Tags: Almond | football | brain | Easterbrook

Authors Are Anti-, Not Pro-Football

By    |   Friday, 10 October 2014 07:48 AM

On Sept. 27, a beautiful day for football, C-SPAN broadcast live a book event calling attention to the structural problems that are starting to afflict the business model of what one of the authors called "the football-industrial complex."

The main subject was Steve Almond's Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto, which he discussed with Gregg Easterbrook, author of The King of Sports: Why Football Must Be Reformed." The event took place at the legendary Washington bookstore Politics and Prose, and as Susan Coll, director of events for the bookstore, introduced the speakers, she noted that the crime wave plaguing the business of football was the subject of a recent cover story in The New Yorker.

While in high school this writer nearly had an opportunity to work with a coach who went on to a distinguished career at the high school, college and professional levels, but the pass fell incomplete when he was hired away by a larger school on his way up the ladder, and the ticket was not transferable. Years later this writer happened to sit on plane next to a passenger who represented a company that supplied bank uniforms to high schools.

This encounter brought home the extent of the economic and social impact of the sport. Far beyond the professional level, the game affects every community of size, and it involves a host of ancillary activities such as bands, cheerleaders, concessionaires, hotels, transportation and maintenance.

After 9/11 it was striking to hear a spokesman for the Saudis, accused in the press of complicity in the attacks, talk about football. He had grown up in the U.S. and during one of his appearances remarked that in order to understand American life it was essential to understand high school football.

Almond carried the ball for most of the discussion, and he began by referring to the statement by Kevin Faulk, former running back for the New England Patriots, that he had been "knocked out cold but not out." In other words, while Faulk had suffered a concussion, he continued to play, as did many players until concussion protocols were introduced that required removal and medical evaluation of players who displayed symptoms of concussion.

While Almond spoke as a fan who regretted having to criticize pro football, the theme of the book was that emerging evidence of extensive and widespread brain damage that leads to dementia in players after they retire told him that "something's wrong" that demands change.

Almond handed off to Easterbrook, who spoke of the economic value to top-ranked teams like Florida State University, which could amass profits of as much as $60 million from winning a national title while the graduation rate of the players hovers around 55 percent. He pointed out that while 3.5 million students will play football at all levels in a given year, only one in 50 will receive a college scholarship and only one in 10,000 will go on to play professionally.

Easterbrook cited statistics on the prevalence of brain damage that have already been rendered obsolete by further studies, damage that accumulates from years of sub-concussive hits whose impact literally increases as players get bigger and the game gets faster.

Since the presentation, the story has continued to develop on an almost daily basis. A new study of the brains of deceased players has revealed that as many of 95 percent of the professional players had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the figure was at least 80 percent for college players. Student demonstrations at the University of Michigan have demanded the dismissals of Athletic Director Dave Brandon and football coach Brady Hoke for failure to remove a quarterback who wobbled after a serious hit and suffered a concussion but had been sent back into a game for another play.

Finally, one subject that was not explored was the potential economic impact if the business model of the industry became so impaired as to threaten the solvency of bond deals that have financed sports stadiums at all levels in all parts of the country. The cynical view is that like the tobacco industry, this one would find a way to survive. Perhaps the Federal Reserve would buy those bonds.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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On Sept. 27, a beautiful day for football, C-SPAN broadcast live a book event calling attention to the structural problems that are starting to afflict the business model of what one of the authors called "the football-industrial complex."
Almond, football, brain, Easterbrook
Friday, 10 October 2014 07:48 AM
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