report Hoffner and Billeaud.

Elsewhere, Missouri, does Gov. Jay Nixon get it about public subsidy for the NFL?

Jay Nixon proposes dropping a half-billion dollars in state resources on yet another football stadium in St. Louis—only 20 years after taxpayers opened a new dome for the Rams, a project still carrying millions in debt.

Does the Missouri governor need help, or logic, to ascertain necessary and priority need for appropriating public assets?

Supplement: News Timeline on Brain Trauma in Boxing, The NFL and NCAA

Articles from 1982 to 2001

By Matt Chaney, 2012

1982, Dec. 4:  “Dangerous Games That People Play,” by Ira Berkow, New York Times. News commentary discusses risk and injury of hazardous sports and activities in the United States, citing a report of the American Medical Association [AMA]. Berkow notes, with boxing under renewed threat of elimination in America, that brain injuries are well-known in football too, comparing the gridiron’s “almost casual list of the maimed… those [players] suffering the routine concussions, neck injuries and assorted broken segments of the anatomy.” Berkow writes: “There are more deaths occurring in college football and in motorcycle racing and in sky-sailing than in boxing. Relatively few [authorities], it seems, have vigorously propounded abolishing any other sport besides boxing since 1905…”

1983, Jan. 14:  “Physicians’ Journal Calls For a Ban on Boxing,” by John Noble Wilford, New York Times. News analysis discusses JAMA editorials urging ban of boxing in America, CAT-scan studies of living boxers revealing “brain damage,” and response of boxing officials, including their proposals to reduce risks. “Editorials in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association urged the banning of boxing in light of new evidence suggesting that chronic brain damage was prevalent among fighters,” Wilford writes. In Britain, a study of living boxers, professional and amateur, determines chronic brain damage is “most predictable” for a career in the ring.

1983, Feb. 15:  “The Ring Commission Hearings,” by Jim Lehrer, Monica Hoose, and Peggy Robinson. MacNeil/Lehrer Report [transcript]. PBS Television show addresses congressional hearings on boxing in Washington, with replays of day’s lawmaker questions and witness testimonies on Capitol Hill. Discussion includes boxing deaths and more notorious beatings of the 1970s-80s, arguments on potential ban or government regulation of a continued sport, so-called safer boxing conducted as “a science,” and an AMA doctor’s pointing to tackle football in America for producing severe head injuries as well. “I think a similar kind of injury occurs in any contact sport,” says Dr. Russell H. Patterson, Jr., neurosurgeon and AMA official. “Football is a good example, and we’ve seen some serious head in juries in football. … The blow is the same whether it’s in boxing or in football. It’s just in boxing it’s small, repetitive blows but maybe spread over many years and almost daily in its occurrence.” Robert Lee, U.S. Boxing Commission president, says, “The past year, 1982, has been filled with controversy with all too many people calling for a ban on boxing. Yet how many of these same people call for a ban on high-injury sports such as skiing, football, hang-gliding, auto racing, scuba diving or mountain climbing?”

1983, June 12:  “Boxing and The Brain,” by David Noonan, New York Times. News analysis discusses the following: boxing hearings and debate; medical literature since 1928 and physiology of brain injury; child fighters such as a 13-year-old who died of brain injury; concepts of safer boxing like “body punching”; noticeable speech difficulties of boxing great Muhammad Ali, age 41; and Dr. Ira R. Casson, a Long Island neurologist conducting a study series on boxers who would later work for the NFL. The known permanent brain damage of boxing includes “a clinically diagnosed condition called dementia pugilistica, also knows as chronic encephalopathy of boxers and best known as punch-drunk syndrome,” Noonan writes. “As the information about chronic encephalopathy in boxers has accumulated over the years, several distinct clinical symptoms and their apparent pathological causes have been identified.” Casson—who someday would lead NFL studies on brain injury—views radiological imaging of Ali’s brain, for Sports Illustrated, and says, “That’s the kind of CAT scan that I’ve seen in a number of former and long-term boxers.”

1983, June 20:  “Doctors Debate What To Do About ‘The Sweet Science,’ ” by Brenda C. Coleman, The Associated Press. News report discusses AMA proposal to eliminate publicly funded boxing, convention debate over the proposal, a new study that finds repeated blows causes brain damage in boxers, and similar research on college football players. “Any sport whose objective is to injure another human being is an abomination,” says internist Dr. William F. Dowda. “There’s absolutely no moral justification for a sport that condones a brain concussion.” Differing viewpoints were heard on convention floor, including from Dr. Russell H. Patterson, Jr., AMA official and chairman of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons [AAN], who says research shows brain damage is “not a problem” among amateur boxers. “Patterson also pointed to a study of 11 Eastern colleges that showed the incidence of accumulated head injury in football was at least as high as in boxing,” Coleman reports.

1983, June 23:  “AMA Delegates: Ban Amateur Boxing,” no byline, Washington Post. News report discusses debate over the formal AMA call to eliminate boxing in municipal leagues, schools, colleges and more government entities such as the military, along with establishing federal regulation of professional boxing. “The AMA’s action comes at a time of increased interest in boxing regulation following the death last November of South Korean fighter Duk Koo Kim of head injuries…,” The Post reports. “I think their [AMA delegates’] position is unreasonable,” says Sig Rogich, chairman of the Nevada State Boxing Commission. “I think if they’re going to categorize risk factors in boxing as a professional sport, then they should use the same philosophy with other sports.”

1984, May 7:  “Concussion Routine in Other Sports; Boxing Safety Praised,” by James Christie, Toronto Globe and Mail. Commentary discusses the following: growing outrage over boxing, led by doctors who want downsizing or bans in America, Canada and Britain; Canadian measures for “reasonably safe” boxing, including sidelining knocked-out fighters for 30 to 60 days; and need for concussion protocol in other sports, particularly tackle football. “This is one of the biggest problems we’ve had at the university level,” says Dr. Bruce Stewart, neurologist and medical director of the Ontario Athletics Commission. “People get knocked out routinely in football, get revived and could be back in for the next series of plays. What this does is demonstrate to me that in boxing we’re being properly cautious about the welfare of our athletes.”

1986, Nov. 7:  “Johns Hopkins Begins Boxing Study,” no byline, The Associated Press. News report discusses pending research, a four-year study of amateur boxers and football players in select cities, for assessing brain damage among control groups and evaluating neuropsychological [NP] testing for possible method of early detection. “A 14-member research team will travel to three or four cities in the South, Southwest and Eastern seaboard to locate boxers, football players and youths in the same age group as the athletes who do not play contact sports and can serve as controls in the study,” The AP reports. “Col. Don Hull, the president of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation, said information gathered from the study will be important to all amateur sports.” Dr. Walter Stewart, epidemiologist at The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, says, “We are going to collect data and let the chips fall where they may.”

1986, Nov. 10:  “The Agony Must End,” by Paul Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated. News analysis discusses NFL injuries that “continue at an unacceptable rate,” including “fractures, concussions and bruises that play havoc with America’s No. 1 sport.” While some football-funded researchers claim a safer tackle game at hand, designed to reduce head and spinal injuries in particular, the armored, high-speed violence of pro football—collisions administered and absorbed, impacts head to toe, and other physical stresses that discombobulate—is unprecedented danger for the SI writer Zimmerman, a former college player and game historian, and Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula. “Some of the collisions I’ve seen are really severe,” Shula says. “I’ve been happy for quite a while to be on the sidelines.” Zimmerman has interviewed numerous muscle dopers in the NFL and NCAA, and blames anabolic steroids and other powerful prescription drugs, like pain-killing shots and pills, for bloodshed in the modern game. “The result is higher-speed collisions by larger people, a ferocity of hitting never before seen in football or any other sport,” Zimmerman writes.

1987, Feb. 26:  “Boxing Doctor Says Peril Exaggerated; Other Sports Said Riskier as Brain Study Launched,” by Al Sokol, Toronto Star. News analysis discusses the following: boxing controversy as medical associations recommend  downsizing or banning the sport; measures for less risky or safer amateur boxing; danger of tackle football, and a Johns Hopkins longitudinal study on young boxers that includes American football players as a control group. “The stand against boxing taken by both the AMA and the Canadian Medical Association comes partly from the intuitive sense that getting hit in the head by a punch is not healthy and partly from a growing body of scientific evidence,” Sokol writes. Dr. George Ginter, a Kentucky anesthesiologist and pro boxer, says, “I totally disagree with the American Medical Association’s stand regarding the neurological damage resulting from boxing. College and pro football rank higher than boxing in terms of causing long-term disabilities.” But Boston neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu supported the AMA perspective, as vocal opponent of boxing and staunch football advocate himself, promoting ideas and rhetoric of “safer” tackle football in America—and destined to someday lead an NFL-funded research team verifying brain damage in deceased football players, teens and older. Commenting on boxing in 1987, Cantu dismisses touted measures of “safer” pugilism. “A doctor at ringside is like a priest at a hanging,” Cantu says. “Neither improves the safety of the event.”

1989, March 9:  “Boxing Causing Dozens of Military Hospitalizations Yearly, Study Finds,” by Brenda C. Coleman, The Associated Press. News report discusses debate over injuries in Army boxing and research, which finds head injuries responsible for 68 percent of hospitalizations in the military sport. “Evidence that boxing produces irreversible brain damage is now as indisputable as the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer,” the researchers state. Navy boxing coach Emerson Smith disagrees, as chairman of a safety committee overseeing amateur fighting. “Since they have mandated gloves and headgear that we did research on for all boxing programs in the United States, the injury statistics are far, far less than probably all your contact sports,” Smith said. “In football, you have the kids that are paralyzed, the kids that die. I don’t believe there’s any high school or college… where you have contact sports where you’ll eliminate all serious injury.”

1989, March 10:  “Boxing Safety Studies Disagree,” by Steve Woodward, USA Today. News report discusses conflicting outcomes in studies on brain risks of young boxers, with results of research commissioned by the U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation portraying the sport in “safer terms” than the Johns Hopkins study, published by JAMA. Boxing advocates questioned the number of brain injuries cited in the JAMA article, suggesting it too high and wondering if many study subjects were unfit to box in the first place. Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Walter Stewart responds thusly: “Clearly I would say that some people should not be boxing, just as some should not be playing football.”

1990, May 22:  “Head-High Tackles: How Long Can Footy Have Them?” no byline, London Herald. News analysis discusses Britain’s boxing controversy and increasing concern for brain injuries across contact sports, particularly rugby or Australian Rules football, where some clubs already employed “baseline” NP testing. “Boxing people, when confronted with the claim that their sport is unreasonably dangerous, inevitably point the finger straight at [rugby] football as a sport more likely to give an athlete brain damage,” The Herald states. Rugby officials rebuke the allegations, noting their safety measures and declaring relative few concussions occur. An anonymous neurosurgeon, identified as a former rugby player, says high hits were the single threat and could be outlawed by new rules. “The real problem in Australian Rules is not the normal game; it’s the excessive violence and shirtfronts. As long as everyone does things sensibly and the king-hits are kept out of football, the risks are minor.”

1991, Jan. 19:  “Jabs Cause The Brain Damage,” no byline, South Australian Advertiser. Aussie news commentary discusses the following: boxing as gladiatorial sport in western civilization, violence as public spectacle or popular culture; apparent Parkinson’s symptoms in Muhammad Ali; crystallizing medical consensus that repetitive, sub-concussive blows cause long-term cognitive impairment; and injury comparisons, boxing and other activities such as American football. “The controversy over boxing is fueled more by emotional and moral questions than by any overwhelming death toll,” the Advertiser piece opines. “Even though more than 300 professional boxers have died in the past 20 years, a recent American survey put its fatality rate at .13 boxers per 1,000 participants—compared with .3 for college football [players], 1.1 for scuba divers, 5.1 for mountaineers, 5.6 for hang gliders, 12.3 for sky divers, and 12.6 for horse racing [jockeys]. The recorded [boxing] injury rate also is low. In the United States a two-year study of 6,000 amateur boxing bouts revealed an injury rate of 1.43 percent, compared to a rate of 4.75 percent for professional boxing and 46 percent for high school football, a figure which would probably translate quite comfortably to Australian Rules or rugby in Australia.”

1992, December 7:  “Toon Out,” by Albert Kim, Sports Illustrated. News report discusses sudden retirement of NFL receiver Al Toon and his “postconcussion syndrome,” other cases of severe brain injuries in pro football, and ever-increasing awareness within the sport of potential long-term dysfunction for casualties. “Although there is no evidence to show that concussions [in football] can lead to permanent brain damage, most medical experts believes that repeated blows to the head can have dire consequences,” Kim reports. Richard Weiss, team doctor for the Buffalo Bills, says, “Think about boxing. Suffering a large number of concussions over a period of years more than likely leaves some permanent residue.” The “normally articulate and quick-witted” Toon, as Kim describes, is subdued, groggy and suffering memory loss a few weeks following his ninth diagnosed concussion in eight NFL seasons. “There are some inherent dangers in playing football…,” Toon says. “But when you get something like this [concussion syndrome], you’ve got to take it more seriously. You’ve got to think past just, Can I play on Sunday?”

1994, Jan. 28:  “Neurologist Discusses Concussions on The Gridiron,” by Noah Adams, All Things Considered[transcript]. National Public Radio show discusses growing attention to concussions football as Super Bowl nears, including public speculation of long-term brain damage to players, with interview of Dr. Peter Tsairis, team neurologist for the New York Giants. “Are there retired players who… have permanent damage because they had too many concussions?” Adam poses to Tsairis, concluding the show. “I don’t know how many of these players go on to develop dementia,” replies the Giants doctor, “which is a term that we use where there’s permanent structural change on a molecular level to the—to the brain that they cannot remember certain things, when they lose their memory. And you see this a lot in boxers who’ve gone on after their years in boxing and developed dementia problems. We don’t have that much experience with football players who’ve had multiple concussions. I don’t know of any article that’s been written on the subject. I know it’s been done with boxers, but not with football players.”

1994, Jan. 28: “That’s Enough for Buffalo Linebacker Cornelius Bennett,” no byline, Agence France Presse. International news report discusses injuries for Super Bowl teams, including Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman’s widely publicized memory loss of a concussion sustained during the previous week’s NFC title game. The report states: “When told a boxing trainer would suggest six weeks of rest after a concussion, Aikman said, ‘Did you tell him I have a Super Bowl to win? I’m not given the luxury of waiting til then.’ ” Jim Kelly, Bills quarterback, admits “second thoughts” about his brain injuries, especially given the decades of publicized concussions to NFL quarterbacks. “I’ve had six or eight of them and it’s a scary, scary feeling,” Kelly says. “You don’t know where you are at. The emptiness in your mind, let alone your gut, comes when you wake up trying to figure out why everybody is staring at you. It makes you wonder, ‘Is the game worth it?’ But it is.”

1994, Oct. 29:  “Illinois Firm Gives Aikman New Protection,” by Lorraine Kee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. News commentary discusses star names who’ve suffered concussions in NFL, past and present—including Toon, Merrill Hoge, Roger Staubach, Harry Carson, Joe Montana, Aikman—and a doctor’s linking football to boxing for brain trauma and damage. “Of course, concussions aren’t news to these guys [NFL players],” Kee writes. Aikman says, “You have to be somewhat concerned by concussions, but it’s something you just have to deal with. I don’t want it to get out of hand. I want to live a normal life after pro football.” Dr. Kenneth R. Smith, neurosurgeon at St. Louis University Hospital, says, “It’s kind of like boxing injuries; if you get knocked out a lot of times, your brain will eventually have some diseased process going on. Usually, when the natural nerve cells die, they do not recover.” The specialist adds that multiple impacts to head and spine “could produce a permanent injury and a whole series of these could lead to a possible degeneration later on in life.”

1994, Nov. 1:  “Not Just Boxers [Who] Can’t Answer The Bell,” by Stephen Brunt, Toronto Globe and Mail. Canadian news commentary identifies hypocrisy in supporters of tackle football, including American neurologists, who condemn boxing for brain damage while claiming to see little or none in their nationalistic collision sport. “Professional boxing exists on the verge of extinction…,” Brunt writes. “What is thriving, though, is the greatest sports-entertainment complex in the world, the game that owns Sunday afternoons, NFL football. … What’s the difference between that and being knocked out in a boxing match?” Brunt notes lengthy layoff for concussed athletes in boxing, unlike football, where “after a quick whiff of smelling salts” the injured return to contact, then the writer poses: “Does a 300-pound lineman making full, head-to-head contact have as much brain-jarring impact as a perfectly timed blow delivered with a gloved fist? You’d have to think so. Does the football helmet offer sufficient protection? Obviously not sufficient to prevent players from routinely having their bell run… And when that same helmet becomes the top of a projectile hurtling through space, it also contributes to the damage done.” Football supporters criticized boxing for intent to injure, implying sanctity of their sport, but “watch [NFL lineman] Bruce Smith bearing down on [quarterback] Joe Montana,” Brunt intones, “and then try to convince anyone that his purpose is anything other than doing as much damage as possible. Just as in boxing, there is a direct reward for disabling a foe…” In conclusion, Brunt heckles American medicine and science for obvious see-no-evil perspective regarding NFL dangers: “So where is the AMA now, why isn’t professional football being cast as the last refuge of barbarianism, the way boxing is? Probably because football is not a fringe activity run by the Don Kings of the world, but a mainstream colossus. Probably because football is so tied to corporate and academic institutions and is run by bright, white lawyers. … Probably because the same people who would be doing the condemning have a brother or father or son who has at some level been involved in the game. In other words, probably because of divisions of taste, and class, and money—not [violent] content.”

1994, Nov. 5:  “Staff Is Ready for Severe Hits: Impact of Concussions Isn’t Lost on Vikings Doctors,” by Curt Brown,Minneapolis Star Tribune. News report discusses concussion awareness in an NFL franchise, including for symptoms like headache, blurred vision and memory loss, knowledge expanding among medical staff, coaches and players of an NFL team in 1994—tumultuous year of publicized brain-injury cases for the league, especially of star quarterbacks flattened on television. “If I could give players any advice, I’d say don’t ignore the signs,” says Hoge, a year after retiring for multiple concussions, such as the re-bleed or “second impact” brain injury that rendered him comatose, hospitalized in ICU. A concussion “can clear up and you can function normally,” Hoge continues. “But that doesn’t mean you’re right. This is messing with your brain. You can damage your life. You can go into a coma. You can even die from it.” Longtime Vikings team physician Dr. David Fischer says: “Perhaps awareness has been heightened with fans and players, but our medical staff has always been fairly sensitive to post-concussion syndrome.” Research remains fledgling regarding long-term effects of brain impacts football, with the NFL just committing itself to studies, but some 65 years of medical literature continues documenting brain damage of boxing, like “chronic encephalopathy,” through cellular pathology of deceased athletes and longitudinal study of the living—and the Vikings doctor knows as much, among several NFL team physicians speaking publicly. “In boxing, surely we’ve seen how repetitive head trauma can cause all types of long-term problems,” Fischer says. “But how many blows it takes, what severity over length of time, we don’t know. Dennis Green, Vikings head coach, says, “Concussions are not new to football, but we have a fair understanding of when a guy is safe to return and when he isn’t. It’s up to the doctor if he can or can’t go.”

1994, Nov. 20:  “Dazed and Confused: Merril Hoge and Other Veterans Are Finding Out Why Concussions Have Become Serious Head Games,” by Jerry Crasnick, Denver Post. News analysis discusses the following: brain concussion as “the most highly publicized injury of the 1994 season”; NP testing’s employ around the league, along with balance assessment of players, more intuitive methods to detect concussion symptoms; widespread concern, or talk, for guarding against dreaded “SIS,” second-impact syndrome; rhetoric on brain damage of tackle football; NFL concussion tracking and data compiled annually at the University of Iowa; and insider agreement that modern football is highly dangerous, with large, helmeted athletes sprinting and colliding in open field. “Sometimes the damage the brain sustains is permanent…,” Hoge says. “Twenty years down the line they can’t come in and give you a new joint. It’s irreversible.” Cris Collinsworth, former NFL player turned TV commentator, says: “Once you get out of football, you look back and say, ‘I can’t believe I ever did that.’ It’s insane. My wife tells me all the time that she’s glad I don’t play anymore.” Greg Aiello, NFL director of communications, says league rate of concussions isn’t changing despite public spotlight on the issue. “Obviously, it’s something we’d like to reduce,” Aiello says. “But if all the media attention suggests there’s been a sudden increase in concussions, that’s inaccurate.”

1994, Dec. 19:  “The Worst Case—Doctors Warn That Repeated Concussions Can Lead to Permanent Brain Dysfunction,” by Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated. This news analysis of the time’s most-read sports magazine discusses football brain trauma and potential or known brain damage in players of the American game, particularly in the NFL. “People are missing the boat on brain injuries [in football],” says neurologist Dr. James P. Kelly. “It isn’t just cataclysmic injury or death from brain injuries that should concern people. The core of the person can change from repeated blows to the head.” Farber writes: “Some [NFL] veterans have gone through the neuropsychological sideline drills so often that even new concussion can’t make them forget.” Farber reports: “On Dec. 9, [Jets team internist Dr. Elliot] Pellman, Dr. Andy Tucker of the Cleveland Brows and Dr. Ira Casson, a New York neurologist, met with league officials, including commissioner Paul Tagliabue, to discuss concussions and suggest ways to cut down on their frequency.” Elsewhere, Dr. Cantu, neurosurgeon and NCAA-funded researcher of catastrophic brain and spinal injuries in American football, blames players who do not employ “proper contact” or “proper technique” for impacts—or Cantu’s controversial theory for colliding in the modern game without using heads, by avoiding contact of high-tech helmets built for ramming without skull fracture, but incapable of preventing brain trauma: “We know that people who have a concussion tend to have more concussions,” Cantu says. “Why? Two logical reasons. The first is that certain people can take a blow better than others; you see that in boxing all the time. But of equal, if not more, importance is how you play the sport [football]. If you keep playing like a kamikaze, if you tackle with your head, there’s more of a chance of being concussed than if you block or tackle with the shoulders.” Neuropsychologist Ken Kutner, PhD, says lingering “postconcussion syndrome” is more widespread among active and former players than is generally believed: “I counsel several [New York] Giants, past an present, but they don’t want their names known,” Kutner says. Meanwhile, Dr. Joe Maroon, Steelers surgeon, sees the possibility that football players could suffer “cumulative effect” from concussions, but Dr. Joe Torg doesn’t, Eagles doctor: “I know of no football player who has had residual neurological impairment from repeated insults to the head,” Torg says.

1995, March 4:  “Don’t Ban Boxing—Just Make It Safer,” by Joan Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle. News commentary discusses tenants of so-called safer boxing designed to save the blood sport from extinction or banishment, including “scientific” or finesse punching, larger gloves, stringent selection and review of referees, and stringent medical restrictions for fighters, assuring their fitness. “Don’t let them in the ring if they don’t belong there. You’d reduce about 85 percent of the problems,” says neuropsychologist Matthew Bowen, who boxed as an amateur. Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson doesn’t care about a person he faces in the ring: “I try to catch my opponent by the tip of his nose,” Tyson says, “because I try to punch the bone into his brains.” Ryan, the pundit and confessed boxing fan, comments that “in the wake of yet another fighter leaving the ring on a stretcher with a blood clot in his brain, as happened to Gerald McClellan a week ago, I’m having a tough time arguing against those calling for drastic reforms or an outright ban of the sport.” However, “banning boxing altogether is unrealistic,” Ryan writes. “Plus, if we ban boxing for being too violent, we’d have to consider banning football, too. The incidences of flagrant violence have risen so high in the NFL that agent Leigh Steinberg recently gathered some of the country’s top brain doctors for a seminar with quarterback Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon and other football clients who have sustained multiple concussions.”

1995, April 3:  “Information That Should Make Their Heads Spin,” by Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times. News commentary discusses new NFL initiatives and proposals, fostering “increased research and awareness of football head injuries,” that include the following: establishing a league committee of experts for brain-injury research and recommendations for prevention; reviewing helmet technology and banning dangerous models; mandating all rookies undergo “baseline” NP assessment for concussion monitoring throughout their careers; and establishing a league-wide “concussion grading scale” and “testing” so injured players can be diagnosed and sidelined until recovery. “If boxing can have these worldwide standards and rules that can keep certain fighters out of danger, it would seem that football could, also,” says Dr. David A Hovda, neurosurgeon and consultant on boxing’s health reforms. “This is a problem that needs to be addressed and studied now.” Another neurologist agrees, Dr. Janet Chance, who says: “Head injuries [in football] are a huge problem, and a poorly understood problem. There are some questions here that absolutely need to be answered.” But Dr. Elliot J. Pellman, Jets team doctor and chairman of the new NFL concussion committee, is unsure about for rapid progress because of monetary expense, time constraint and internal resistance: “Players run the show. If they don’t want to do something, it’s not going to happen,” Pellman says. “We suggest these things and owners are going to look at us like, What difference does this make?” Plaschke states: “It is this sort of attitude that may eventually drive an ex-player to his grave from Alzheimer’s disease. Many doctors now believe this occurs more frequently in those who have suffered multiple concussions.” The writer concludes: “The players still don’t scare and the owners still don’t care. You wonder what has to happen before they do.”

1995, Oct. 20:  “A No-Brainer: Football Leads to Concussions: Al Toon Will Attest That Symptoms Can Remain for Years,” by T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times. News profile discusses life for former NFL receiver Al Toon with post-concussion syndrome, three years after football retirement, as he still experiences problems such as “emotional volatility.” Toon, a successful businessman, says, “There was a time when I thought of suicide. The act itself was never considered, but life was very frustrating.” Toon says there are more former players like him: “Very, very commonplace. You play the game of football, people get hit in the head. It’s no fluke.” Dr. Daniel Kelly, neurosurgeon at UCLA, believes that concussion management, if effective, would likely sideline many more players than what occurs, and for longer: “There are a lot of things we do not know yet, but the simplest thing would be to have [diagnosed concussed] players sit out a month,” Kelly says. “Of course, if you did that, you would probably have the quarterback, the running back and the tight ends sitting on the bench.” Leigh Steinberg, sports agent, says: “We won’t know for years what that impact of this will be. We may have an epidemic of Alzheimer’s and attendant problems 20 years from now with some of these players.”

1996, July 9:  “Concussion Potentially Most Dangerous Sport Injury: Blows to The Head Cause Brain Damage and The More Hits an Athlete Takes The More Chance of Permanent Injury: Little Research Conducted on Returning After Concussions,” by Shaun Powell, Newsday, New York, reprinted in Canada by The Vancouver Sun. In-depth news report discusses problems of concussion and more brain injury among athletes, young and old, including the following: no “firm” RTP protocol among various approaches for treating the concussed, disagreement marked by no consensus in defining the condition, and wide opinions regarding length of time needed for complete recovery; woeful injury reporting in American football, all levels, especially for subpar concussion diagnosis and recording overall; skull-preserving helmets that cannot prevent brain trauma while likewise encouraging head-on collisions; brain disease such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in former athletes of contact sports; mounting adverse research findings for contact sports, especially tackle football. “The attention given head injuries in recent years has put the sports world on alert and confirms the fears of medical experts. The concussion finds itself at the forefront of sports injuries,” Powell reports. “We are years behind when it comes to brain injury and what we can do to diagnose it and take care of it,” says Jets internist Dr. Elliot Pellman, chairman of the recently minted NFL Committee on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. For Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, concussions figured “in my decision to retire,” he says, estimating he sustained 18 to 20 in football from high school to the NFL.

1996, Oct. 31:   “Experts Warn of Brain Damage,” by Sabin Russell, San Francisco Chronicle. News analysis discusses concussions suffered by the 49ers’ star quarterback Steve Young, growing medical opinion that football’s brain dangers are underestimated, and continued speculation on brain damage of postconcussion syndrome and/or multiple concussions in football. “The risk of serious brain injury with a concussion is very, very low. But when it does happen, it is very severe,” says Dr. Gordon Matheson, Stanford professor of sports medicine. “In the scheme of things, they [concussions] may be very minor. But they may also affect a player over the long haul,” says neurologist Dr. Janet Chance. Russell reports: “Dr. Lawrence Pitts, a University of California at San Francisco neurosurgeon, said ongoing neuropsychological surveys of athletes will ultimately determine whether or not repeated concussions cause permanent damage. Although there is ample [research] evidence that boxers can be permanently damaged in their sport… no one can claim football players have a similar problem. ‘It is very uncommon to see a football player knocked unconscious,’ he said. ‘In boxing, it’s a different matter.’ ”

1996, Nov. 15:  “Concussion Policy Should Be A No-Brainer,” by Paul Woody, Richmond Times Dispatch. News analysis discusses controversial segment of concussion “return to play” protocols, length of layoff for the injured athlete, a sidelining that could be minutes in football or months in boxing. Woody notes that 49ers quarterback Steve Young suffered two diagnosed concussions within 15 days, prompting the question whether the NFL star came back too soon, or dangerously, following the initial brain trauma, continuing: “In boxing in Virginia and most states, a fighter who even takes a technical knockout must wait 30 days before boxing again. If there is a knockout [unconsciousness], the boxer’s waiting period is 60s days.” But the NFL dismisses such boxing RTP protocol for the concussed in pro football, while apparently speaking for football at-large, juvenile and college levels that will follow same philosophy: “We have a committee of team and outside doctors who have been meeting and studying concussions for the past two years,” says NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. “They say it doesn’t make sense to have a rule to keep a player out for a specified period of time. Concussions are too complex. They have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.” An independent analyst disagreed, Dr. Michelle Miller, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School, who believed boxing RTP parameters should be adopted by football: “I don’t know that it’s coming any time in the future, but it’s needed,” she says.

1996, Dec. 1:  “Heady Concerns: Concussions No Longer Comedic Material in NFL,” by Jonathan Rand, Kansas CityStar. News analysis discusses multiple concussions to star NFL quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Steve Young, and insider perspective on potential brain damage of football players, related to boxing, by Dr. Joseph Waekerle, Chiefs team physician, member of NFL concussion committee, and renowned trauma-care specialist. “It’s a big problem because football has approximately 250,000 concussions every year,” Waekerle says. “One in every five high school players has a concussion on a yearly basis. Now, we’re beginning to understand the potentially serious effects of concussions, especially repeated concussions.” Noting conclusions about second-impact syndrome or brain re-bleeding and susceptibility for multiple concussions, Waekerle says: “The third [vulnerability] is the chronic thing—all this becomes cumulative. A great example would be a boxer. That may occur to other professional athletes who suffer many concussive syndromes.”

1996, Dec. 20:  “Heads, You Lose: Football Concussions Hit Players at All Levels,” by Angelo Bruscas, Seattle Post-Intelligencer. News analysis discusses concussion debate in football, talking points to endure decades into future, including in regard to cultural awareness, modern helmets, risk-taking athletes, soft concussion definition, and gigantic athletes. “The whole subject of concussions has been taken way too lightly,” says Leigh Steinberg, sports agent who’s organized educational seminars for players and encouraged media to cover of the issue. “When Monday Night Football opens with two helmets crashing together and when videos of hardest hits are huge sellers, there’s a level at which concussions are glamorized and the subject is treated as fun without a consciousness of real ramifications.” Pediatrician Dr. Stephen Rice believes football’s ever-increasing sizes and modern equipment create action of terrible risks and casualties, by emboldening players to act as missiles like never before: “Did all this happen before and we were just missing it all? … Now you could run into a steel wall and nothing would happen to you. … In the days when players wore only leather helmets without facemasks, no one struck people with their heads. There was no protection.” Rice notes the fact modern helmets do not prevent concussion “because the helmet doesn’t stop the brain from moving around inside the skull.”

1997, Jan. 1:  “QB Concussions: A Heady Issue,” by Thomas Boswell, Washington Post. News commentary discusses NFL brutality ravaging quarterbacks, suggesting football stars could end up punch-drunk permanently, and endorses controversial countermeasure to arbitrarily monitor tackler intent and punish “cheap-shot” or “dirty” hits. “This season, football’s been getting its bell rung with regularity,” Boswell writes. “Every time a popoular quarterback gets his brain scrambled the game suffers a blow, too. As our gridiron heroes reach middle age, do we want them to remind us of addled boxing pugs? Do we want Troy Aikman to tremble like Muhammad Ali or Danny Wuerffel to be as bizarre and bitter as Joe Frazier?” Boswell reports a coach’s allegation of bounty-type hits on Wuerffel, star quarterback at University of Florida: “Obviously [Florida State] had some late hits [on Wuerffel],” says UF coach Steve Spurrier. “Obviously they could have pulled off. The intent of the hits was a little different than the other teams we play. Obviously somebody told them to try to knock him out of the game.” Spurrier suggests responsibility lies with the Florida State “coaching staff.”

1997, June 10:  “Carson’s Crusade Begins, Puts Focus on Head Injuries,” by Randy Lange, Bergen Record. News profile discusses cognitive and emotional struggles of former All-Pro Giants linebacker Harry Carson, who’s become one of the first players, like Al Toon, to openly discuss his post-concussion dysfunction and dark thoughts such as suicide. “A lot of players are hesitant to talk about the brain and being brain-damaged. It’s one of those things you don’t want to be associated with,” Carson says. “I think probably there are a whole bunch of players walking around who are experiencing mood swings and sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises, who are having headaches, and a whole host of other symptoms. … There was a time where I was depressed about it, and bad thoughts came to my head. I didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t have anybody to talk to. Suicide? I thought about it. I was living but I didn’t have a life. My head was kind of in a fog. My daughter Asia kept me up. I told myself, ‘You do that, what’s going to happen to her?’ ”

1997, July 13:  “‘Iron Mike’ Webster Works on Strategy for Health Since Retirement; He Has Struggled With Troubles,” by Terry Shropshire, Akron Beacon Journal. News profile discusses the Hall of Fame lineman’s descent into increasingly publicized problems after retiring from the NFL, including poor health, debt, pending divorce and homelessness. “As good as times got, they got bad,” says Pam Webster, estranged wife of the Steelers great. “We’ve gone through times where we didn’t have enough money for toilet paper. There were times we didn’t have heat in the house. … Mike has always been a loner by nature. But there were times that people should have been there for him.” Mike Webster says: “I lived in the car for about a year and a half out of the last five years. … My issues are my issues and I’ll handle my issues.” Doctors speculate Webster suffers from congestive heart failure, but he and others worry about his brain, possible symptoms of post-concussive syndrome or Parkinson’s. “He’s really had trouble concentrating and focusing on certain things in order to function at an optimum level,” says Dr. Jerry Carter, personal physician. Webster acknowledges mind disturbances: “Some of the things I think about, horrify me,” he says.

1997, Sept. 22:  “Use Your Head,” by Joan Ryan, The Sporting News. News analysis discusses NFL forces keeping brain-injured players on the football field, beginning with competitive intent of both the player and his team, such as the controversial case of 49ers quarterback Steve Young. “It’s tough for someone like Steve to sit out when he feels fine,” says Leigh Steinberg, the star’s agent. “But you don’t know how much long-term damage you’re causing by continuing to play. Maybe it’ll cause Alzheimer’s. Maybe senility.” Dr. Larry Bedard, of the American College of Emergency Physicians, doubts effectiveness of so-called concussion management and RTP in sports: “[Concussions] tend to be misdiagnosed and minimized. Athletes are trained to tough it out. But there may be no such thing as a mild concussion.”

1999, Nov. 21:  “NFL players roughed up to know it hurts,” by Bill Gleason, South Bend Tribune. News commentary discusses postconcussion syndrome and the multiple concussions suffered by “punch-drunk” NFL players, while quoting football writer Jerry Magee, who recently endorsed boxing’s lengthy layoff for such athletes in his column for Pro Football Weekly. “It also must be said that boxing, for all its abuses, is more mindful of the well-being of its participants than is the NFL,” Magee states. “In Nevada a boxer who is knocked out cannot fight again for at least 45 days. In the NFL quarterbacks or players at any position who suffer concussions can play again within days. On a recent Monday evening, there was Troy Aikman quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys only eight days after suffering the sixth concussion of his year. Many people who cover the NFL for newspapers, radio, and TV are around NFL players who are suffering through ‘post-concussion syndrome.’ ”

1999, Dec. 10:  “A Hard-Headed NFL Makes for Soft Skulls,” by Tim Green, USA Today. Guest news commentary by former NFL player discusses regular concussions in the league and endorses mouthpieces for helping prevent brain trauma, while noting longtime nicknames for head-injured players include “cardboard head” and, for those exhibiting lasting impairment and susceptibility, “paper head.” Green writes: “I’m not such a paper head as to think that mouthpieces will eliminate concussions. They help. And, if the NFL is as serious about safety as I think, there will be fewer… cardboard heads.”

2000, May 15:  “Trying to Leave Concussions’ Dark Ages: Neurologists start to take sports hits more seriously,” by James C. McKinley, Jr., New York Times. News analysis discusses continuing problems of non-uniform concussion diagnosis and return-to-play protocols in the NFL and sport at-large, noting that only in “the past 15 years” are neurologist beginning to understand brain trauma and “how multiple concussions can lead to permanent damage.” Mark R. Lovell, a Detroit neurologist serving on the NFL concussion committee who designs NP testing for teams, dismisses concussion guidelines by the American Academy of Neurology: “We don’t know whether being knocked out briefly is any more dangerous than having amnesia and not being knocked out,” Lovell says. “We see people all the time that get knocked out briefly and have no symptoms. Others get elbowed, go back to the bench and say, ‘Where am I?’ ” League committee chairman Dr. Elliot Pellman dismisses standard guidelines for all cases as nonsense amid hype about brain injury in football: “You really have to hope that the doctors who deal with this have a lot of experience with it, use the tools available and are not affected by the outside din,” Pellman says.

2000, September:  “Lower Cognitive Performance of Older Football Players Possessing Apolipoprotein E4,” by Kenneth C. Kutner, David M. Erlanger, Julia Tsai, Barry Jordan, and Norman R. Relkin, Neurosurgery. Clinical study discusses possible genetic link to brain trauma and long-term damage in control groups involving 53 active “professional football players,” presumably of the NFL, and provides direction for priority research questions such as whether football impacts, both concussive and subconcussive, cause cerebral disease or what is known from boxing cases as CTBI, “chronic traumatic brain injury.” In review of literature available, the authors state: “To our knowledge, no previous published study has systemically evaluated the cognitive status of professional tackle football players. At least two different mechanisms may contribute to the development of chronic cognitive dysfunction in football players. First, cognitive impairment secondary to concussion may be cumulative. Football players occasionally experience concussive events through typical contact sport collisions, i.e., head-to-head, head-to-body, head-to-ground, and head-to-goal post collisions. Second, football players may experience subconcussive events through these same collisions during play and practice/training sessions. For professional boxers, CTBI has been associated more strongly with career length than with the number of knockouts and concussions, suggesting that subconcussive blows are an important primary environmental mechanism of neurological dysfunction.”

2001, April 17:  “Concussions Make Stars See Retirement,” by Jonathan Rand, Kansas City Star. News analysis discusses retirement of Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who sustained 10 diagnosed concussions in 12 NFL seasons, and includes comments by league medical officials on state of league knowledge or study in brain trauma of players, which the NFL contends typically clears in days to a week, outside exceptional cases like Aikman and fellow quarterback Steve Young. “For whatever reason, they take much longer to get better,” says Dr. Elliot Pellman, Jets internist and head of league brain committee and research. “You also notice the injuries they are getting are the result of lesser blows. … Why are these individuals more susceptible to post-concussion syndrome? You look at them and there’s no long-term damage. There’s no scientific evidence that can tell you they shouldn’t go back and play. Others say, ‘Even though I can’t prove it, intuitively there’s something wrong. You shouldn’t go back.’ What you see publicly is that debate going on.” Dr. Joseph Waeckerle, Chiefs physician and league committee member, says: “There’s no gold standard to diagnose concussions or predict whether someone will have another concussion.” Leigh Steinberg, agent for Aikman and Young, expresses frustration with the NFL’s “slow” pace for research and answers. “I think the years have not brought any greater focus. The denial by the NFL continues,” Steinberg says, urging standardized NP testing and development of concussion-resistant helmet technology. Pellman responds to Steinberg: “That’s a lawyer talking about medicine. I don’t think it’s ever that easy,” Pellman says. “I’d like to see better helmets and better equipment, and that’s the kind of work we’re trying to do now and are actively promoting to helmet manufacturers. But neither we [researchers] nor the NFL are helmet manufacturers.”

Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. Chaney’s 2001 MA thesis at the University of Central Missouri involved electronic search for thousands of news reports on performance-enhancing drugs in American football, a project inspired by his experience of injecting testosterone as a college player in 1982 (Southeast Missouri State). Email him at For more information, including about Chaney’s 2009 book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at

Experts: Football Death Reports Aren’t Valid Epidemiology

The University of North Carolina’s self-published football casualty statistics are deemed ‘unverified’ and ‘unreliable’ while its claim of zero deaths in 1990 is debunked by two case finds

By Matt Chaney

Posted Monday, January 12, 2015

Copyright ©2015 by Matthew L. Chaney

When sportswriters report 17 football players died in America during 2013, and medical writers and researchers cite the same figure, everyone’s common information source is the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR) at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The annual UNC numbers on football fatalities have been quoted worldwide since the 1970s and include statistical framework back to 1931, the year football organizations assumed control of annual recording. Reports are posted at the NCCSIR website and everyone presumes the data meet epidemiological standards for charting mortality risk in American football.

But the numbers do not qualify as epidemiological research, not remotely, say two experts who have monitored faults and recurring issues in UNC postings for three years.

“There is no independent verification of the data,” said Don Comrie, the CEO of PanMedix, a New York company that designs statistical analysis protocols for medical and pharmaceutical research. “When we look at the UNC data, there is no reliability.”

Epidemiologist Charles E. Yesalis says NCCSIR reports fail to pass muster for his discipline. Yesalis, author of epidemiological studies, journal articles and books on sports, identifies an historical misstep by UNC workers who lack medical and scientific credentials—their reliance on limited news content for casualty assessment of millions of football players, the vast majority being juveniles.

“When you’re dealing with (information) as what might get reported in the news, versus trying to identify accurately what’s reported in emergency rooms, or hospital records, that’s problematic,” said Yesalis, professor emeritus of public health for Penn State University, with his doctorate of science from Johns Hopkins University in 1975.

“It’s tough, it really is,” Yesalis said, empathizing with the football academics at UNC. “You’re trying to glue this all together, which is what it appears they’re doing. And they’re not the first people to do this on a variety of disease states, ER conditions, injuries and all that.”

Yesalis and Comrie have followed my email updates and blog critiques of UNC football publications since 2011, when I began collecting news reports of catastrophic player casualties found online.

For fatalities, I’ve located more than 1,400 deaths among active football players from 1960 to 2014, cases both confirmed and still suspect for links to the sport. And when comparing to the approximate 1,050 deaths UNC logs in the timeframe, methodological holes emerge for the NCCSIR.

Center officials refuse to answer my inquiries but an overriding fact is clear: more people die from football than the game-funded “studies” convey to the public.

Faults beset six decades of UNC football data, with inconsistent classifications and case omissions exposed by contemporary electronic search. Missing are deaths caused by football collision, defined as “direct” fatalities of the sport, along with likely hundreds of “indirect” or game-related fatalities—particularly for cardiac arrest, its various mechanisms that can include delayed attack from previous chest blows, according to a recent study.

Casualties omitted from 2011 UNC statistics, for example, include 13-year-old Kansas school player Alec Mounkes, who died of blood clots following an ankle injury. Kishon Cooper, 8, collapsed and died in Florida while training at home for “youth league” football. Two young men succumbed, Marcellis Williamson and Andy Collins, of blood clots and cardiac arrest, respectively, as free-agent hopefuls for professional football.

During 2012, Pennsylvania semipro player Willie Mims collapsed at football practice and later died, as did prep player Temoc Castellanos, 15, stricken during off-season conditioning for his school team.

An aspiring player in Texas, 15-year-old Jacob Gatlin, collided heads with another on a football field at school. The boys were participating in a “7-on-7” passing drill without helmets during “athletics class” directed by coaches, school officials told media, and Gatlin suffered a skull fracture and fatal brain hemorrhaging.

None of these deaths is recorded by UNC.

Several high-school players died of cardiac arrest in 2012, during exercise and restive state like sleep, including: Anthony Vaeao, California; Austin Lempera, Illinois; Cody Stephens, Texas, David Widzinski, Michigan; and Tyler Miller, New York. Such cases require specialized postmortem applications for diagnosis and determining a possible link to sport, according to a host of experts worldwide.

None of these deaths is included in UNC “research.” Many more of possible football ties since 1960, found online, require proper scientific evaluation.

Errors likewise dog UNC’s recorded cases, such as the 2010 death logged in the wrong year. Youth player Quadaar White, 15, died of a broken neck in Philadelphia on Aug. 31, 2010, but the NCCSIR recorded his case for 2011.

I repeatedly emailed then-center director Frederick Mueller. Instead of correcting his mistake, Mueller—a lifelong football man with a PhD in education who goes by “Dr. Mueller”—demanded that I cease contacting him. Mueller has since retired as an exercise professor, after co-authoring football surveys at UNC from the 1970s to 2012.

The error on Quadaar White remains standing in NCCSIR reports at the website.

1990 Collision Deaths, Retrieved Online, Nullify Old UNC Claim

Now a substantial mistake has emerged involving Mueller, his inaccurate declaration publicized for three decades from Chapel Hill, such as it reads here, typos intact, on Page 1 of the UNC report for 2013 football deaths:

The 1990 report was historic in that it was the first year since the beginning of the research, 1931, that there was not a direct fatality in football at any level of play.(Mueller & Schindler 1991)  This clearly illustrates that data collection and analysis is important and plays a major role in prevention.

Wrong, at least on the first point.

Minimally two direct football deaths occurred during 1990, both of violent “sandlot” incidents, according to reports I recently retrieved from NewsBank database.

One case occurred merely 80 miles from Chapel Hill: Jamarl Gentry, 17, died on Nov. 7, 1990, of a broken neck suffered in a pickup tackle game at Winston-Salem, reported The Greensboro News & Record.

The second 1990 football death retrieved from NewsBank is Christopher Mock, 19, a college student from Bluffton, Ind. Mock died on Dec. 1 of a brain injury suffered in sandlot tackle football, reported The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

During December I forwarded these cases to Mueller, NCCSIR medical director Dr. Robert Cantu in Boston, and other officials like Kristen Krucera, PhD, the athletic trainer who’s replaced Mueller as center director. I requested their comments, repeatedly.

Only one person replied, Mueller, by email: “I told you to take me off of your mailing list,” he griped.

Modern Emergency Care Dramatically Cuts Football Deaths Since 1960s

NCCSIR officials argue that their dubious football statistics and recommendations like Heads Up “safe contact,” the latest version of stale “head up” theory, have reduced player deaths by as much as two-thirds since the 1960s.

Historical news shows no such evidence. Rather, the major reason for fewer reported football fatalities was faster, better medical care that kept seriously injured players alive, with an assist from modern helmets.

Most football fatalities in the 1960s were connected to inadequate medical care, based on news reports. Players died of brain bleeding, spinal fracture, chest impact, ruptured spleen, lacerated kidney, blood clotting, heat stroke, cardiac arrest and more maladies that became better managed in America by end of the Vietnam War.

“By the early 1970s, many influential members of medical society (in the United States) believed that lessons learned on the battlefields in Korea and Vietnam in terms of triage, rapid transport of trauma patients to definitive care centers, and standardization of pre-hospital and in-hospital care could be applied effectively to civilian patients,” recounts a Canadian medical review.

The 1970s advancement of emergency medicine in America—led by widespread establishment of EMTs, modular ambulances, life flights, emergency rooms and trauma surgery—saved countless athletes who would have died previously without it.

The steel head-and-neck brace or “halo cast,” breakthrough technology available nationwide by 1973, stabilized vertebral fractures that previously killed people. Numerous tragedies were averted in football and all walks of life, with immobilization techniques for spinal casualties and treatment like the halo brace.

Even Mueller admits emergency response has cut football deaths from brain injuries, compared to a half-century ago. “The line is going down with fatalities. I think that’s related to kids getting better medical care on the field,” Mueller told, after reviewing news reports of two-dozen players who survived catastrophic brain bleeds in 2011. “They’re not dying, but they’re having permanent brain damage.”

Left unsaid? I had forwarded Mueller those cases, or he probably would’ve missed most.

UNC Changes in Death Definitions Trim Football Numbers Since 1960s

Factors beyond emergency care and improved helmets also have reduced football deaths in UNC records since 1960. Based on available information, numbers have been shaved as much as one-fifth since 1960 just by altering definitions to qualify game fatalities.

Background begins in 1931, when the American Football Coaches Association hired Floyd R. Eastwood, a college professor with a PhD in education, to record yearly football casualties—formerly the task of media entities like The Associated Press. News accounts describe Eastwood’s method for collecting cases and defining types of football death.

“Dr. Eastwood” analyzed news reports of deaths among football players for 35 years, working for both the coaches association and the NCAA, groups which continue to fund the NCCSIR today. Relying heavily on the NCAA’s “clipping service” of major newspaper and wire-service articles, Eastwood gathered stories of casualties and looked for football causes or possible links, sometimes basing a case decision on news content alone.

Eastwood had to track national football casualties while grounded on campuses where he taught PE pedagogy and gym classes. Limited in information access and funding, he tried to assimilate medical protocol despite a personal résumé far short in education and training for the mission.

Eastwood followed up many football incidents he learned of, making phone calls and mailing information forms to witnesses and authorities. But their responses likely varied in substance and it was difficult and costly to obtain medical files and death certificates from across the country. Moreover, Eastwood surely understood that official information was frequently tainted by simple incompetence and/or football allegiance among local authorities.

“Keep in mind…,” intoned Comrie, who has compiled football casualty data, “many doctors in many parts of the country don’t want to blame football. So on those death certificates, is that information reliable? I don’t know. We don’t have a clue.”

Most significantly, Eastwood defined and qualified several types of football death differently than his present-day successors at UNC.

For example, Eastwood believed that football exertion and impacts could trigger congenital brain bleeds in players, caused by “AVM” and Chiari arterial malformations since birth. Medical opinion was divided, but many doctors determined that football spurred these cerebral vessel ruptures of natural origin, and Eastwood embraced the stance.

UNC researchers dismiss these incidents today, meanwhile, like the 2010 death of college player Ben Bundy, killed by his genetic brain-artery malformation that launched a blood clot during a team workout. Bundy wasn’t counted in the annual NCCSIR report.

Eastwood included meningitis fatalities among players and field deaths of referees for his 1960s football statistics. Neither type of incident figures into current UNC data.

Eastwood counted players dead of blood clots originating from leg injuries, classifying them as indirect fatalities of the game. In recent decades, however, UNC publications include only an occasional death via non-cerebral blood clots; many additional cases are omitted without explanation, like Mounkes, the aforementioned schoolboy, and Ben Jordan, 16, a South Carolina prep player dead of a pulmonary embolism in 2012 after he was hospitalized for blood clots during successive football seasons.

Altogether, the types of deaths counted by Eastwood but not counted by UNC comprise as much as 20 percent of the 350 football fatalities from the 1960s that I’ve collected.

And the “sandlot” classification has become the biggest area of NCCSIR shell games that produce smaller numbers, over time, and inspire the rhetorical mirage of “safer” football today.

UNC Qualifies Few ‘Sandlot’ Fatalities for Football Statistics Since 1980s

Erstwhile PE professor Floyd Eastwood held a broad view of what constituted a “sandlot” death, qualifying any person who died from injuries suffered while playing any type of football: organized or informal; tackle or “touch”; games in vacant lots, flag leagues and PE classes; and even passing and catching during school recess. In 1962, for example, Eastwood counted a young father who died of striking a telephone pole during a backyard touch game with family as one of the professor’s 19 direct football fatalities that year.

Eastwood also logged indirect or game-related sandlot deaths, numerous cases in his 1960s data, for causes such as cardiac arrest and heat stroke.

Thus far, NCCSIR officials decline to provide me with the names and locations for football deaths in their multi-decade collections. They decline to address inconsistencies in data classifications back to Eastwood’s tenure. They do not offer, or possess, a single peer-validated document incorporating detailed cases, formal literature review and a complete research method that identifies limitations.

UNC transparency isn’t needed, however, to deduce that Mueller et al. have basically counted only “youth league” players for sandlot fatalities since 1986, based on NCCSIR postings, cases found online, and public statements of Mueller and colleagues.

UNC no longer counts fatalities of flag football, “touch” games, PE classes, “athletics classes,” recess periods, and intramural competition at colleges; deaths from tackle sandlot games are no longer included—yet all types still load those numbers from the 1960s and ’70s.

It would seem “sandlot” deaths were disappearing by the 1980s, according to football-funded researchers. Indeed, UNC statistics from 1986 to 1998 do not list any direct fatalities in the category.

On the contrary, numerous deaths of impacts occurred in the period that Eastwood would’ve counted for sandlot classification, including the following cases I’ve located:

1986: Ervin Kolk, 27, died of “being kicked in the head during a touch football game” at Tukwila, Wash., reported The Seattle Times.

1987: Joshua Arruda, 12, died of “injuries he received when he fell and hit his head on a rock during a tag football game at school,” reported The Daily News of Los Angeles.

1988: An adult male, unidentified, died of “a severed aorta after taking a blow to the chest” in touch football at North Conway, N.H., reported The Sporting News.

1989: Walter Jackson, 27, died “as a result of the head injury he suffered” in touch football, reported The Buffalo News.

1990: Jamarl Gentry, 17 (aforementioned case), died of a broken neck sustained in pickup tackle football at Winston-Salem, N.C., reported The Greensboro News & Record.

1990: Christopher Mock, 19, (aforementioned case), died of head injuries sustained in pickup tackle football in Indiana, reported The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

1991: Timmy Hysinger, 29, died “of a head injury he suffered… playing touch football in the street” at Mauldin, S.C., reported The State newspaper.

1994: Chris Hart, 18, dead “from head injuries suffered in a flag football game” at Texas A&M University, reported The Houston Chronicle.

1996: Terry Crayton, 16, died after “being knocked unconscious in a gym-class collision… playing a game called ‘speedball,’ a combination of soccer and football” at a Milwaukee school, reported The La Crosse Tribune.

1996: Jason Boone, 19, died of “receiving a severe head injury… in a touch football game” at Maryville, Tenn., reported The Knoxville News-Sentinel.

1996: Derek McMillen-Morgan, 16, died of “massive spinal injuries (sustained) when tackled” during a pickup game at Canton, Ohio, reported The Akron Beacon Journal.

The following deaths also are omitted from UNC statistics that log zero “sandlot” collision fatalities in said years:

2000: Maurice Doty, 16, “died of cardiac arrhythmia due to blunt force impact of the chest” in a pickup tackle game at Dayton, Ohio, reported The Daily News.

2005: Kenny Luong, 19, “died from (head) injuries received during a UC Irvine fraternity football game,” reported The Orange County Register.

2005: Steve Lynes, 19, “died of (head) injuries suffered during a pickup football game” at Brigham Young University, reported The Associated Press.

2005: Robert Meza, 24, died of a brain injury sustained in flag football at Taylor, Mich., reported The Detroit News.

2006: Logan Honsinger, 10, “died after his diaphragm was ruptured, an injury authorities… suspect he received during practice” for his youth-league team at Hemlock, Mich., reported The Associated Press.

2006: Andre Thibault, 12, “died from injuries suffered… when he tripped and fell into a pole while playing football” at Halstead, Kan., reported The Kansas City Star.

2008: John Buzzard, 15, “died of heart and brain-related conditions” sustained “during a touch-tackle football game” at Brooklyn, N.Y., reported The Staten Island Advance.

2008: Coty Bluford, 14, died of injury sustained when he knocked “heads with another boy” in football play during PE class at school in Lenoir City, Tenn., reported The Associated Press.

2008: Dominique Edwards, 19, died of a ruptured kidney sustained “when he dove for a football… and struck his left side” in a pickup game at Macon, Ga., reported The Telegraph.

2008: A boy, unidentified, 11, died “after being struck in the throat during a recess game” at school in Lake Oswego, Ore., reported The Oregonian.

2012: Jacob Gatlin, 15 (aforementioned case), died of skull fracture and brain hemorrhaging after a collision during a 7-on-7 passing session in school “athletics class” at Hawkins, Texas, reported The Longview News-Herald.

2012: Alex Lott, 17, died of a neck fracture “received playing touch football” at Richton, Miss., reported The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Again, these cases require examination by accredited authorities for qualification in valid football research, but this news batch demonstrates the stark, unannounced change between 1960s record-keeping and modern death data from UNC.

“We hear, ‘Oh, football’s become safer,’ ” Comrie said. “I don’t know if it’s become safer. I’m hearing this but I don’t know. Because no one’s willing to sift through the (UNC) data, we don’t know how many kids died or what they died of. We don’t know how many football deaths were purely preventable.”

Comrie, who has consulted for the U.S. Air Force and NFLPA regarding brain injuries and assessment, sees professional incompetence for NCCSIR publications that claim to reduce football mortality rates.

“It’s certainly uninformed,” he said. “Science is about asking questions. If you have incomplete or inaccurate data, you’re probably asking the wrong questions. The lack of information is bad for everybody, including the NFL, the NCAA and the national high schools.

“Reliable data is the key to making strong recommendations about what to do, but decisions are being made in football based on nothing,” Comrie said. “Everyone should know the data is just crap, period.”

Like Eastwood in the past, UNC researchers erroneously announce football deaths in absolute numbers, never mind that their primary means of incident details–news content–remains inadequate. Any accuracy would be a lucky guess and unverifiable anyway.

The total for a given year “could be stone-cold accurate or it could be off by a million miles,” said Yesalis, the epidemiologist. “It’s all based on how you count the population at risk, football players. It’s how you count the death events, how you acquire information, with bias for relying on news reports. Even of a death, there could be an injury where the kid is taken from the field and dies maybe three weeks later. Well, how confident can you be that will be reported (in news)?

“Basically going by news media alone? No epidemiologist would say that’s ideal.”

Comrie believes enough information exists empirically to resolve deficiencies through collaborations among investigators like me, the UNC academics, and appropriate authorities from medicine and science. Amassing death certificates would be a scientific start.

Vital data on football mortality risk “probably exist somewhere, in some form,” Comrie said, but politics stymie progress. “They (game officials) have just made it as difficult to get and to analyze as they possibly can because they want no change in the status quo. I have my beef in all this, because I can’t make reasoned decisions because the data’s unreliable. And the scientific community just goes along.

“We’ve been operating in a world where no one’s ever checked to see if the (football) data are real or not,” Comrie said. “They publicize it, of course, under UNC, but what was their research method? How did they do it? But since the method, regardless, produced exactly what the media wanted to hear and the parents wanted to hear, no one’s ever questioned it.”

Modern Myth of Safer Football, Research Heroes and Saving Lives

In 1998, the United States Sports Academy gave Fred Mueller an award for “lasting contributions to the growth and development of sports medicine through practice or scholarship.”

A UNC-Chapel Hill press release heralded the university’s “Life-Saving Dr. Mueller,” stating:

Statistics he compiled, first with Dr. Carl Blyth, also of UNC-CH, on football injuries and deaths helped lead to rule changes and improved coaching credited with saving dozens of lives a year in the United States.

Comrie scoffs in New York, pondering what’s really happened around the so-called National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research—which has no street address in Chapel Hill, no facility on campus, nothing of validated research.

It’s all a façade fronted by Mueller types and feel-good statistics, Comrie alleges, designed to lead naïve kids and parents along the Yellow Brick Road to Safer Football.

“It’s the mythology being confused for reality,” he surmised. “And the way to promote mythology is to make sure there are no hard facts or evidence.

“So we go through the curtains and we find out the great, mysterious Oz is not who he appears to be.”

Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. Chaney’s 2001 MA thesis at the University of Central Missouri involved electronic search for thousands of news reports on performance-enhancing drugs in American football, a project inspired by his experience of injecting testosterone as a college player in 1982 (Southeast Missouri State). Email him at For more information, including about Chaney’s 2009 book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at

Brain Bleeds Among American Football Players, 2014

By Matt Chaney

Posted Monday, October 13, 2014

Last week a Texas boy became another severe brain casualty among American football players this year.

Details are sketchy for what led Clay Carpenter, 12, to collapse twice during football practice at Eustace Middle School last Tuesday night.

Carpenter was transported by ambulance to a local emergency room then flown by helicopter to a major trauma center in Dallas.

The boy was responsive following emergency brain surgery at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, said his mother. “We’re just thankful he’s awake,” Leticia Carpenter told The Athens Review.

Leticia Carpenter said the injury “didn’t appear to have occurred after a collision with another player.”

As young Clay Carpenter remains hospitalized, at least six additional survivors of severe brain bleeds among American football players are known publicly, based on online reports thus far in 2014.

Recovery continues for all seven. See the annotated brain-bleed cases at bottom, along with capsules on one stroke victim and more casualties among football players in 2014.

Additional severe brain injuries have likely occurred and some will become public in future calendar years, beyond 2014, as demonstrated by cases from years such as 2013, 2012 and 2011, emerging still in reports.

Regarding football of 2011, for example, several critical brain injuries were later revealed in locales such as California, Alabama, and North Carolina. Even the brain-bleed case of an NFL player, caused by congenital artery malformation and possibly related to football, was “kept quiet” for two years.

Further types of head injuries for football 2014, reported in Google banks thus far, include an orbital-lobe fracture of a college football player and  blindness of an eye for a prep.

Severe Brain Bleeds Reported Among Football Players in 2014

Cases require medical review for scientific qualification above raw data, which is news content. Cases are reported online by news media then collected through electronic search by Matt Chaney; email him at

Oct. 7:  Clay Carpenter, 12, Texas, a football player for Eustace Middle School, collapsed of a brain bleed during football practice. Surgery was performed and the boy remains hospitalized, reports The Athens Review.

Sept. 26: Brandyn Flores, teenager, Texas, a senior football player for Tornillo High School, sustained a brain bleed during a game. Surgery was performed and Flores remained comatose for six days. He has been released from hospital and recovery continues. Sources: KVIA-TV, El Paso Times and

Sept. 12:  James McGinnis, teenager, Kansas, a senior football player for Olathe East High School, collapsed of a brain bleed during a game. Surgery was performed and McGinnis continues recovery at a rehabilitation center, reports

Sept. 12:  Robert Back, teenager, a junior football player for Belt High School, sustained a brain bleed during a game, reportedly of impact. Surgery was performed and Back remains hospitalized.  Sources: Great Falls Tribune and

Aug. 28:  Dillon Fuller, 16, Wisconsin, a running back for Hartford Union High School, sustained a brain bleed of contact during a game. An initial surgery has been followed by a second brain operation and recovery is promising. Sources: WTMJ-TV and WDJT-TV.

Aug. 14:  Parker Scott, 16, Nebraska, a football player for Millard West High School, sustained a brain bleed during practice, reportedly of contact. Surgery was performed and recovery is promising, reports The Omaha World-Herald.

April 5:  D’Ondre Ransom, adult, California, a semipro football player for the Sacramento Wildcats, sustained a brain bleed during a game, reportedly of contact. Surgery was performed and Ransom remained comatose for weeks, at last report. Sources: KXTV-TV and

Cerebral Stroke Reported Online Among Football Players, 2014

Sept. 3:  Nathaniel Brumett, teenager, West Virginia, a freshman football player for Coal Valley High School, sustained a fractured cervical vertebra during practice that led to a stroke, blood clotting in the brain. At last report, Sept. 5, Brumett was hospitalized in ICU with spinal surgery pending, reports The Ironton Tribune.

Additional Brain Cases Reported Among Football Players, 2014

Sept. 26:  Andrew Buzynski, teenager, Iowa, a sophomore football player for Wapsie Valley High School, sustained a concussion during a game and was hospitalized for one week. Buzynski has returned to school and recovery is strong. Sources: Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier and KWWL-TV.

July 16:  Max Haddad, 17, California, a football player for John Burroughs High School, sustained a brain bleed of collision during a scrimmage without pads and helmets. Within hours doctors determined swelling had subsided and Haddad was released from hospital after one day, reports

Matt Chaney is an independent writer, editor, teacher, and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. For more information, including about his book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at Email him at

King Football Infests Institutions, Misleads Public

Medical Associations Avoid Confronting Injurious Sport

Dissident Doctors Threaten Medicine’s Football Bonanza

Incalculable Debilitating Injuries Annually in Football

By Matt Chaney

Posted Friday, October 3, 2014

No American of driving age and eyesight should feel revulsion over tackle football anymore, the widely corrupt, incessantly violent, powder-keg culture for players and people around them.

There shouldn’t be shock when cavalier football officials, led by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, mislead individuals, families, and the entire public.

Yeah, the football suits lie, obviously, and when this week already.

So while King Football may be shorter on time to heed criticism and reform fundamentally, it isn’t facing apocalypse. The game hasn’t reached the cliff’s edge yet in America, forced to choose between falling or turning complete about.

Football remains our premier entertainment, the shark among shows, playing perpetually in-season from local fields to palatial stadiums and throughout millions of video screens,  audio feeds, and print pages.

It is our nationalized religion, the Church of Football, with media, municipalities, schools and colleges readily hosting worship, indoctrinating players and consumers, young and old. “We couldn’t live without the NFL,” gushes Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS Corporation, paying billions for broadcast rights, operating within his situational ethic for our free press.

And nothing will change fundamentally in near future, regardless whether Goodell goes down (he won’t leave willingly, hauling $37 million annually in his job for the non-profit NFL). The frontman is interchangeable for this model. If Goodell cannot outlast political storm, league owners will substitute “another boilerplate-spewing lawyer… tobacco executive avatar for their bloodsport,” observes Bruce Arthur for The Toronto Star.

Football cult will carry on, and not only for its conniving leaders but because society is thoroughly vested too—or caught—virtually every institution and individual is beholden, some way or another, to the gridiron.

Our football universe thrives on cultural Spiral of Denial, as a costly, dangerous, and revered social setting marked by recurring crisis since the 1880s. Revelations emerge periodically against the blood sport, along with recriminations, debates, promises—and, ultimately, no legitimate reform undertaken, ever.

Foremost because tackle football is incorrigible for deadly violence.

Then, crucially, King Football has pimped vital American institutions over some 135 years, namely through mutual marketing, a profit-sharing synergy. No partner institution can react forcefully on football issues.

Historically and shrewdly, the good ol’ gridiron officials and advocates have infested government entities such as the CDC and Public Health, schools, colleges, municipalities, police and courts, and legislatures and Congress, along with the private domains of news, medicine and religion.

“And that is just it,” surmises essayist John Branch for The New York Times.  “The N.F.L. is buttressed by so many parties with a stake in its continued success… that no amount of exasperation will topple it.”

“The N.F.L. put itself in this position. But the tougher spot may belong to all the rest of us, bound to the N.F.L. with the nastiest of knots, looking for ways to be outraged in practical and meaningful ways.”

Officials of our institutions certainly bumble because of their toxic allegiance to brutal football, financially and politically. The NFL  wields more power in this country than government, staining if not benefiting all it touches, as we heard three decades ago from Howard Cosell, late iconoclast of TV sports. Cosell was the famed boxing announcer who moonlighted for Monday Night Football, in the booth with Frank Gifford and “Dandy” Don Meredith on early collaborations between the NFL and ABC.

Cosell would appreciate the pathetic comedy these days, as officials of institutions try camouflaging their conflicting interests over football, or just ignore that they’re gripping a wolf by the ears—collision DumbBall, imperiling millions of young minds and bodies.

Military boldly calls out NFL for mutual problem

Pentagon brass vow to reexamine relationships with the NFL on a moral basis, and they cite, of all things,  domestic abuse among football players.

Nervy move by military officials, projecting blame for predatory assaults on females, given their deplorable record for the same violence in the Armed Forces.

Rather, an independent party should probe the “partnership” between the NFL and Pentagon that is publicized as “a long-term program to care for and prevent concussions… as well as other health issues.” Hear Goodell spin dramatically, conjuring heroism for the collaboration, proclaiming the NFL-Military mission is to help the world:

“We’ve had an impact on the military,” bleats the highly paid yak. “Traumatic brain injury is a big issue for our [football] veterans and our military personnel. The information we have and we’ve learned, the research we have, we have shared with the defense department.”

“Those changes are going to make not just football, not just sports, but I think our world safer,” Goodell says.

But the military doesn’t want to know about casualties or pay for them, beginning with soldiers who suffer brain damage and mental disorder, just like the NFL.

And we know the qualification of NFL “research” sometimes means, according to this League of Denial, in-house data specially cooked, CYA against lawsuits and more damage claims.

That’s what common interest of the NFL-Military partnership smells like, nothing about “making a difference” or an altruistic “sharing” of reliable study and valid conclusions, as Goodell bluffs.

Dissident doctors defy Medicine’s gridiron allegiance

No American institution should precede Big Medicine in dissolving its current relationship with football, for industry ethics and substantive empirical evidence that qualify the game as a public health menace, especially for children.

Yet medicine has been twisted by football money and politics to becoming largely an endorser of the beloved carnage since the 1950s. “Sports medicine” has gerrymandered the industry to generate growth and profit—while eschewing traditional health values and standards.

Recently in California, two sports-med specialists entered public debate with a former NFL lineman on the following question:

Would you let your 8-year-old son play Pop Warner football?

The physicians, with commercial interest in the game, notably steady patients, agreed they would allow sons to play. One doctor offered a familiar tinny explanation.

“If someone [or small boy, per the question] really wanted to play a sport [of collision], I wouldn’t stop him from playing,” said Dr. Ty Affleck, physician of athletics for two colleges. “There are so many benefits derived from playing.”

Ben Lynch took exception, the well-compensated NFL player.

Lynch is among former athletes who scoff at this talking point, the abstraction of Football benefits outweigh risks for kids!—stock answer today of medical professionals with no tangible reason but personal income, which they won’t mention.

Football-boosting doctorate-holders are hard-pressed to prove their positives cited, those so-called doses of discipline, teamwork and courage when a young person straps it on to collide beneficially with others.

Heck, for my college football experience, I just say we were student-athletes roaming the field in educational manner, knocking the shit out of each other.

Because a football player should “target” every incoming opponent, or think “bounty,” whatever it takes to get vicious. The game’s covering law is primitive: Be predator or prey; avoid becoming the “cart-off” carcass.

Bad intent on a football field is survival, not “dirty” play. Head-ramming is a player’s “proper technique” to merely compete, period.

Every person inside the sport gets this reality, too, starting with medical professionals in denial.

So man bites dog anytime medicine’s football parrots—the accredited flock of MDs, ScDs and PhDs—come up against honest, informed challenge from a layman.

That was the hulking Lynch and sports docs, a most curious exchange.

The football gladiator, ex-NFL center of a dozen diagnosed concussions and eight surgeries, schooled the MDs on simple health and ethic. They would’ve had to pass-block him to match it.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s not a good idea to hit your head on something,” Lynch had to remind the doctors. “I think most people would agree with that.”

“I don’t have a son,” Lynch continued. “But if I did, I wouldn’t let him play football—at any level. There’s still so much we don’t know about concussions. There’s so much unknown. This is just my opinion.”

Study findings, critics threaten Medicine’s football bonanza 

Football-friendly specialists and researchers cannot deny mystery persists of brain trauma and recovery, especially for children.

But they slyly flip Hippocratic ethos, the keystone Do no harm—or When in doubt, protect the patient—to follow medical-biz credo of Protect football until no doubt, cha-ching.

They cluster together in public events and news stories to play word games, claiming lack of “evidence” exists to denounce the blood sport, even for small children who can include girls.

A favorite PhD guy for King Football is neuropsychologist Gerald Gioia, who forbids cheerleading for his daughter because “risks exceed safety” in the activity.

But football is fine for kids, says Giola. He recommends boys and and presumably girls to play because, of course, science hasn’t proven the gridiron dangers.

Gioia repeats the hysteria claim for football brain injury, children in the maw notwithstanding, saying fear-mongering pushes “people over the edge.”

“Importantly, science and reason must drive our action-oriented approach to safety in youth sports, maximizing participation and safety efforts together,” Gioia testified before Congress last spring. “We must avoid responding to opinion and anxiety in setting the proper course.”

Gioia operates looser for his tangled business and politics regarding athletics, which provide him income streams from the public and private sectors.

Among connections, Gioia works with teams of the NFL, NHL, public schools, private academies, “and numerous youth sports organizations in the Baltimore-Washington region,” boasts his bio-page for Children’s National Medical Center, where he heads pediatric neuropsychology.

Gioia is one of those usual sports “experts” at hearings and conferences in the United States and abroad, including the wacky 2012 Zurich confab that declared no research yet links football to brain damage—while panelists like him espoused quackery “technique,” Heads Up, as valid prevention of concussion.

A pleasant professor, the audacious Gioia co-authored Heads Up policy for the government CDC while also advising for the NFL’s front organ in “youth” athletics, USA Football.

The non-profit USA Football generates and promotes the 47-year-old false hope behind Heads Up, known by various refresher names over decades, like “proper technique,” “form tackling” and “head up” contact. Allegedly, it’s headless hitting for football.

The NFL is pouring $45 million into retreading and reselling this time-proven invalidity, and millions of children and adults buy the lie, Heads Up, believing in “safe” tackling.

Plaintiff attorneys now target coaches, officials, schools and local governments for lawsuits, alleging negligence for failure to instill headless hitting. A court test is bound to  materialize and finally blow apart the fallacy.

Modern football yaks think they aren’t liable. The NFL disavows legal responsibility for Heads Up, along with USA Football, with officials’ acknowledging there’s no proof the theory is sound—after nearly a half-century of folly, and their constant claiming it does work.

Back to Giola, what’s credibility to really matter for a guy like him, embodying conflict of interest wrapped within conflict of interest? Many prestigious citizens are bound to football samely, and the opinion-leading breed anoints the game as vital public entity, as it’s already financed.

“You don’t know what the world would be like if we cut out these activities!” Giola says on website of the American Psychological Association.

Actually, many medical professionals envision a better America without dangerous sports in schools and parks, especially DumbBall.

This side believes a wealth of empirical evidence supports placing unprecedented restrictions on football, perhaps banning it, at least for prepubescent kids.

“The literature is clear. This is a dangerous game for children to be playing,” Dr. Paul Butler, retired physician and former college player, said two years ago at forefront in the neo-wave of medical outcry against tackle football.

Retired internist Dr. James Harris took up the cause last year in Texas, urging his local school board to consider dropping football, as had Butler in New Hampshire.

“It is my medical opinion that there is already sufficient medical evidence available to warrant cessation of tackle football, period,” Harris says. “In all age groups, especially for goodness sake in children.”

“I would not let my grandsons play football. … I feel guilty because I love football and I encouraged one of my boys to play. Shoot, I played; thank goodness I wasn’t any good and I’m still okay. Or am I? Are you? Your kids? How about your dad?”

Dr. Harris is convinced microscopic examination has established evidential connection between brain damage and football impacts. He cites research of teams led by sport-neuropathologist Drs. Bennet Omalu and Ann McKee.

“Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative disease caused in large part by repetitive head trauma, like you get butting heads in football,” Harris says. “I’m talking about routine hitting that is part of football, sub-concussive, any position.”

Valid and reliable pathology links trauma harm to athletes, by McKee, Omalu and Dr. Harrison Martland, dating to the latter’s postmortem cases of boxers with “dementia pugilistica” in the 1920s.

Further literature piles on, for brain mayhem of collision football, and doctors who dissent from sports-med group-think contend that anti-football findings now constitute a neural research trend moving steadily toward consensus: Collision football is too dangerous for the human brain, particularly in developing children, and has no remedy for the impacts.

But many football-friendly professionals blather on, claiming need of more evidence for brain risk and outcome. One of those is Dr. Gillian Hotz, a specialist of pediatric sports neuro-trauma at the University of Miami.

“We don’t know enough to say kids shouldn’t play football,” Hotz says. “Everyone around the athlete needs to be educated on this subject.”

Especially doctors like Hotz and her colleagues. So here’s a primer lit review, study findings that include some research funded by football organs like the NFL since December 2012:

Football leads school sports in diagnosed concussions with prep players nearly twice as likely to suffer cerebral injury than college players… concussed children may need break from schoolworksingle concussion may result in long-term disease…  youth athletes may suffer emotional and behavioral dysfunction in months following concussion… physical fighting can lead adolescents to IQ loss equivalent to missing a year of school… football impacts to the head measure same G-forces for children as adults… depression may beset children with brain trauma… no evidence football helmets reduce concussion risk… brain injury often causes vision problems.

An onslaught of football-adverse findings have emerged the past nine months, studies in journals of 2014 to-date, with some replicating previous results, such as… deceased college football player diagnosed with severe CTE…  18 college football players and 4 prep players diagnosed with CTE postmortem… concussed teens sensitive to light or noise more prone to anxiety or depression… brain changes can persist two years beyond sport participation… teens with history of concussion more likely to suffer depression… concussed hockey players exhibit micro-structural brain change in advanced MRI… brain injury may be present even without clinical symptoms… concussion during school year means much longer recovery… brain injury may stunt childhood social skills… football players may not recover from brain trauma over the offseason… concussed teens more likely to commit suicide… football may shrink the hippocampus brain region, affecting memory and emotion… chemical response to brain impact can worsen injury or disorder… brain injury common among female criminals… college football players sustain six undiagnosed concussions for every concussion diagnosed… and concussed children should rest and avoid schoolwork post-injury.

Perhaps the biggest bomb was recently unleashed in documents of the pending NFL concussion settlement–the league’s historic acknowledgement that about 30 percent of former players suffer brain disease at earlier age and nearly double the rate of the general population.

“I think we have underestimated the link between traumatic brain injuries and degenerative diseases,” says NFL researcher Dr. Bruce L. Miller, neurologist and director of the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California-San Francisco. “There is a huge, important link related to brain trauma even early in life and degenerative diseases later in life.”

Acute traumatic brain injury and chronic disease kill 50,000 Americans every year, with 235,000 hospitalizations and 80,000 disabled. Total cost for care hits $76 billion, according to Miller.

Many of the injured dwell outside diagnosis and treatment, including football players and combat veterans . “A lot of people who suffer from TBI go under the radar,” says Miller, a candid NFL researcher.

“Ten to 23 percent of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have TBI. That is a huge number of people. We have 1.8 million troops serving in these conflicts.”

“I would argue that head trauma is one major risk factor for dementia in our society,” says Miller. “We have reached only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding what the dementia is following a TBI.”

Another earnest researcher funded by the NFL is Dr. McKee, famed pathologist who has confirmed the most cases of brain damage in deceased football players.

McKee disturbs the NFL with her frank comments on football dangers, and league officials no longer steer brain donations her way. McKee’s accumulating evidence is startling, especially of pro football.

New data were released Tuesday from the Massachusetts brain bank McKee directs, revealing almost 80 percent of football cases she’s examined have tested positive for CTE, or 101 of 128.

McKee has found brain damage in 76 of the 79 NFL-player cases she’s investigated postmortem. The sampling isn’t random but biased, since most the men and families suspected brain damage and wanted to confirm.

McKee, however, believes she’s helped establish irrefutable link of football battering to brain damage, or exactly what game-sycophant researchers keep harping about. She says that “playing football, and the higher level you play football and the longer you play football, [means] the higher your risk.”

The football-funded researchers McKee and Miller are echoed by an independent medical dissident on the game.

Dr. Jeff Ritterman also contends war and contact sports “are leading to significant number of serious brain injuries” among Americans. “We are literally knocking ourselves senseless,” Ritterman states, disgusted with the military and violent athletics.

“Take a moment to reflect on your own store of cherished memories,” the doctor writes for “Imagine not being able to retrieve them, or not being able to lay down new ones. In addition to memory loss we are causing violent outbursts, depression, aggressive tendencies and even death. Is this the legacy we want to impart to our boys and young men?”

Incalculable numbers suffer debilitating football injuries annually

Contemporary tackle football physically maims thousands every year, from head to toe, possibly reaching a six-figure number in fractures and tears that require surgery. Most cases are juvenile players in school and youth leagues.

Football-pandering experts who cry for evidence of public health menace can simply delve into the deep store of player casualties found online. Brain injury constitutes but a segment.

Even I, humble ex-sports reporter with MA degree and operating on my dime, have collected more than 1,000 cases of critical football casualties since 2009.

Minimally hundreds suffer severe to catastrophic injuries annually, per online reports and other data, and likely most would die if not for high-tech helmets and emergency response.

An overlooked category is players with internal injuries that years ago would have killed routinely, for lack of modern treatment that include powerful antibiotics. Indeed, organ ruptures, non-cerebral blood clots and infection combined to kill most a century ago, when football action moved in masses of clawing players who ripped and crushed each other, in contrast to the high-speed, head-on collisions in open space today.

Today more than a hundred football survivors of lethal injuries surface online, every year, quite predictably. The cases involve impacts to torso, extremities, head and neck, absorbed from other players and ground contact, and most patients require emergency surgery. The hits inflict damage to brain, spine, eyes, heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, pancreas, and circulatory system.

Countless additional cases occur without reaching an internet posting.

Limitations on information include privacy law, with some families quashing or controlling public mention. Independent analysts like myself, along with football-funded researchers and news media, are hopeless for documenting all severe injuries in football. A likely majority of cases are missed.

The problem is illuminated by gaping holes in annual case collections of the so-called National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. The entity, funded by football organs, isn’t a facility on campus and manifests primarily as a website full of erroneous data, trend claim and projection. The staff is unqualified for compiling epidemiological study, the complex discipline no one is capable of achieving for football in near future.

The annual UNC reports miss numerous catastrophic football injuries publicized in Google banks, including severe brain bleeds, spinal fractures, and cardiac collapses. Another problem is many cases aren’t publicized within the calendar year and only surface in subsequent periods, including reports of permanent brain impairment and quadriplegia. I’m still finding cases of 2011, for example, previously unreported.

Moreover, the UNC material doesn’t cover many classes of grid catastrophe found online, including: internal bleeding of the torso led by spleen-rupture cases galore; blood clotting launched from wounded extremities; “compartment syndrome” or rhabdomyolysis; artery rupture; peripheral paralysis of shoulder, arm and leg; and infection like deadly MRSA.

And while tackle football kills fewer players in collisions anymore, the differences are modern skull-preserving helmets and trauma-care infrastructureand not, as UNC literature purports, the musty concepts of “head up” contact and unenforceable “anti-butting” rules.

Besides, football’s contemporary death tolls should be unconscionable for the medical industry to support, given its professed values. Instead, officials characterize annual collision deaths in single digits as somehow acceptable, indicative of “safer” play.

Eight teen boys are known to have died of football contact last year at public schools and stadiums, and despite high-tech armor and modern medicine.

For 2014, at least two teens are dead of football contact thus far, Navy walk-on running back Will McKamey and New York prep Tom Cutinella.

Further, for reports that show in Google, dozens of active football players die of causes with potential indirect links to the game, although challenging to determine either way.

Some 30 cases have emerged publicly during 2014 through this week. These players die suddenly, unexpectedly, on fields, in workouts, at home and elsewhere.

Cardiac arrest kills most, apparently, followed by causes that include heart attack, heatstroke, congenital arterial malformation such as “AVM,” cerebral stroke, and blood clots in lung and heart.

Victims are largely teenagers and America’s common death-investigation offices cannot reliably verify a football link in most cases, if not the vast majority.

Finally, suicides and overdoses of active football players also occur regularly, screaming for attention and resources hardly forthcoming. Football officials zealously distance the game from these incidents, in their news quotes and court defenses.

But many experts strongly associate brain trauma to violence such as domestic attack and self-harm, and suicide often ends the lives of boxers and football players later found with cognitive disease.

Painkiller abuse is traditionally rampant in the NFL, while college and schoolboy football players are increasingly associated through arrests and tragedies.

Football players at high schools and colleges die for overdoses of pills and heroin. Others are busted for use and distribution.

Some families publicly declare that football injury led their troubled athletes to opiate addiction. Coaches, trainers and doctors have been accused of involvement, from prep ranks to pros.

Medical associations traditionally avoid confronting football

The bedding of medical authorities with tackle football is a tawdry affair of overt, historic proportion, a conflict of interest longstanding.

American medicine’s ethical infidelity was obvious 30 years ago, for its illogical stance of condemning boxing because of brain injuries while simultaneously defending football, the golden cow, according to news reports available in the subscription database Lexis-Nexis.

By 1984, the American Medical Association led groups in Britain and Canada in calls to ban boxing for amateurs and to tightly regulate professional ranks. The AMA wanted boxing barred from public funding and facilities in the United States.

American medical professionals chided counterparts who defended boxing and talked of reform for “safer” pugilism.

“A doctor at ringside is like a priest at a hanging,” joked Dr. Robert Cantu, Boston sports neurosurgeon, speaking to The Toronto Star. “Neither improves the safety of the event.”

But Dr. Cantu heartily endorsed collision football at the time, including the struggling “safety” initiative billed as “form tacking,” or impossible “head up” hitting without helmet strike.

Today the table has turned. Cantu’s altered his gridiron opinion and come under fire himself, from game advocates led by doctors, for his contemporary recommendation that parents forbid tackle football for children before high school.

Cantu contends many doctors support him but are paralyzed to act because of their business ties to football. “Although doctors generally approve, they’ve had to tiptoe around the issue with young patients and their parents,” Cantu writes for Time Magazine.

Cantu recounts his conversation on the ethical dilemma with a pediatrician, who said, “You want to do what’s best for your patients. You also want to have patients.”

A recent survey by The Aspen Institute finds many doctors share Cantu’s concern for millions of kids in tackle football. Seventy-seven percent of medical professionals polled said they were “uncomfortable” with the activity for ages under 14.

The AMA and other associations, for their part, say nothing substantial yet. It’s status quo for Big Medicine’s political and business chicanery with DumbBall in America.

In October 2011, Roger Goodell was keynote speaker at convention for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons in Washington.

The NFL commissioner received a standing ovation from the 3,000 CNS members in assembly, and independent journalist Irv Muchnick wanted to know why.

Muchnick emailed 24 officials of the CNS, copying his query to president Dr. Christopher C. Getch, professor of neurosurgery at Northwestern University.

“The Congress of Neurological Surgeons is not supposed to be a cheerleader wing of the National Football League,” Muchnick reminded Dr. Getch. “I challenge the CNS to release the [Goodell] video and take public account of this incident for your group’s independence and credibility. I look forward to hearing back from you.”

Silence. None among the CNS officials responded to Muchnick.

Matt Chaney is an independent writer, editor, teacher, and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. For more information, including about his book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at Email him at