Saturday, December 16, 2006

Encouraging Brain Damage In Children Is Officially Wholesome. Moral, Even.

Posted by olvlzl, The Heretic.

At a football game last weekend, Mike Vrabel, apparently one of the best liked of the New England Patriots, “got his bells rung”. That incident was newsworthy enough to break through my anti-ballistic defense shield which usually keeps me from knowing anything about sports. Never having heard of Mike Vrabel before seeing him on TV the other day, he seems nice. You certainly wouldn’t want him to damage his brain just playing a game*. And that’s really how this piece started out, with the thought, “They’re destroying their brains. It’s nuts”.

Mike Vrabel is an adult and so has a right to make that decision for himself, I suppose. You might wonder why other adults who choose to damage only their own brains through recreational drug use and not those of other people don’t have that same right.

Underage children don’t have the maturity to be allowed to make decisions like that. You have to wonder how the adults with the authority to prevent behavior this dangerous could allow it to continue. They are risking permanent damage to the one and only brain these children are ever going to have. Encouraging them to risk it is insane and immoral. If it was done in any number of other, very similar activities it would be called criminal neglect, child endangerment or some other crime. But try telling people that.

Rah, rah, glory, the habitual response to football in the past has given way to something much worse and more dangerously dishonest, conventionalized sentimentality. Football, a vicious and violent game, is now presented in the most cloying of celluloid images, soft iris, sappy music, golden lighting, valedictory language**. I once heard a nationally known sports commentator on the radio say that the most archetypical American paternal role model is the highschool football coach. Guess that makes most of us, all women to start with, fatherless. I don’t know about your father but mine didn’t make a living by getting a pack of boys to bash their own and other peoples’ brains out at public expense. Thanks Frank, but I’ll take my own father as a role model, not the one provided by the football industry.


About ten years ago a bunch of our local, small town, police departments hosted an anti-drug event. Apparently they got a grant from the federal government to present positive, safe alternatives to taking drugs. While generally skeptical about the value of one-time events to change potentially harmful teenage behavior, what really got my attention is that things like car racing, sky diving and motocross were featured. While they might be thrilling none of them is remotely risk free. I would be very surprised if there aren’t more children permanently damaged or killed in these activities than, for example, by smoking pot while not driving. Assuming that the pot that is being smoked isn’t adulterated by the illegal trade in it.***

Football is just another officially wholesome activity that is often presented as being more positive than smoking pot or other demimondaine pass times. But almost every year there are school children who die and are permanently damaged by playing football entirely by the rules. The level of brain damage, “getting your bells rung” is almost certainly much higher than is caused by using marijuana. They’ve looked at every straw in that haystack and still can’t find conclusive evidence that moderate marijuana use is all that dangerous.

As for the wholesomeness of football, football players are not famous for their chastity, their sobriety, their kindness. Not that it’s just football. Almost any short, skinny, unpopular person who went to a highschool where there is a sports team can tell you about that. And there are children damaged by being physically and psychologically abused off the field in hazing and other forms of organized sadism. I’m afraid that those activities and the astonishing amount of support the sadistic bullies get in the community say a lot about one of the most unattractive features of American society. In really bad cases it’s the victims who suffer the barbs of community disapproval when a game or the season gets cancelled not their attackers.

While I’m sure there are football players who are models of conventional propriety and some who are actually rather nice guys, there are plenty who aren’t. I don’t think sports had anything to do with the character development of the ones who are nice guys. Maybe I’m wrong and the jocks who are jerks would have been jerks anyway, though the vainglory and pack behavior that sports encourages doesn’t produce positive personality traits in other endeavors, does it?

And football players aren’t famous for long life either. Through combination of obesity, brain damage, other physical damage and, in the greatest of all ironies, steroid and other drug abuse, the average life span of professional football players is more than two decades less than the national average**. The generally known and openly discussed fact of steroid use among these ever more enormous football players is probably one of the more interesting areas of legal hypocrisy. It also might play a part in the aggression that some of them wreak on spouses, girlfriends and other people. Baseball players seem to be returning to normal sizes after those congressional hearings a couple of years back but football players don’t seem to be returning to normal. Maybe if they weren’t so enormous they wouldn’t do as much damage when they smash into each other.

Just how much can the coaches, the trainers, the fans really care about the players when all of this evidence is right out there for anyone to see? Unless that evidence is willfully ignored the answer is that they are just objects to the world of football. They have even learned to see themselves that way. Considering how the game is played, why would anyone expect anything else?


And with football there is also the spectacle of cheerleaders. Does the fact that they still keep on a few stitches of clothing change the fact that they are bumping and grinding in exactly the same style as strippers? Gyrating on the sidelines in order to further increase the glory of the boys on the field and the sexual arousal of their audience? What kind of a message is that to girls and young women? What attitude does that promote in boys and young men? And THEY are also getting killed and injured in the process of doing their own “sport”*****. That is a whole topic in itself, one which I’m researching.

As you can see I don’t much like football, the favorite game of American patriarchy. This might be the most heretical post I've ever done.

* One of the more common results of permanent brain damage is personality change, not for the better. Risking permanent brain damage for the sake of playing a game is immoral, I can’t in good conscience not point out that being a supporter of an activity that carries this as a guaranteed result is immoral too.

** There is a really disgusting example to be seen on a TV commercial running right now, for those of us who just will not sit through another one of those gawdawful football movies ever again.

***Marijuana use should, of course, be legalized for adults. Though I don’t like it myself - really messed up my counting during time signature changes when I tried it- it is not sufficiently dangerous to carry criminal penalties. That is if it is being regulated for purity. The sale of genuinely dangerous drugs should be banned though making just the possession and use of them a felony doesn’t seem to solve any problems. It’s a complicated topic, too complicated to be left in the hands of the anti-drug industry.

**** U.S. life expectancy is 77.6 years, the average for NFL players is 55, 52 for linemen.

***** Methods: We reviewed 29 of 39 incidents of cheerleading injuries reported to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research from 1982 to 2002.

Results: Twenty-seven of the injured cheerleaders were women. There were 1.95 direct catastrophic injuries per year or 0.6 injuries per 100,000 participants. The rate of injuries among college cheerleaders was five times that of high school participants. The most common stunts performed at the time of injury were a pyramid (9) or a basket toss (8). Catastrophic injuries included 17 severe head injuries, resulting in 13 skull fractures and 2 deaths; 8 cervical fractures or major ligament injuries; 3 spinal cord contusions; and 1 concomitant head injury and cervical fracture.