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.
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 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 through 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.
Our gridiron 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 bloodsport, 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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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 schoolwork… single 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 HuffingtonPost.com. “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.
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 infrastructure—and 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.
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.
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.
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 www.fourwallspublishing.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.