Monday, October 19, 2009


The local NFL franchise has sunk to a new low, after a blowout loss to the Pats that extended their season record to 0-6. Perfect time for thoughtful Titans fans (I know there's at least one, my colleague) to confront Malcolm Gladwell's stiff-arm challenge to the sport's very legitimacy. The spectacle and drama of it all is engaging, sometimes (as when the home team actually wins) even compelling. But...

But the brutality is undeniable too, as data continues to accumulate: the incidence of football-related injury, especially brain injury, rivals that of boxing (1 in 5 boxers will sustain dementia). And the sheer ugly barbarity of it rivals that of Michael Vick's old passion. The dogs of the gridiron, like those of the ring, got game.

And we like to watch.


Mister Jimmy said...

I think the NFL continues to take steps to minimize serious injuries to players by upping the penalties for certain types of plays and behaviors - on and off the field. And all sport could be argued to be some form of ritualized combat. Boxing - and other full-contact fighting - is the only sport where the goal is to do as much physical harm as possible to the opponent, going so far as to sustain enough force to knock the opponent out. Most other styles of fighting rely on points or the opponent yielding.

Phil said...

But Gladwell's point is that the harshest hits, the ones they're cracking down on with penalties, are not the major cause of these injuries. And his final point is that there's no way to play full contact football without them. So the decision I'm facing: will I continue to abet this barbarism with my attention on Sunday afternoons? Easy answer: not during the MLB postseason!

Mister Jimmy said...

Mea Culpa, I responded to the email so thought you were speaking to boxing. After reading Gladwell's article I understand your post more clearly, though I think it's a variation on a Hobson's choice to ask "So what is football? Is it dogfighting or is it stock-car racing?"

I do think another observation has more legitimacy:
"Today, when we consider subtler and more insidious forms of injury, it’s far from clear whether the problem is the style of play or the play itself."

The article has made me more aware of how dangerous aspects of football can be. His article doesn't say anything about hockey which seems much more violent to but I speak from no experience.

When I was in high school I played a bit. I enjoyed many aspects of the game and was led to believe I was gifted with certain skills. But on one play, during a kick-off return, I was literally run over by an opposing player moving at full speed, head-on. I wasn't knocked out nor seriously hurt but I knew at that moment I couldn't play at that level.
But, for now, I'm still watching, though certainly a bit more carefully.

Phil said...

Hockey's a big problem too. And killer line drives, and brains fried by steroids. It's a slippery slope, for sure; and I'm not prepared to stop watching it all either. But I'm pretty sure I can make better use of my Sunday afternoons. Accelerating Intelligence News