Brain, meet skull

Did you (those of you in the US) see Frontline on football and concussions last night? It was pretty fascinating. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has been reporting a lot on hockey and concussions, too. The Frontline show made some interesting points about how violent, and intentionally violent, football is. It’s marketed as violent, and apparently people like that.

Huh. Why? What a strange thing to like.

It reminded me of a lot of things. Jousting, for instance. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and Tenniel’s illustrations of them. Jousting must have caused a lot of concussions and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Henry VIII received a bad head injury in a joust, and he was a monster as he aged – maybe the two were connected.

I don’t like watching athletes padded up like bolsters, so that’ll be part of why I’ve never liked (US) football. I like soccer-football, where it’s just shorts and jerseys and running like hell.

It’s all quite sick, in my view. I’ve always thought boxing is sick and shouldn’t be allowed; now I think the same about football. The game is designed in such a way that head injuries cannot be avoided. Bad idea, folks. Jousting wasn’t a good idea, and football isn’t a good idea. Fix it. Make it into a different kind of game.


  1. kpidcoc says

    I have to confess to having liked American football. Every play has a start, and you get to watch one group of athletes try to execute it and another try to disrupt its execution. I find it quite engaging. Which isn’t to say that I would regret its passing for all of the damage that it does.

  2. sailor1031 says

    I’m sure Henry’s jousting injuries didn’t do him any good but AFAIK he had syphilis which, left untreated as it was in those days being a recent import from the new world, made its way via spine to brain and eventually killed him. He was quite mad, in the Shaksperian Hamletical sense for years before his death. Regarding syphilis there were lethal plagues of it and many died. To the English it was the french pox, others called it the turkish pox. It was acquired by sailors in the new world where it was endemic and brought back to a continent where it was unknown and there were no antibodies. Sort of smallpox-tainted blankets in reverse……..

  3. says

    According to Wikipedia, “The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians.” There’s a citation to p 68 of Hays, J. N. (2010). The Burdens of Disease: Epidemics and Human Response in Western History. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4613-1. It goes on to say

    According to another study, Henry VIII’s history and body morphology was probably the result of traumatic brain injury after his 1536 jousting accident, which in turn led to a neuroendocrine cause of his obesity. This analysis identifies growth hormone deficiency (GHD) as the source for his increased adiposity but also significant behavioural changes noted in his later years, including his multiple marriages.[140]

    That reference is to Ashrafian, Hutan (2011). “Henry VIII’s Obesity Following Traumatic Brain Injury”. Endocrine 42 (1): 218–9. doi:10.1007/s12020-011-9581-z. PMID 22169966.

  4. Ysanne says

    have a look at AFL. Just shorts and guernseys, much wider range of things to do with the ball than in soccer, very physical in terms of running, jumping and tackling while not aimed at being violent, and best of all, none of that silly theatrical rolling around on the grass to impress the referee.

  5. Francisco Bacopa says

    If I have been informed correctly I understand that the lack of helmets and pads in rugby reduces the kinds of hard hits that cause concussions. Plenty of tackles, but the optimal tackle is the “cheek to cheek” tackle that torques people around their hips with little risk of injury to either party.

  6. mildlymagnificent says

    AFL is a good example of vigorous sport – but it _is_ a contact sport. And the athleticism has really only come to the fore since the blood ban was instituted. 30+ years ago AFL had much more fighting with running and jumping as a bonus. And the occasional speccie mark for a bit of open-mouthed awe. A few speccie examples.

    All you have to do is to listen to some of the less stellar commentators fondly reminiscing about how the modern game would be so much better if we allowed a “bit of biff” to liven things up.

  7. says

    AFL. I must have a head injury myself. Suddenly everybody’s talking in a code I don’t understand, and sniggering behind my back when I don’t get it.

  8. beardymcviking says

    AFL: Australia Football League (or Aussie rules).

    It is the main religion in the southern parts of Australia, and it’s grand temple (called the ‘Melbourne Cricket Ground’ oddly enough) is in my town of Melbourne.

    September finals madness is now finished, so the crowds are dormant for now.

  9. mildlymagnificent says


    Blood ban. Remember Australia had a huge public health campaign about preventing the spread of AIDS. One consequence of that was a ban on allowing players in any sport to stay on the field if they were bleeding. When that happened, suddenly a whole lot of “tactics” in field play became obsolete. No point in bashing someone so that they couldn’t see or breathe properly because of blood – they’d just go off the field and be replaced by someone fresh to the game.

    Bit of biff. Bare knuckle boxing basically.

  10. left0ver1under says

    I’m adding a link to my post from Mano Singham’s blog to avoid repeating it here.

    Eventually, parents are going to wake up and realize that children are being put at long term risk of brain injury and mental decline, even if they never play past high school (or even if they quit before then). As with anything else, it’s only when things affect the bottom line that anyone will do anything. I’m not talking about the $750m the NFL paid out, I’m talking about the talent pool drying up, when parents and players realize the “game” is just a meat grinder that uses up people and throws them away. People have long joked “NFL means not for long” as an insult about others’ talent, but it unjokingly describes ex-players’ life spans, and soon the game as a whole. Even if people don’t suffer CTE, many endure long-term and debilitating injuries and require many surgeries on their legs, knees and other body parts. More and more players are talking about it, no longer silenced by the media ignoring them.

    Eventually, football will change, but those motivated by greed or “fans” those who like the violence (when it’s not their own bodies and brains at risk) won’t change until it’s too late. In motorsports, new safety measures and equipment are called “tombstone technology” because enough people – or high profile people – have to die before anyone starts using it. The equipment exists, but the people running (read: ruining) the sports say it’s “too expensive”.

    NASCAR mandated full face helmets and HANS devices after Dale Earnhardt died from preventable injuries. Formula 1 changed many tracks after Ayrton Senna died at an unsafe facility. And to reference a movie in the theatres, “Rush”, Niki Lauda’s accident left burns over much of his body (and loss of one ear) because of the track in question, Nurburgring, which was too large and safety crews too far from many places on the track. It was other drivers who pulled Lauda from the burning car, not track workers.

  11. Claire Ramsey says

    I couldn’t watch the whole thing. It was so infuriating and so goddamn sad. I don’t get professional sports and I really don’t get football. Now, in addition, I hate it. I hate those stuffy gas bags in suits lying and lying and lying to preserve their ridiculous purchase of human men for short careers that destroy their lives. It is bullshit.

  12. medivh says

    Regarding the AFL as a non-violence-centred alternative to gridiron football; I must say that I find the umpires let far too much slip through in the interests of “letting the game flow”. Then again, I prefer to watch an expression of team-based skill and fair play rather than a rolling 36-man brawl. This apparently makes me somewhat of an outsider in the AFL fandom.

    I also think that the MRP (match review panel, in charge of punishing on-field infractions of a more serious nature) has far too soft a touch. Players have been told that they get four weeks unpaid leave for trying to elbow someone in the head, and most people think this is a harsh penalty? Horseshit; intentional attacks at the head should be at least a full year ban in my estimation. The MRP was instituted to make things more fair and equal by making punishments much more regimented and regulated and rely much less on human judgement, but it’s had the unfortunate side-effect of treating severe infractions very lightly.

  13. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    It’s one of the things I struggle with as a sports fan. Is it worth it to entertain us at the cost of the players’ bodies and brains?

  14. says

    There’s also the problem where techniques used in the game are dangerous if done poorly, but generally safer if the technical skills are high enough.

    The specific I’m thinking of is soccer/football, where heading the ball – when done properly – is safe and undamaging. The key is to brace the neck muscles for the impact, making more of a single unit (for momentum purposes) of the head and shoulders, the better to absorb the energy transferred from the ball. Danger happens when the hit is unexpected (a ball deflected, or coming from a blind angle), or when a cheap ball is wet (cheap balls being more likely to take on water) and thus heavier, or the terrible clash of heads. A dry ball is about 400g, under a pound, and has the advantage over baseball or cricket of being inflated rather than solid. The helmets in hockey and gridiron football pretty much prevent injuries from the puck/ball being a factor.

    But when kids are doing it before being trained in how to do so safely, or adults in a rec league who don’t know how to do it properly, it’s dangerous, and should probably be outlawed. Not least because the biggest danger they’ll face is of the clash of heads.

    What I’d like to see, and I think will eventually happen, is the spread of a light padded helmet like this, shown worn by goalkeeper Peter Cech of Chelsea after recovering from a bad concussive injury. When this becomes part of the game for kids growing up, just as cleats and shin pads are (and cups for those with male genitalia), it will cut down on the risk of head injury. It can and does happen in modern games: when I started watching ice hockey after moving to Canada in 1976, only foreigners of dubious masculinity wore helmets in pro hockey, or at least that’s how the sensible were portrayed. Three years later, the NHL moved to mandate helmets, and reduced the incidence of head and face injury substantially.

    Gridiron football, though, honestly, I don’t think there’s a way the game as currently constituted can be made safe, because part of the problem is the simple day-to-day grind of being a mountain of muscle and bone running as hard as you can into another mountain of muscle and bone, and that’s always going to be highly damaging in the long run. I’m not sure I can think of a way in which its main concerns could be alleviated.

  15. johnthedrunkard says

    GB Shaw, yes the vegetarian pacifist, was an avid boxer. There is an essay of his protesting the adoption of Queensbury Rules, pointing out that the ‘safety’ measures actually made for more injury. The padded gloves protect the striking HANDS not the struck head.

    American Football has evolved into its current form adapting to ‘safety’ reforms (like helmets) by become more violent (‘spearing’ etc.)

  16. theobromine says

    Well, I’m rather asportsual in general, but I guess I can sort of understand the idea of having one team trying to get an object in one direction while the other has the opposite objective. And for most sports (hockey, football, etc) the injuries, however enjoyable they may be to the spectators are, in theory at least, collateral damage. But what I cannot fathom is boxing, where (as I understand it) the actual point of it is to injure your opponent to the point that they are rendered senseless or otherwise incapacitated. (Is it a triumph for women’s rights that women’s boxing is now included in the Olympics? Especially since there was talk about them being mandated to wear skirts by the sport’s governing body..)

  17. left0ver1under says

    CaitieCat (#15) –

    What I’d like to see, and I think will eventually happen, is the spread of a light padded helmet like this, shown worn by goalkeeper Peter Cech of Chelsea after recovering from a bad concussive injury.

    It may have been before your time (and I’m showing my age), but Alan Mayer of the Tampa Bay Rowdies (North American Soccer League) wore a full hockey helmet in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mayer was known for being reckless and sacrificing his body (e.g. numerous broken teeth from collisions) and suffered at least one concussion.,%20Alan%20Mayer.jpg

    As I recall, Petr Cech wanted to wear a hockey helmet, but was not allowed, and wore the rugby helmet instead. A hockey helmet was deemed too hard, but I think that was the wrong decision.

    As for heading in soccer (or World Football, as I call it, compared with North American Football), there is talk of banning it in children’s leagues. That’s a good idea, removing an unnecessary risk to kids, similar to Hockey Canada banning body checks for kids below age 13. But I hope kids wouldn’t be penalized for incidental or slow moving contact (e.g. when chesting a ball that is up in the air).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *