Ultraviolence

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, October 12, 2009

In this week's issue on The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell has a fascinating look at football, dogfighting and brain damage.

In the article, he cites a recent University of Michigan study:

...late last month the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research released the findings of an N.F.L.-funded phone survey of just over a thousand randomly selected retired N.F.L. players—all of whom had played in the league for at least three seasons. Self-reported studies are notoriously unreliable instruments, but, even so, the results were alarming. Of those players who were older than fifty, 6.1 per cent reported that they had received a diagnosis of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease.” That’s five times higher than the national average for that age group. For players between the ages of thirty and forty-nine, the reported rate was nineteen times the national average. (The N.F.L. has distributed five million dollars to former players with dementia.)
Given this differential, has technology improved to address the issue and protect the player? Gladwell cites the influence of activist Chris Nowinski, a former football player who has experienced six concussions:
“People love technological solutions,” Nowinski went on. “When I give speeches, the first question is always: ‘What about these new helmets I hear about?’ What most people don’t realize is that we are decades, if not forever, from having a helmet that would fix the problem. I mean, you have two men running into each other at full speed and you think a little bit of plastic and padding could absorb that 150 gs of force?”
Last week, I had the opportunity to take my human resource management class to a tour of Lambeau Field and meet with a representative of their HR Department. It was quite the experience to see behind-the-scenes, walk on the field, and here about the business side of the organization. However, we did not get an opportunity to hear about the player personnel aspects of the organization.

A business like the NFL is unique in that it puts its key employees each week in harm's way. Certianly, these employees know the risks involved and, perhaps, the salaries they earn serves as adequate hazard pay for the work they perform. Brain damage is not the only health issue. Congress has looked into football injuries in the past and calls have been made to address this issue at the Congressional level.

Does the NFL have a greater obligation to protect its employees? Is the NFL Players Association doing a disservice to its rank-and-file by not taking greater effort to look out for the economic, let alone physical, well-being of its employees? Is this something that should be addressed at the high school or college level?

2 comments

I see NFL players in the same light as race car drivers. They know the risks when they put on the gear, and they are being paid (more than) adequately for their efforts. I don't think Congress or anyone else in the government should be telling the players they can't participate.

by Ben Eubanks on October 12, 2009 at 12:46 PM. #

if one makes an NFL roster, the minimum salary is $310,000. The average length of tenure in the NFL is 3.5 years, so one might make, on average, over a million dollars.

However, the average life expectancy of a football player is 53-59 years, compared to 75 years for men overall.

Further, only a select, select few make the NFL, compared to the thousands playing Saturdays for, at best, a division I scholarship, that many may not use to their advantage.

by akaBruno on October 13, 2009 at 7:41 AM. #

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