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ESPN Football Analyst Walks Away, Disturbed by Brain Trauma on Field (nytimes.com)
436 points by daegloe on Aug 31, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 383 comments



Good for him.

I stopped following football after watching League of Denial on PBS. If I'm at the bar or something and it happens to be on, I might passively watch it, but I haven't sought it out since. I just can't support the NFL.

I do feel torn though because I love hockey. I know they're dealing with similar controversies. My justification, however flimsy it might be is that I don't like the fighting (I might be in a minority, but I'd have no issue if the NHL eliminates fighting altogether), and the big hits aren't why I watch...I enjoy the stick work, the dangling and skills getting to the net. I can also appreciate that the NHL does seem to be doing a better job at cracking down on the dirty hits.

I also play hockey (in a non-check beer league) and am very aware about the risks. I'm also an adult who is old and mature enough to accept these risks. I don't know how much that can be said for the elementary/middle/high school kids playing sports like hockey and football.


Hockey has the advantage that the sport could we reworked into something less violent. Hockey could survive a change to the rules that would reduce blows to the head.

Football is such an intrinsically contact sport that I don't think a safer game would even be recognizable.

Actually, that might be worse... If hockey turns out to have as bad a concussion problem, the leadership of the sport is likely even more culpable because they had more options to fix the problem than football does.


I think the rules could get reworked to make it less dangerous for brain injury. Take a cue from Australian Rules Football: remove all padding and make high tackles that endanger the head illegal.


Head contact, boarding, and checking from behind are already illegal.

I agree hockey could survive the elimination of checking, and think it probably will happen eventually. It's not even introduced until 14U age and younger kids learn to play with body contact only.

It would be a different game but all the skilled puck handling, skating, passing, shooting and speed would remain.


Rugby and league have no padding and those rules. It doesn't appear to anywhere close to enough.


>no padding

This is offered as a solution a lot, but I am not sure if it would actually be effective. Football helmets were introduce early in the 20th century because dozens of people were dying every year playing football. Football helmets put an end to those deaths caused by acute trauma, but the physics of the game and those collisions haven't changed. Football is just a more violent game than Rugby due to various reasons like position specialization, more frequent stoppages of play, and the inherent directions of play for the offense and defense. It is rare to have two players in rugby running full speed at each other head on. That happens in football on nearly every play and often multiple times per play.


> In the NFL 18.8% of injuries occur at or above the shoulders, the area where athletes wear the most protective equipment. In the AFL 11.5% of AFL injuries occur in this area, where they wear virtually no protection.

Source: https://medium.com/upstart-magazine/nfl-vs-afl-injury-compar...

Helmets enable players to weaponize their heads, like this recent hit (Vontaze Burfict's suspension earning HIT on Anthony Sherman): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7qQtadYqsI and many others demonstrate. I believe removing helmets would mitigate this behaviour and increase the long term health of football players. Looking for data on Aussie rules, this is not quite what I was hoping to find, but interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Australian_rules_footb...

Without question Aussie rules has its share of devastating brain injuries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1aU0hz5Tf8. Plenty of concussions and fencing responses in that clip.

At 33, I've stopped watching North American football altogether because the violence turned me off. 10 years ago it was my second fav sports (to Hockey).


With relatively rested players lining up against each other on every down the situation is much different from players chasing each other on the field like they do in AFL.

WRs for example have a somewhat similar situation to AFL players since they are mostly being chased by the defense and they don't get nearly as many contact injuries as RBs for example. Not to mention they are protected by (frequently controversial) pass interference rules.

From what I gather, introduction of the helmets back in the day reduced injury rates.


There's also suspicion, if I recall correctly, that the routine repetitions of linemen taking knocks to the head in practice does more long term damage than what we see on game day. This may be more pronounced in high schools and to a lesser extent, college, where the coaching can be more suspect.


Yes, research has suggested that a number of smaller collisions can cause damage even if a player never suffers an actual concussion. A helmet also only protects you from external trauma. It acts as a second skull. But the problem isn't always from external trauma. If you are moving at speed and you are put to an immediate stop due to a collision with another player, your entire body experiences a lot of force. Your brain will end up colliding with the inside of your skull due to inertia regardless of whether you were hit in the head or not. That is why simply cutting headshots out of the game or removing helmets won't be enough to protect players. It really gets down to the fundamental nature of football and the physics of its collisions.


Analogy I've stolen from a Uni. of Toronto brain doctor: fill a mason jar (skull) with water (cerebrospinal fluid), and throw in a golf ball (brain). Shake the jar, the golf ball will hit the side of the jar.

You could bubble wrap the jar (helmet), but the ball will still collide with the inside of the jar.


> It is rare to have two players in rugby running full speed at each other head on.

When they run towards each other, due to the rules, they don't just try and collide and call it a "tackle". I agree football is a more violent game intentionally but it's purely how the game is played and if you change the rules you'd have teams finding ways to play differently, with different skillsets prioritised.


I too was going to suggest the counter-intuitive 'remove the helmets' until you said that. Wasn't it the case that there were some form of padded helmet then? What was it like when there was no headgear of any sort? It is still a fact that there isn't this brain trauma issue in professional rugby. As a former player I assure you the contact is real and I suffer for it every day but thankfully not my brain - (well you be the judge). :)


Rugby is a much better analogue to gridiron - it's essentially the same game. Two lines of players run at each other, with a certain number of attempts to run the ball downfield, and almost every 'play' has contact of players running in opposite directions. Aussie Rules is much more freeform and has fewer 'opposing hits'.

However, much as we aussies like to mock gridiron for the pads it requires, without the pads, players used to die relatively routinely. Take the pads away from gridiron and it would need to change and loosen up enough that it basically becomes rugby.


Well, if they switched to rugby, then they could play internationally against established rugby teams.

But I'm not sure American broadcasters could adjust to a game with only two halfs of 40min each, no stopping of the clock and nowhere to stuff their abundance of ads.


We could just plaster the ads all over the jerseys like Europeans do.


> abundance of ads

I wouldn't mock the Americans too much for their famous love of advertising. I haven't found a sport yet that is as much a slave to advertising as Aussie Rules. Try to find a square meter of space[1] at an AFL game without advertising - even the ball itself is adorned with the golden arches.

[1] Okay, some of the grass doesn't have advertising on it.....


Rugby is a much better analogue to gridiron - it's essentially the same game.

The huge and essential difference is that in gridiron the players in the 'scrum' start ~2m appart and run towards each other head first at full speed. And while most players in rugby can go several plays without taking a hit, linemen take a significant hit basically every single play.


It's still a risky and violent sport, but the issue of hard-to-identify-and-track accumulated damage is lessened.


As a big hockey fan, I completely agree with this. The pads players wore 30+ years ago were pretty much nothing so if you tried to hit someone hard it hurt you as well. My theory is that the NHL would see less concussions if they reduced the padding but such a counter-intuitive process is never going to happen.

I'm curious, did Australian Rules Football go to padding and then remove it? Because I think that once padding is put in place, it's very tough to get people to remove it.


One big reason for padding that is not directly related to player-on-player contact is getting hit with the puck. I play in beer league hockey (non-check) as a defense man and I wear full shoulder and chest pads to protect from the puck, not hits from other players. At the pro level, taking a hit from a puck without padding could easily cause very severe injury.


AFL has never had padding.


The rules could get reworked, but I seriously doubt if they ever will. Maybe its possible to slowly change the game over time, but completely changing the rules overnight would be too dramatic and risky for any league to really get behind. The best chance is probably for the NFL to come up with a long term plan to fix things, but that'd require them to admit the problem, which I don't think will ever happen.


Go back to leather helmets and cotton pads and it's a different game. No reason we need to turn their heads into sledgehammers. We do that because then they feel more comfortable with the big unsafe hits and the flying around but we could get back to the real game with the ruck style running game and wideouts with hand fighting all the way down the sideline and half the commercials and I bet ratings would start going up.


Ratings may go up, but with half as many commercials the profits would also go down. The league only cares about ratings insofar as it helps their bottom line.

I'm not saying these changes would be a bad thing, only that I have doubts it'll ever happen.


meh if they sold it for $2 or $4 per game directly to the customer they would get the money anyway. They need to look at new ways to monitize and it probably involves cutting the commercials and the middle men and putting the money directly in their pockets. The only reason they need cable is for 1. distribution which is not an issue since the internet. 2. to splice the commercials in which could easily be done. Sell the games directly and get 100% of your add revenue and you'd probably make more.

If viewership continues to go down, and parent stop letting their kids play at lower levels because of health conserns, they will also lose money.


Great idea! Less head injuries, but still a hard-hittin' sport https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1aU0hz5Tf8


Virtually every example of a "big hit" in that video ends with the person who got hit showing the fencing response (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fencing_response). That body pose indicates a pretty severe concussion.

In fact, the most popular video on YouTube about the fencing response has a shocking amount of overlap with the "big hits" video you shared. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlXjwAlOflA

Frankly, your video was kind of hard to watch. It's basically 3 minutes of people getting their brains rattled in their skulls.


That's true! I didn't think about it because it was a collection of "rare" events - hitting above the shoulders is not a valid tackle. Usually won't get these hits in a game.

But still, obviously it certainly exists, and I'm sure there is a lot of head trauma every year.


I have never seen this video. I always had heard that without the gear that rugby was less brutal than football -- but seriously I don't know. Those hits looked devastating... I could not watch that sport.


That's not rugby, it's Aussie Rules, but those are illegal tackles in both sports. I don't know why the poster chose a video of vicious fouls to make his point about safety.


What % of players are going to get such a tackle once in their careers? How many are going to get five?


American football is also obsessively measured. The difference of a few yards at any point in time can be the difference of a game. Players are also obsessively measured for their performance, so every second counts towards a professional player's career - and their compensation.

Players are highly incentivized to "give it their all", and that's how people end up getting injured or receive massive head trauma.

Hockey can be just as violent, but it's a much more fluid sport, so the pressure isn't on as much for the extra exceptional effort.


I don't understand Rugby, Australian rules, or Gaelic football especially well (or US football for that matter, though I've watched it casually over the years), but my understanding is that tacking in these sports has a different purpose and that tackling technique reflects this. You may be on to something with you comment about yards - in American football, it can even be a game of inches. As a result, tackling isn't a way to halt play or stop someone, or to transition during flow of play - you need to essentially completely halt that person's forward movement without even giving an inch.

I've thought this may be why American football has more of the full body collision, where two (very large and powerfully built) men collide at high velocity almost horizontal to the earth. They're trying to gain as little as a few inches in the collision.

I've heard complaints from Australian rules players who come to the US about tackling - that the way US players have learned to tackle doesn't have much strategic value and greatly increases the possibility of injury, buy they continue to tackle this way when they join Australian rules leagues.

That's what I've heard and thought about, I do want to be clear that I don't know too much about all this - what I've written is more of a question in case someone in the know could weigh in.


There is another factor at play here: Rugby, Australian rules, and Gaelic league wear next to no equipment. The problem with American Football is the players are geared up with heavily padded helmets. This has the effect of turning heads into battering rams. You wouldn't see 2 rugby players run into each other full steam because they don't have gear and would break bones and get cut. The gear lessens brain impact but does not eliminate it. So you then get higher impact forces that appear less brutal due to non visible trauma to the brain that is being rattled the whole time.


Another difference on tackling in Rugby: you can only tackle the ball carrier.


Not sure what you're saying here...are you equating blocking and tackling?

In American football you also may only tackle the ball carrier. You can initiate contact other guys (usually in the form of blocking), and that can be very violent at times...but I don't think there's a scenario where you can tackle someone without the ball (and it not be called for a penalty).


In rugby there is no blocking. The only time non-ball carriers come into contact with the opposing team is during a scrum or accidental collision (which are quite rare).


Or in Rugby Union, during a ruck or maul.

The main difference in tackling technique between American Football and both codes of Rugby is use of the arms. In Rugby the arms must be used to tackle the opposing player. A shoulder charge, with no arms used, is illegal and may result in expulsion from the game. In a recent New Zealand vs British and Irish Lions game, NZ player Sonny Bill Williams was given a red card and sent from the pitch for this exact offence.

The other main points to note are that the opposing player can only be tackled below shoulder level and, as you've pointed out, in open play only the ball carrying may be tackled (or blocked).


Tackling in American football is almost gone from the game. The object now seems to be to smash into the ball carrier as hard as humanly possible and hope he falls down. You rarely see a receiver or quarterback tackled, you see the defender simply run into him as fast and hard as he can. Watch some film from the 50's and 60's and you will immediately see the difference.


This is because defensive scoring opportunities (turnovers) are so valuable in American football that defenders are pushed to do whatever they can to get the carrier to fumble, and this usually means launching themselves "at the ball" every time.

Tackling the ball itself and not the player.


Or a ruck - clearing out the ruck, it's allowed there. Or a catch and drive in the lineout. But yes, the contact in these situations is more pushing than collisions.


Yes. Far less physical however. You can 'join' a ruck, but not tackle full steam, let alone a shoulder charge or direct hit.


And even the scrums have reduced contact nowadays; arguably this has resulted in them becoming rather difficult to execute well, and they're becoming a bane to the modern game. Tweaking these things does have knock on effects.


I think there's been a positive change since Rugby Union scum engagements went from "Crouch-Touch-Pause-Engage" to "Crouch-Bind-Set". The initial contact is not as violent, and it would seem far fewer scrums are collapsing, especially on the point of engagement.

I don't have stats to back this up, but my general impression over the last couple of seasons is that less scrums require resetting.


The other big difference is what's obsessively measured.

A few yards makes a huge difference in rugby, and players are certainly highly incentivised to give it their all, but even for the battering ram-type players, their ability to help the team actually get the ball across the gain line is a function of the stamina and mobility to get around the pitch for multiple phases of play, complex situational awareness and some degree of ball handling skills, not just the ability to block off the man directly in front of them for a few plays.

Not to mention rugby's increasingly strictly applied and penalised rules on what is and isn't a legal tackle which mean that a player who doesn't tackle in a relatively safe manner will be a liability to their teammates as well as themselves


What?

There are just five men on the ice for a team in hockey, there's arguably more pressure for each individual player to "give it their all" at any one moment than in football where there's 11 men on the field.

As someone lucky to be from Pittsburgh where we have both the Penguins and Steelers consistently being the top teams in the NHL and NFL respectively, there is no shortage of serious brain trauma in the NHL. Just ask Sidney Crosby.


s/difference of a few yards/difference of 1 yard/

signed, this totally not still upset Seahawks fan.

(re: 2015 Superbowl)


> Football is such an intrinsically contact sport that I don't think a safer game would even be recognizable.

And yet, rubgy and Australian football have just as much contact and do not suffer from an endemic injury problem.

Maybe something related to the padding?


A quick Googling of that suggests otherwise:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/one-seaso...


Aussie Rules has nowhere near as much contact as gridiron, and the kind of contact it has is rarely as full-on as in gridiron. There's no real contact in aussie rules if you're not on the ball, whereas every play in gridiron, more than half the players are slamming into each other, regardless of what's happening.

Most of the contact in aussie rules is tackling from behind, whereas in gridiron on every play you have around nine guys smashing into each other just as the quarterback receives the ball... and then all the additional contact depending on the play, including tackling like in aussie rules.


Here's a bit where they measured the force of rugby -vs- football tackles. Football is 3 times harder.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7tGY-VDx3o

Don't have much commentary on the subject and just wanted to share the vid. I'd only think that a difference like that can't really be resolved to padding.


It's a pretty unfair comparison, though I'd expect it's largely representative.

A rugby union player has to run around the pitch for 2 bouts of 40 minutes [about 40 minutes of 'ball in play' time]. According to this article - https://qz.com/150577/an-average-nfl-game-more-than-100-comm... - the average NFL match is 11 minutes of action, in [average] 4s bursts, over a 3+ hour period. Many NFL positions can optimise for muscle mass without worrying about stamina and sustained speed.

FWIW the measured tackle and at least one footage tackle [8mins 26s] in your linked video - https://youtu.be/TSc_Gxq1two - look illegal to me, lifting a player and pushing them down with head/shoulders first towards the ground (spearing, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spear_tackle) is a red-card offence.


> Many NFL positions can optimise for muscle mass without worrying about stamina and sustained speed.

Not just mass. What I often hear NFL athletes and trainers talk about maximizing "explosion" in their movements.


I'd say this is not true. The doctor from the movie "Concussion" said that Rugby, most martial arts, and lacrosse are all sports that need massive modification for those under 18. Adults can make their own decisions, he said, but these sports are demonstrably bad for brain-safety.


Rubgy has much less contact than american football. You can't just tackle people without the ball.


You're also not allowed to tackle a player without the ball in American football. You're allowed to block, but when two players come together, especially at the snap, it can be a violent collision.


Here in Melbourne there was a news article recently about some AFL players who got high on drugs and alcohol and set a dwarf alight.

It may be harder to detect chronic brain trauma in that population.


For some context, here is an article from the aftermath of that incident: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/sep/03/afl-st-kilda-d...


Hockey can be a beautiful game of finesse, speed, and precision. It could absolutely be re-worked.

Football is fundamentally flawed. Many positions exist entirely because it's rough and violent. Players who never touch the football in a well played game.


>>Hockey can be a beautiful game of finesse, speed, and precision. It could absolutely be re-worked.

Indeed. Olympic hockey is a perfect example of a step in that direction, and one of the greatest versions of the game in existence.


Watching the Canadian national hockey team is one of the highlights of the Winter Olympics. The US team would be better if it had access to all those kids wasting their athletic potential on the worst sport in the world--football--and the second-worst sport in the world--soccer.

If it ditched the requirement that the game always be played on ice, the skill level of hockey in the US could be comparable to its basketball. All those high school football stadiums could get some asphalt surface, chainlink fencing to stand in for the glass, and a few sets of sticks and inline skates, and we could all watch hockey on Friday nights instead of kids knocking their skulls together.


Lacrosse or field hockey is basically hockey on foot. Floor/Ball hockey played in an arena apparently breaks at very high skills and you need the changes added by the formerly named sports to make it work. Roller hockey never really caught on.


I grew up playing field hockey (as well as rugby union) as a kid in New Zealand. Such a fun sport!


Yes, any of those would be better than football.

Even shirling (snake baiting) would be better. No-fly Quidditch would be better. Robot fighting league would be better. Two old barbershop guys telling shaggy dog stories would be better. A magnified view of an ant colony devouring a moth would be better. Just watching the grass on the field grow would be... worse. There is a line.


Football can also be played with flags or where players are not tackled by saying the play is over when momentum is stopped. Countless intramural and pickup games are played like this every day. And you still have an offensive line in setup, depending on the number of players.


Aaaaand viewership drops 90%.


>Hockey has the advantage that the sport could we reworked into something less violent. Hockey could survive a change to the rules that would reduce blows to the head.

Could it? I wonder how many people would continue to watch hockey if fights weren't essentially sanctioned as a part of the game. I imagine only the diehards as it's not the most entertaining sport in the world...


I mean, only about a third of hockey games have a fight, and usually it's not that dramatic. Part of the issue though is that fights are partly for players to enforce unwritten rules about sportsmanship, so if you got rid of fights there is some bad conduct that might increase that could also be dangerous.


The answer for the bad conduct is suspensions, but the PA fights hard to keep them toothless. I don't understand why they want to defend their member giving dirty hits instead of the one receiving them, but it certainly seems that way to me.


College hockey has no fights and is awesome to watch. (Go Red!)


I'm a traditionalist; I like the fights. But it's a very, very tiny part of the game. There's basically nobody who actually follows hockey who is doing so primarily for the fights, as you seem to be suggesting. That's an opinion that only someone who doesn't follow hockey could think makes enough sense to say aloud.


Who really likes the fights, though? I don't know anyone who does. They are more boring than commercials.

I don't think it's the fights though. They're mostly just hugging. I think the checks are what do the damage.




I think hockey would not be affected much, but NASCAR would drop precipitously if they reworked safety, car design, and rules such that there were no more major crashes.


NASCAR is already dropping precipitously.


field hockey is not as violent as ice hockey and they could implement the same rules over. I believe Rugby too is not as violent as American Football but I guess less exciting ? (I don't watch either so don't know).


I think Rugby Union is more interesting than American Football (in my biased opinion), because the ball is in play for a lot longer and the game has better momentum. Then again, many Rugby Union vs Rugby League debates involve the criticism of Union that it is too stop-start.

There is certainly a growing awareness of head injuries in Union and League at all levels. Players which show any sign of head trauma are (should be) immediately removed from the field for a 10 minute evaluation. However, having played Union for nearly 20 years (from the age of 14), I can attest to the fact that there are many occasions where a head clash occurs which doesn't result in concussion, but still can't be very healthy.

Besides head injuries, I've required an ACL operation due to Rugby injury. My shoulders and back are also in pretty bad shape. I now have a young son and am really trying to steer him towards cricket rather than Rugby.


Rugby has gone through periods of being a boring game and has had constant rule changes to try and make it more interesting, some of which significantly changed the nature of the game.

The period of constant scrums was an especially dull period, as was the rolling mauls period. I vaguely remember a period of constant punts from each side down the field. I haven't kept up to date with Rugby, but google seems to suggest boring rolling mauls are back.

As an Englishman, I still have to say cricket is one of the most boring sports to play, with only 3 players in a team of 22 doing anything even vaguely interesting at any one time (batter, bowler, wicket keeper, 9 other players are literally sitting doing nothing and 9 others are standing around).

It's less a sport and more an excuse to lounge around.

For all it's faults with prima-donnas, football is one of the most engaging team sports with much less risk of injury than rugby or ball-in-the-face field hockey.


> For all it's faults with prima-donnas, football is one of the most engaging team sports with much less risk of injury than rugby or ball-in-the-face field hockey.

It's heading the ball that's apparently the biggest source of concussive damage in football.


As an ex-prop forward, I have to say scrums (especially), rucks and mauls are a fascinating part of the sport. These aspects are what really differentiates the game of Rugby Union from Rugby League.

Regarding cricket, this too is an evolving sport. The emergence of T20 (20 overs per team) has a completely different appeal to 5 day Test matches. Try watching a game of Indian Premier League (IPL) or Australian Big Bash cricket. Batting is back in the ascendancy, with sixes and fours galore. Very much mass appeal, light sporting entertainment.


>"football is one of the most engaging team sports"

Do you mean Association Football there, ie "soccer"?


For a few hundred million in the world it's soccer, for billions of people, it's football.


I think the parent was legitimately uncertain which one you meant. After all, this is a discussion about an article on American football on a forum hosted by a US-based company.


For me it's "football", I was looking for disambiguation. People in the UK often hate USA-ians calling it soccer, despite that name coming from the UK. The comment was a question, hence the punctuation.


Or even better, change it to flag football


In the UK we have rugby, a similar sport without all the armour.

While there is a problem with concussions[1], it's nowhere near the scale of American Handball.

[1]https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25182-rugby-players-w...


I think you know that rugby is played and known worldwide (even in the US), and that football refers to the fact that the players are on foot and in fact rugby, soccer and American football all share a common ancestor.


> football refers to the fact that the players are on foot

Really? As opposed to what? Polo? Quidditch? Beer pong?


I'm a Swede who grew up loving European hockey. NHL Hockey bores me.

You can think of the difference either as physical or mental.

Physical: The European rink is 100 feet wide while the NHL rink is 85 feet. This gives a lot more space to skate around people rather than through them, more space and time for a passing and placement game, more time for smart play over brute force play.

Mental: Each continent plays hockey as it plays "football". That is soccer vs NFL mentality.

My whining aside, in reality the two hockey cultures have grown closer. NHL teams no longer have full time enforcers, and play is much cleaner, while European hockey has become more "physical", as the goal of everyone is to become an NHL millionaire.

Still, whenever I try to swallow my pride and watch some hockey I get bored. Unless Pavel Datsyuk is playing!


Europe has no standard size rink. Finnish league is different from the Swedish league etc.


Finland is actually the exception, the rest of the non-NHL world uses the IIHF rink size.


Untrue. Even KHL arena's like Prague O2, Bratislava, KHL Medveščak Zagreb in Croatia, Admiral Vladivostok, have smaller rinks, some are NHL sized.


What is it about Pavel Datsyuk?

BTW, if you have an iPhone, ask Siri 'Who is the magic man?'. (I don't know if that still works.)


He's the Messi of hockey. Or is he the Zlatan?


"I stopped following football after watching League of Denial on PBS."

The reason I cannot stop watching football is that the combination of enormous economic incentives and ruthless selection process has produced individuals that are performing at near-superhuman levels. It is arguable that when you watch a quarterback or a cornerback play well in 2017 you are watching someone do something better than anyone has ever done anything.

I find that fascinating and extremely compelling.

Further, this is the reason that I no loner have any interest in college football - the professional game winnows that population down so much and so dramatically that the level of skill is no longer comparable.

Consider: after all of these years and all of this fame and outreach and development, there are still only 8-10 people in the entire world that can competently play the position of starting quarterback. If you can perform this task with even middling competency there is an immediate 8 figure paycheck waiting for you. This (totally arbitrary and otherwise useless) combination of speed, agility, strength, resiliency and lightning-fast-OODA-looping is amazing to watch. And that's just the quarterback ...

I can't get enough of it.


> It is arguable that when you watch a quarterback or a cornerback play well in 2017 you are watching someone do something better than anyone has ever done anything.

I agree that they are incredible athletes, but I don't see why football's players are better athletes than those in other professional sports. The winnowing process is just as brutal in soccer/football, basketball, hockey, baseball, track, swimming, gymnastics (if you want some incredible athletes - wow), wrestling, boxing, etc. etc. Why is Tom Brady a better athlete than Floyd Mayweather? Than Lionel Messi?


I think the best sport for that is actually basketball. NBA contracts are far more lucrative, and NBA rosters far smaller, and injuries are far less common, which makes NBA players more athletic and talented than NFL players by far.

Consider also the fact that many great NBA players were also standout high school football players who gave it up for basketball. You don't really see that happening the other way. NBA players (and soccer players) also have to exercise more continual decision making skills, since there's no stoppage between plays or radios for the coach to signal plays.


"You don't really see that happening the other way."

I think you do ... I think a large number of professional football players were college baseball players and professional (baseball) prospects.

One of the better known examples being John Elway:

"Elway also excelled as a baseball player. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 1981 Major League Baseball draft (52nd overall, six spots ahead of future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn), and received $150,000 for playing for the Yankees' short season affiliate Oneonta Yankees in the New York–Penn League in the summer of 1982.[18] Yankees scout Gary Hughes believed that had Elway concentrated on baseball "the sky was the limit … he would've been off the charts"."

I am also reminded of Antonio Gates who played for the San Diego Chargers but was a basketball player for Kent State University.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gates


Players go from baseball to football, sure. But, to name two examples, LeBron James and Allen Iverson, as high school prospects, could have made it to the NFL but chose basketball instead. (AI played high school football in the same part of Virginia that Michael Vick was from and was considered the better prospect.) I don't think there are any NFL players who could have made it to the NBA.


You make great points. All sports are likely at their peak for performance at the highest levels. The difference may be one of whether you prefer "peak specialization" (football, baseball), or "peak dynamic creativity" (basketball, soccer.) I guess throw in "individual performance" if you want to consider golf, track, etc.

Not to say there isn't creativity in football or baseball, just that those are far more defined by organizational strategy than they are by moment-to-moment creativity by players in the game.


They're not most lucrative if you consider 16 games for the NFL versus 82 for NBA. The NFL actually makes more than the NBA as well (they just have a better revenue share deal, less players, max contract rules, etc) [1]. Injuries are far less common in basketball because the rules made it so. Everything is a foul these days. And you can't score points in foul trouble so the defense isn't as aggressive as it used to be. The league rewards points with crazy contracts disproportionate to your defensive skillset (JJ Redick got 23M for 15 PPG) so it's best to avoid fouls with lighter D and reap the financial benefits. In football you have to take more risk because there are only 16 games and if you're a skill player you don't get a lot of opportunities from game to game.

Consider the evolution of the NBA rules over the last few decades:

- Most players routinely carry the ball and get away with it despite it being a core basketball rule. That makes it easier to drive quicker to the basket, evade defenders and score more points which is what the league wants.

- There's way too much flopping/acting to draw fouls. Again - results in more points and the refs favor the stars that drive the league.

- Traveling is rampant and calls are missed all the time. Here's an 8 stepper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VuG1K-LFgY. Here's Westbrook just walking with the ball in hand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTlHqD45V5s. They don't watch it close enough and it's frustrating because they have favorites and they don't get to review travels. Challenges in football help to fix a lot of critical bad or no calls. From a key NBA ref - "We really don't reference the rulebook" [2].

NFL defensive schemes make NBA defensive schemes look childish. So I disagree with you on the decision making skills for the two sports. There's a lot more decision making skills required for football especially when someone like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady is running the offense essentially as a player/coach and running audibles/sending guys in motion/disguising plays and each team has highly varied playbooks. A single split second mistake on defense in football is a big deal. On basketball - it rarely affects the outcome.

Now I love both sports and football has suffered from the same initiative of trying to enable more points scored (just like baseball did), but I don't think it's fair to say that NBA players are more talented and athletic either. In fact - you probably won't see a single NBA player stronger or faster than the top performers in the NFL. NFL players regularly outperform NBA on the standing vertical too (2 football players did a 46" standing vert [3]). So for athleticism - NBA might win on running vertical in some cases/years and in overall conditioning, but they won't win in any speed/standing vertical/any measure of strength (reps or max). So it might be a wash at best for the NBA in athleticism. For talent I'm not sure either way. Can you really compare passing and running the offense between Steph Curry and Tom Brady? Or defense between Kawhi Leonard and Richard Sherman? Saying the NBA has more talent because they are in the game more and play both sides is like saying a full stack developer making more (and working more) has more talent than a more specialized developer.

[1] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-nfl-made-13-billion-las...

[2] http://www.espn.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/6035/nba-traveli...

[3] http://postemaperformance.com/highest-vertical-jump/


> They're not most lucrative if you consider 16 games for the NFL versus 82 for NBA.

NFL contracts aren't guaranteed and they're still lower on an annual basis than the NBA. The biggest star QB's in the NFL might be Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but Brady makes less than the second highest earning player on the Celtics and Rodgers makes less than the highest earning player on the Bucks. NBA minimum contracts are also higher. If you can make it in either league and you want to maximize your earnings, you would be an idiot not to choose the NBA.

Added to this is the fact that there are 450 NBA players in the entire league compared to over 1600 NFL players. That makes it more exclusive almost by definition.

I'm not sure how not calling travels or carries reduces the risk of injury in basketball, but Westbrook did get called for the travel that you linked to.

> NFL defensive schemes make NBA defensive schemes look childish.

Because they only have to last for 2-7 seconds before you have a 40-second break where the coach can radio a new set of instructions. And in the NFL, both offensive and defensive plays are memorized and executed by rote, except for the 2-5 quarterbacks in the league who can adjust or call a different set play by themselves. Even the quarterback isn't redirecting his teammates on the fly the way a point guard does, and no player in football does that kind of work on the defensive end the way Draymond Green does.

I can't believe you're making a serious argument that the NFL requires more athleticism when half the players are morbidly obese and the other half never have to exert themselves for more than five seconds at a time. It's slightly more athletic than baseball, but if NFL players had the athletic ability to outperform NBA players, they would be in the NBA purely out of financial incentive.


There's a lot more spots in the NFL so I don't think it makes you an idiot to go for the NFL if you can do both. Very few can do both anyway.

> I can't believe you're making a serious argument that the NFL requires more athleticism when half the players are morbidly obese and the other half never have to exert themselves for more than five seconds at a time.

Your definition of athleticism seems to be tightly related to body fat but the definition of the word encompasses much more.

physically active and strong; good at athletics or sports.... of or relating to athletes; involving the use of physical skills or capabilities, as strength, agility, or stamina: [1]

So you're saying this guy can't be as athletic as Kevin Durant because he's 330 pounds? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linval_Joseph.

You're also picking the lineman to try and make your point but there's 53 roster spots per team. You aren't going to see anyone in the NBA run a 4.24 40 like Chris Johnson or bench press 500+ pounds. Really any measure of strength. Or enter track and field in the Olympics.

> NFL players had the athletic ability to outperform NBA players, they would be in the NBA purely out of financial incentive

That would assume they actually cared about the NBA. It's not a loss to get in the NFL instead of the NBA, esp. if you come from a poor background like many of the players.

Your argument, if applied to technology, would mean that developers making more money in a certain technology are more skilled than people in other languages for the sheer fact that money is the determining factor of all skills. And anyone that goes into the lower income field is less capable and idiots for doing so. That's ridiculous.

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/athleticism?s=t


> There's a lot more spots in the NFL so I don't think it makes you an idiot to go for the NFL if you can do both. Very few can do both anyway.

Since the NBA is so much more exclusive than the NFL, you're right. Very few can, and all of those who can end up in the NBA.

It's not just the pay difference. NFL players have higher risk of injury, shorter careers on average, non-guaranteed contracts, significantly less potential earning power in terms of endorsements...

If you're a first round NBA draft prospect, you have a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract even if you blow an ACL and never play a single game. You know by the time you're a college freshman whether you're in that category, because the NBA drafts college freshmen. The only point where it's a more rational decision to go for football is if you're already not a top basketball prospect...which more or less proves my point about that.

> You aren't going to see anyone in the NBA run a 4.24 40 like Chris Johnson or bench press 500+ pounds. Really any measure of strength. Or enter track and field in the Olympics.

NFL players are specialized enough that an NBA player wouldn't match them on any single metric, but on a combination of metrics the NBA player would come ahead. For example, I don't believe any NFL player would score higher than Russell Westbrook or LeBron James in the Olympic decathlon.

Also, Wilt Chamberlain could complete a 100 yard dash in 10 seconds and bench 500 pounds, albeit at slightly different moments in his career. He also competed in track and field at the collegiate level.


I get what you're saying but your argument is based on maybe 1 college player every few years (Charlie Ward, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, LeBron, Allen Iverson, etc.) that could be a top prospect in both sports and the rather recent contract situation of the NBA.

In that rare case yes you'd be dumb to take the NFL over the NBA for the reasons you listed. It's based on the NBA's contract rules, not that the contracts are commensurate with athleticism or talent as you suggest. Your argument doesn't illustrate that NBA players are more athletic and talented than the NFL though.

> I don't believe any NFL player would score higher than Russell Westbrook or LeBron James in the Olympic decathlon.

Well I disagree and we can look at history for more evidence:

- Milt Campbell won gold in the Olympics decathalon [1]

- Jim Thorpe won the decathalon and pentathalon. Considered one of the greatest athletes ever. [1]

- Darrell Green ran a 4.43 forty at the age of 50 [2]. His best was 4.15 and he had an official 10.08 100m. "Darrell Green was so fast that when they had a competition in different events (baserunning, track, 40 yd dash) Green wiped the floor with rivals, including nine time Olympic medalist Carl Lewis.... while Green never beat him in track competitions (they ran against each other in college), Lewis points out that Green was a world class sprinter, and again really fast." [3]

- Glenn Davis won Olympic titles in the 400 meter hurdles twice. Davis was either at or close to world records in many events including: 100 yards/meters (9.6/10.3), 200 meters (21.0), the half mile (1:52), 120 yard high hurdles (14.0), 200 meter low hurdles on curve (22.5 WR), 400 meter intermediate hurdles (49.2 WR), high jump (6-8), and long jump (24'8"). [4]

Kind of fun looking some of this stuff up. I learned that Carl Lewis was drafted by both the NBA and the NFL even though he never played in either sport. [5]

The NFL has a variety of Olympic wins including: decathalon, pentathalon, freestyle skiing, bobsled, hurdles, various sprint, shot put, long jump. [1]

The NBA's history in the Olympics is nearly non-existant. The only one I could find was Marion Jones (1 yr WNBA) and Carl Lewis (NFL & NBA as noted above but didn't play a game in either).

[1] http://www.nfl.com/photoessays/09000d5d82aed82d

[2] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/346647-darrell-green-50-y...

[3] https://dc.sbnation.com/2010/9/17/1694402/darrell-green-wash...

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Davis_(athlete)

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Lewis


> It is arguable that when you watch a quarterback or a cornerback play well in 2017 you are watching someone do something better than anyone has ever done anything.

"Better than anyone has ever done anything" is debatable, but those young NFL men sure can smite their foes!

Homer sparked that idea, and the Romans perfected popular gladiatorial combat in front of 50,000 spectators in the Colosseum. But it just got so damn messy, spectator-wise, when "enormous economic incentives" led to mass state wars with 10,000, 50,000, or 6,000,000 million dead.

My personal favorite public spectacle combat is Slim Pickens riding the H-bomb in Dr. Strangelove. Now that was "amazing to watch"!

But back to pro sports, using the Olympics as an example. I notice that the rise of intersex/gender-uncertain competitors such as Caster Semenya is challenging the status quo of sex-differentiated mass sporting events. Maybe more people will just throw up their hands at the hypocrisy of it all?

And if the Olympics come under question, who knows what other multi-billion-dollar sporting series might be next?

But please, Olympics, leave the modern pentathlon as-is. And the sailing and equestrian events. But consider adding a gliding competition :-)


Most kids in elementary/middle/high school (at least where I grew up) play non-contact hockey. You're not allowed to fight or bodycheck, but incidental contact is fine. Only the super high (competitive) levels had hitting.

Non-contact hockey players are three times less likely to be severely injured and three times less likely to be concussed while playing.[1] That's the direction hockey should be going, IMO. Contact is fun and all but I know too many people who are seriously messed up from concussions--I'm glad my parents put me in a non-contact league.

[1] http://www.med.mcgill.ca/epidemiology/hanley/c609/practicum2...


My adult league is non-contact from the "never played in my life" level up through the "D-I/Semi-Pro" level.


Hockey is going that direction. There is increasing emphasis on strict enforcement of penalties for "intimidating infractions." While body checking is still allowed, it is more narrowly defined than in the past. I think within 10 years we will see the elimination of body checking from hockey.

http://assets.ngin.com/attachments/document/0131/9802/Standa...


I never really followed it but could enjoy a game every now and then. Now I have a distaste for it.

My biggest issue by far is how embedded football is into our public school system. They are essentially feeder leagues for the NFL that the public pays to operate. We glorify the sport to little kids and then shove them into the head trauma pipeline.

We should absolutely not be a party to that at the public level. I'm aware of the issues with drawing a line on dangerous sports, but I'm sure something a ton of people can agree on is that wherever the line ends up, football is on the wrong side of it. It's position is relative to the line.


The parents are the problem. It's ridiculous to see them. Football is the most important part of their life and damn if their kid isn't going to play.

Could you imagine if our schools and home cultures emphasized putting that kind of work into math rather than football?


I have seen a few environments like that and they can be just as corrosive. I have seen middle school kids that were great artists or writers or musicians told that they were failures at life because they weren't one of the 15 best math students in their school.


That's a lot of stuff though to be fair. This On Point episode seems very timely: http://tpr.org/post/big-business-youth-sports . I didn't catch the entire thing but they were discussing some pretty shocking dollar amounts parents spend on sports that are not football.


Great post, thanks. Indeed- we can generalize beyond football. These kids have no time for intellectual curiosity any more. It's really a shame. Again, I blame the parents. They should know better.

But the kids' sports become part of the parents' ego and there's no going back. Source: am parent of three almost grown boys. Two were sports kids, one is not.


I'm not there yet, but may be some day. I turned to football because I just can't be bothered to follow the countless games in baseball anymore. Football is a great way to get a weekly sporting fix, a day or two a week, for a fraction of the year. But yeah, who can't shake their head at the "NFL's greatest hits volume 39" VHS sitting in the back of the cabinet.

Hopefully the game can change and adapt, I feel like the longer they drag their heels, the more likely it is to just completely collapse.


I'm on the same side as you about the fights. I'm just not a fan of the hypocrisy of letting people fight their anger away on national TV when someone doing the same in a public space would get arrested. I've played hockey, I get the whole aspect of being emotionally invested in the game, but I still don't think it's the right thing to do.

Otherwise, I always thought the concussion aspect was much less worst in the NHL than NFL, but maybe im wrong about that...


Hockey fights in 2017 aren't really comparable to what fighting in hockey used to be though. The enforcer role is all but gone, the rules around hits are more stringent and the league is far more rigorous with enforcement. I think the bigger risk in the game today is from the speed of collisions, having too much padding and high hits.


And anyway, fighting is not where the injuries happen. Ugly tackles to the head are the bad thing.


Actual the enforcers in hockey who fight have some of the worst brain damage. Bob Probert, an enforcer for the Red Wings is an example of this.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Probert


I've heard arguments that fights in hockey reduce the overall level of violence through changing incentives. Basically, it means that rough play will get you punched, so people are less willing to futz around on the ice.


I've heard that before - like the reason that Crosby spends so much time laid out is that the Pens refused to use an enforcer to punish the guys who were roughing him up.

That, to me, sounds like anarchy on the ice. Like the game is either impossible to properly referee or the referees are incompetent or the refs simply have been told to ignore a certain level of violence.


Nah, you're over thinking it. Heavy hits are perfectly legal and (for the most part) the refs aren't making mistakes or ignoring illegal behavior. Enforcers just discourage the opposing team from making those legal hits.


Hockey is a contact sport, and because of that the referees can't issue a penalty everytime someone gets hit. There are hits that are illegal, and they are called (most of the time). Hits where the principle contact point is the head is illegal, hits directly from behind are illegal, and hits where the hitter takes more than two strides into the hit are illegal. Anything else is fair game and because of that, the puck carrier needs to keep their head up and be proactive to the play.


It's more than that, in the NHL at least.

Why are scuffles around the net tolerated? They are disgraceful. Almost every game you will see someone get punched or cross checked in the face with no consequence, as long as it's after the whistle or the victim is an asshole. Which leads to my next point.

Why is general assholery tolerated and even celebrated? There is a thing called sportsmanship and there is none of it in the NHL until they put someone on a stretcher. They bang their stick on the boards for 5 seconds then it's open season for the other guy.

Why are fights only 5 minutes penalty? Any other sport they would get suspended for even half attempting to punch someone. The NHL and PA say it's some sort of anarchy-on-ice bullshit but we all know it's because it sells tickets and have otherwise poor players make the cut.


The majority of those pushing matches after the whistle are a continuation of the play from before it. Defender is trying to clear the front of the net, offensive player is trying to secure position to screen the goalie, get a deflection, or tuck away a rebound. When the whistle blows the players are still tangled and the pushing continues. Sometimes its the offensive player who took an extra whack or two at the puck after it was blown dead that draws the push. These hits are very superficial, they are mainly a "I saw what you did, knock it off" message.

There is plenty of sportsmanship in the NHL. Almost every fight is between willing participants who discuss it first to ensure the other party isn't playing with an injury or something. Handshake lines after playoff series when you just spent the past week and a half playing the same opponent every other day. There is plenty of shit talking from the benches, but wingers will typically shoot the shit a bit when lining up for faceoffs.

Why is fighting only a 5 minute penalty? Because see above about "dem da rules". Fighting has always been a part of the game, and has fallen dramatically in the past few years. Players don't tend to get head injuries from fights, and when they do its because they fell awkwardly and hit the ice with their head. The hits that are borderline dirty or overly aggressive just aren't there, knowing that you might have to put up for a fight for giving the hit. Those hits are the ones that are causing the injuries. From behind, sending your opponent face first into the boards. Lining up the big hit from across the ice. Steve Moore jumping on Tood Bertuzzi's back and driving his head into the ice. Those are the plays that have lasting affects.


I find it implausible. Ice hockey players are not the kind of dude who get scared by a bit of pain after being hit. If they would, they would not played hockey (which hurts even outside fights and gets you injuries often).


hockey has more concussions today than the clutch and grab days of the past. this is a 2 fold reason: #1 players are moving faster now - expected #2 clutch and grab actually penalized larger players, as it took more energy to get moving again (hockey is an endurance sport). now player size is inflating.

I think the football solution is to force players smaller again. One way to accomplish this is to weight pun salary caps by body weight. The sport can keep its old aspects.


Hockey players are getting smaller, not bigger. You would have never seen guys like Martin St.Louis, Conacher, Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson, make it in the late 90s. That a guy like Kailer Yamamoto gets drafted in the first round shows that things have changed for smaller players.


Can you flesh out your weightclass idea of salary brackets there? I'm curious to understand how you think it would work.


> Otherwise, I always thought the concussion aspect was much less worst in the NHL than NFL, but maybe im wrong about that...

Maybe, but what we're discovering is that concussions aren't the only problem: you can get CTE even from the repeated sub-concussive hits that linemen get constantly. By focusing on concussions the NFL is dodging the issue.


Hits are much less frequent in hockey (they happen several times per play in Football) and the players are much smaller, but they are moving really fast and playing on ice. I think the worst hits in Hockey would rival anything in Football, but I don't think the prevalence of CTE will be as high.


Fellow hockey fan here. Can you share some information about Hockey's concussion risks? I was not aware it is "dealing with similar controversies". There are certainly head injuries in Hockey, but I was not aware that people had the same life-altering issues brought on by years of head trauma from football.


Sidney Crosby is a good example of a high profile player that has had multiple concussions. [1] The risk in hockey does not come from the fighting, those are less common than most people think, rather it comes from taking big hits that knock the person off balance and send them head first into the wall. I have been playing hockey the majority of my life and one of the first things that I can remember being taught was to keep your head up and never go head first into the boards.

Hockey helmets are different than a football helmet. For starters, the shell of a hockey helmet is much softer than that of a football helmet. This can help to attenuate some of the energy from a hit. The other huge difference is the mass of the helmet. Hockey helmets are light compared to a football helmet.

Another large difference between the sports is the rules covering head contact. While it is illegal in both sports to hit with your head, football tends to see a much higher rate of "incidental" contact. Hockey players are not taking hits to the head every play

[1] http://www.espn.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/131681/sidney-c...

Edit: Minor Typos


There's currently a lawsuit alleging the NHL hid the risks to the players, much like the NFL lawsuit.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/apr/05/nhl-concussion...

And the rates of CTE in former NHL players aren't exactly low. 9 of 16 (albeit a small sample) showed signs of CTE.

http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/20498726/nhl-players-relu...


The thing for me is, I never watched it for the contact. Its always been a rooting interest type of sport and if I wanted contact I'd go watch boxing or MMA.

The thing they don't seem to get(The NFL) is that most people don't care about the hits and they could eliminate them. I'd watch highly skilled athletes from my university or city play FLAG FOOTBALL at the highest levels of skill and athleticism as often or more often than I watch them now.

We need to think a bit about why people watch team sport as a society and realize that if flag football was the highest level we'd ever known we probably wouldn't lose a viewer.

Skills are skills and team rivalries and rooting interests remain regardless of whether its hockey or football or whatever.


Plenty of people like the hitting in football, both people who play and and those who watch. Lots of people have complan about how quarterbacks are protected nowadays. In fact, I've never heard a football fan say they would like to get rid of the hitting. Not once.


It's similar in hockey, take away the contact and people complain. They still watch, though. People complain about a lot of stuff they don't actually care about.


I enjoy the skill aspect of football, and I love a great, hard hitting tackle, where a player gets low, sets their hips and stops a runner dead in their tracks by wrapping them up.

Where it ends for me is the helmet to helmet contact, when defensive players leverage or launch themselves head first into another player's head, because they want to injure that player or get into a highlight reel. I don't see how anyone can enjoy seeing someone laid out on the field unconscious.


We have plenty of alternative sports that don't offer the hits, they just haven't gotten as popular. I would argue that goes against your point.


According to this list, you're wrong about popularity, once you look outside the US:

http://www.topendsports.com/world/lists/popular-sport/fans.h...

Soccer is really huge in many parts of the world.


> My justification, however flimsy it might be is that I don't like the fighting (I might be in a minority

The fighting isn't what causes damage in hockey no more than fighting in the NFL is what causes damage. It is just the physical nature of the sport.

> I enjoy the stick work, the dangling and skills getting to the net.

My friend says the same thing, but the truth is that he is a racist who hate the NFL because it is "too black" and he suddenly loves hockey because he can "relate" to it.

Both hockey and football are dangerous. Even soccer is dangerous. Nevermind MMA and boxing.

Without a doubt, football/hockey/boxing/mma/etc are all highly violent. The question is should we care and if we do, what do we do about it.


>I just can't support the NFL.

I'm not sure what the NFL does that's wrong. Their players get significant fame, are consenting adults, and get pay checks that many would trade even more of their health for. It is the college level, and especially the high school level, that I see the major problems at. When you have kids, or even people who aren't paid, risking their health it crosses a significant line. If college players were paid, and if playing below 18 (or even 16) was banned, it wouldn't be a big problem for me.

Edit: As someone else pointed out, the suppressing information is wrong. I wasn't considering that side of things.


My main issues with the NFL and why I can't support them are

1) NFL knew about the risks and hid them and in some cases deliberately deceived the players about said risks. I seem to recall that only a couple years ago the NFL told the players that with adequate rest, there will be no long-lasting effects from a concussion -- something that has been shown to not be the case.

2) The NFL will go after anyone who releases medical research raising questions about football and CTE. And I don't mean just refuting the evidence, they've gone after the doctors and scientists personally

I don't fault any player in the NFL for wanting the fame and fortune, or playing. But they should also receive all the information that's available as to the risks and dangers associated with playing so they can make their own decision.


Can you provide a few examples of the NFL going after doctors and scientists, and clarify what that means?


I am some random person on the internet, so caveat emptor. That being said, my girlfriend has a family friend who works in health research. Since she was looking for a new job in roughly the same field, she reached out and exchanged a few emails, had coffee. Normal networking stuff. One of the projects that the family friend was involved with was doing concussion research for the NFL in the aftermath of the PBS's League Denial, and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru's work more generally.

Fast forward a few months after the exchanges, she was included on an email from that family friend where the they complained that they should've known better to work on this research and that they were enraged that the conclusions were being suppressed / minimized.


See Dr Omalu research about CTE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bennet_Omalu

There is a movie (biopic not totally accurate) : Concussion


Thanks, this looks like a good start.


> I'm not sure what the NFL does that's wrong.

I don't think that's a particularly strong stance to take. The NFL has been fairly active in trying to dismiss or ignore this evidence. They are not merely standing by the sidelines.

One recent thing the NFL has done is bullied NIH researchers in concussion research in order to divert funding to their own NFL researchers.[0] Serious questions have been raised about the independence of those researchers. It's like Big Tobacco all over again.

There have been a number of other instances where the NFL has tried to discredit or hide concussion research that details how dangerous Football is. [1]

Besides paying their players, the NFL actively targets kids and amateurs through marketing. They buy the merchandise and become long term fans. By hiding and dismissing the concussion research they are choosing profits over safety.

All of this would be okay if the true dangers of football were fully transparent. Adults can consent to risks when they know the risks they are facing. In this case, the NFL has hidden that risk.

[0]: http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/15667689/congression...

[1]: http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/14711203/nfl-donatio...


Would you be OK allowing two consenting adults to fight to the death for pay? Most people would not be for allowing this. A lot of people are willing to work in very risky environments because they feel they have no alternative. Should companies be allowed to have dangerous work environments because there are people desperate enough to be willing to work in them?


> Would you be OK allowing two consenting adults to fight to the death for pay?

Given that scenario as stated? Sure, I'm all for it. Take away the gloves in boxing and we're pretty close to that.

I'd be concerned about the negative incentives that could potentially exploit lower income people, but on its own I don't have a problem with it.

I personally wouldn't do it, and I don't think I'd enjoy watching it, but I'm of the opinion that:

1. If it occurs a lot, there is a market for it,

2. Given a market for it, we should explore allowing and heavily regulating it, including negative externalities, rather than banning it and pushing it to a black market.


AIUI bare knuckle boxing is less dangerous than the big time stuff. Gloves protect the boxer doing the punching from breaking their fingers/hands, enabling them to do more damage to their opponents. You ain't punching a skull with your bare knuckles and hurting the other party much.


Ah, my mistake I suppose. I understood bare knuckle boxing is dangerous for the hands, but I also believed it was dangerous for the other party.


You'd be OK allowing two people to fight to the death for pay? I'm stunned. You are the only person I know of that would be OK living in a society that allowed two people to fight until one of them dies for pay. I'm glad your view is not a popular one.



Those are not fights to the death. They are deaths due to fighting. There is a significant difference. We do not allow two people to fight to the death for money. I'm surprised that anyone would be in favor of allowing it to be legal.


I don't think this is a black-and-white kind of area. Plenty of miners felt a lot of pride in their work and wouldn't have given it up if they didn't have to, but mining is inherently more dangerous than sitting at a desk.

So, while companies should have workers' comp and provide helmets on the job, it doesn't mean that the risk needs to be zero. Dangerous jobs tend to be well-compensated, so it either comes down to risk tolerance or cultural factors (something like "my father was a miner and I live in coal country") more than desperation.


> Plenty of miners felt a lot of pride in their work and wouldn't have given it up if they didn't have to, but mining is inherently more dangerous than sitting at a desk.

Could you cite some evidence that this is a widespread attitude? My knowledge of miners, which is very little, says something much different.

> Dangerous jobs tend to be well-compensated

I'm not sure that's true. In the list of high-paying jobs that money-motivated people aspire to, I usually don't see coal miner (or any miner), soldier, police officer in dangerous neighborhood, logger, deep sea fisherman or drug dealer listed.


Here in Australia, mining is definitely on the list of "high paying jobs people aspire to", especially for those where education is a limiting factor; and even then, the pay can be excellent, and it can be fascinating work and some of the positions require advanced degrees or training as well.


>Would you be OK allowing two consenting adults to fight to the death for pay?

If we are talking where death is a risk but not a definite, then we do allow such jobs. At what point do you consider the harm too bad to allow and would we really consistently apply that standard?


Beyond the suppressing information part, I think it's still reasonable to decline to watch.

Everyone is a consenting adult, I'm not saying "letting people tackle each other" is criminal or unethical. (Though as you say, mandatory football in gym class would be a different story.) The only thing here that ought to be legally actionable is knowingly hiding risks.

But we're talking about a spectator sport. I think a lot of people would feel sort of queasy if they saw a "good hit" and thought "wow, that guy just got a bit of brain damage". It's pretty reasonable to say "I want to see people perform challenging athletics, I don't want to see them destroy their minds". So the NFL might 'deserve' to fail because of this no matter how open and transparent they are.


So I'm a New Zealander who lives in Australia: I'm incredibly biased; but the best "hits" that are an absolute spectacle to watch in Rugby Union for me are the perfectly executed tackles, with zero head contact between the players and usually the ball carrier doesn't hit their head on the turf -- now Union still has a lot of the same risks and damage done to players so it's not perfect, but I find the difference between what's considered a "great hit" between the two kind of interesting.

Also, the biggest tackles I experienced playing first-grade union for the Gold Coast dolphins (before I stopped to become a referee) didn't hurt! A perfectly executed powerful tackle stops you in your tracks, looks amazingly impressive, but was reasonably safe.

You're much more likely to get a head injury from either an illegal tackle (that'd result in a red card, removal from the game and a "trial" of sorts before a tribunal) or from being at the bottom of a ruck and being stepped/stomped on


> I'm not sure what the NFL does that's wrong.

Because they suppressed evidence?


> and get pay checks that many would trade even more of their health for.

In addition to the other comments about suppressing information. They have led you to believe this is the case. You should really find out how compensation in the NFL works because it is mindblowing. Do they get paid more than most bluecollar jobs? Absolutely.

A lot of NFL contracts are back loaded and the NFL tries everything in their power to make sure their players don't see the full payout. Most of the non-famous players are paid weekly and can be cut at any time.

MLB and NBA players have much stronger protections when it comes to salary.


Why do you have a major problem with consenting adults at college level, but not at professional level? How is consenting-for-money any different to consenting-in-hopes-of-money?

As for fame, which players get significant fame? Every team has over fifty guys on their roster - how many of those could ever be named by a random member of the public who isn't a diehard fan of that same team? The linemen are the ones that cop the brunt of the big hits - how many linemen ever get known by name?


>Why do you have a major problem with consenting adults at college level, but not at professional level? How is consenting-for-money any different to consenting-in-hopes-of-money?

Because often the offers are made and accepted when the person is underage and the collusion to keep there being no pay. If colleges didn't get involved at all until people were 18 and players were paid I wouldn't have an issue.

It is like the difference between a college student who meets and dates an older individual vs a college student who dates someone who knew and groomed them while they were still a child. Both may be legal, but far more people will be appalled at the second one.


> when the person is underage

This feels like post-hoc reasoning, given that the parents are involved, and that the person can also stop, transfer, whatever on their own later on.

> while they were still a child

Referring to 17-year-olds as 'children' is simply being disingenuous. You can join the army at 17.


> Referring to 17-year-olds as 'children' is simply being disingenuous. You can join the army at 17.

The second statement in no way supports the first.


They are the only one of the big four in the US with non-guaranteed contracts. And the one with players by far the likeliest to get badly hurt.

Not to mention (1) many players don't actually get paid that well; (2) careers are often quite short; (3) unless you're a liar, you understand what happens when a player gets hurt but if they don't play, they don't get paid... Surprising no-one who doesn't work for the NFL, players play hurt. Or hide concussions.


Also, the NFL uses College and High School Football as free development leagues. If HS and CFB didn't exist, where would the NFL get their players?


This...doesn't quite compute to me. Professional football was born out of amateur athletic clubs and college clubs. The lack of a development league for the NFL is lamentable for a few reasons, but I don't think it's insidious that people play for free then get the attention of the NFL, if only because most people play football because they enjoy the sport.

If HS and CFB didn't exist, there would be no NFL, because it would mean that everyone stopped caring about football.

(Disclosure: I live near Pittsburgh; even though I never played, the sport runs deep in the roots of the area!)


They need to get the college sports off of national TV and set up a farm team system. But that's a debate for another time probably.


College football is more popular than the NFL. Every game is critically important in college which adds to the excitement. Pro's you can lose a few and still make the SuperBowl.

The RedSkins can't fill their stadium in a major market. Try to get Alabama tickets ... or NotreDame ... or Penn State all in minuscule markets.


I don't know about data on popularity, but now college football has a playoff system too so they can bounce back from a loss (but probably only one).

Years ago the Redskins always filled- they've just sucked for so long people find better things to do with their Sundays (disclaimer-am a fan from long time back).

The Patriots on the other hand now fill their stadium (I live in the Boston area now). They didn't use to do that.

So it may depend on how well the team is doing.

EDIT: Except for Tennessee. Those fans are crazy.


NFL tv ratings dwarf college though.


This point is critically important because TBI in developing brains is especially disastrous with lifetime implications. This isn't a risk/reward discussion because TBI's are basically everyone if they're playing hard. So there's guaranteed downsides.

Children should not be doing this, ever.

http://www.biausa.org/brain-injury-children.htm#recovery


I just watched "Ice Guardians," a documentary about enforcers in hockey. They claimed that only a small percentage (can't remember off the top of my head, maybe 5%) of concussions in hockey were due to fights. The majority come from the high speed nature of the game, especially after 2005. The game became a lot faster then. Big, slow players were replaced with smaller, speedier guys. The trapezoid was introduced which results in tons of defenders getting plastered behind the net while trying to retrieve the puck.


The problem of defencemen getting plastered was not just the trapezoid. A lot of it had to do with the way icing worked. It used to be the d-man had to "touch" the puck for it to be icing, this always resulted in d-men and forwards going nearly full speed after the puck to either get the icing call or to beat it out.

The NHL has done away with this and has "no touch icing" where the d-man only has to skate to the hash marks (middle of the circles), that's removed a considerable amount of the high-speed collisions


Well sure, no touch is much safer, but the introduction of the trapezoid still made things much more dangerous. Icing worked the same way before and after (until a couple years ago) 2005. You didn't have defensemen getting drilled as often before 2005. No touch icing was introduced because the rule changes in 2005 made the game faster and more dangerous.


The issue for hockey is players got faster AND bigger. You are right that average weight has dropped from the peak of 206 in 2005 to 201 today But in the 70's it was as low as 183. The slowest 200+ pound skater today would probably be in the top 20% of skaters back then. Larger players also lead to more shoulder to head hits, just because of size disparity (see: Crosby, Kariya).

The other thing that is hard to capture statistically, is that teams used to have big guys that rarely would see much ice time. Now you have many legit skilled players at 220+ pounds who are regulars.


I don't follow rugby as close as I should to ask this question but I don't recall having heard or read anything regarding that sport and head trauma. And it is just as contact driven as football. Is it just not as popular and hence doesn't get the same level of scrutiny?


It's pretty bad and has had an increase in scrutiny of late here in New Zealand, in part because of some of the countries great teams and players appear to be suffering severe consequences. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&obje...


I always had the impression that hockey fights were nerfed by the fact that you're on ice. Most of the power of a punch comes from planting your feet on the ground.


It is pretty easy to plant you foot with skates and get a very strong push. The big difference is the stance that you have to take. Remember, the pros are easily the best skaters in the world. Many players have on-ice boxing training at some point during their careers, often during juniors or college.


1. Willingly plays 5 years in the league, makes $10,000,000, has 50% chance of reduced health in the future.

2. Willingly works 5 years in the factory, makes $10,000, has 50% chance of reduced health in the future.

Why does the first situation bother us so much more than the second? Most products we use are built via the second, but you're probably still using those products. The NFL seems like better employment than Foxconn, and I'll still use an Apple computer.

People make sacrifices all the time, if someone wants to willingly do it as a professional, why not?


You're leaving out the fact that most of these players never get to the NFL, and they have a very high risk of brain injury, but they get paid $0.00, even though their work is generating billions for the NCAA, for ESPN, for basically every large university in the country, etc.

College football players need to be paid fair market value.


Hell--high school players need to be paid fair market value. Which, in many parts of the country, is not a trivial amount.


A high school in Texas just built a $72 million football stadium.

That's right. A fucking high school stadium.

http://www.wacotrib.com/sports/high_schools/central_texas_fo...


And it's in Katy, a relatively well-off suburb of Houston. I really hope they haven't built all the rest of the stuff in that enormous school bond issue yet.

That school bond issues, which are voted on directly by residents of a school district, are the main funding mechanism for school construction in Texas goes a long way towards explaining the ridiculous stadiums.


Don't they essentially get paid with free tuition and such? Not that it's fair market value, but it's not $0 either.


The problem is with the demands of being a D1 athlete it's pretty ridiculous for any player to hope to get a great education and be successful in their sport. And given the obvious payoffs of being a successful football player (Millions of $ at age 22 in the nfl) that's where they focus. It's a rare, rare individual who is a top performer while also pursuing a degree in a demanding field.

Below is an interesting article I read that describes the day of a d1 football player at a top school. Note, it is a 15 hour day and only includes 1.5 hours of studying which wouldn't be enough to even cover hw for most engineering degrees.

https://www.alligatorarmy.com/2015/6/9/8752711/florida-gator...


Yup. There seems to be a lot of focus on the NFL mistreating players, but college football seems far more exploitive.


The big problem with the NFL is that they keep trying to suppress the information and act like the risks are far lower than they really are.

You can't fairly describe it as "willingly do it" if they don't have all the facts, and the other party to the transaction is intentionally hiding facts that make it look worse.

And as for the factory worker, it does bother us a great deal. Dangerous working conditions get a ton of attention, and attempts to cover up workplace dangers are criticized severely.


We directly spend billions of dollars on occupational safety.

And people raise issues with buying goods from countries with lower standards all the time.

I would say it is at least as big an issue in the public consciousness as the danger to the players of professional sports.


Agreed. See this quote from the OSHA website.

Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace. OSHA's mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards.[1]

https://www.osha.gov/law-regs.html


Very few NFL players make $10M over 5 years - most careers don't last that long, and/or compensation isn't that high. Then consider that few elite college players make it to the NFL, and very few high school players make it to elite college programs.


Speaking as someone from a rugby-playing nation, where mostly players wear no protection except mouthguards and shin pads, American Football is spectacular but insane.

Wearing protective helmets just ups the ante as players launch into each other with full force. In rugby, you don't tackle someone like that as you'll hurt yourself, and fail to stop the opponent.

Rugby is a plenty violent sport, and has its own health issues, but the lack of protective helmets and body armour (and rules preventing tackling without using your arms) means that attacking players think about their own safety before launching ridiculously high impact hits on each other.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F6POhAbAhE


Rugby has also included head injury assessments (HIA) into its laws. They sports governing body introduced HIAs in 2012 and they have been getting more stringent over the years.

At he elite level a player who is suspected of having taken a significant knock to the head can be substituted off the field for 10 minutes to be assessed by a doctor. The referee, assistant referees, sideline medics or the television match official can make the get the player off the field and to the medic. Players almost always want to play on after a knock so the decision is left to officials who may have seen or heard a head impact. If a player fails the assessment then they do not return to the field and further tests will be performed after the match. If the player passes then the substitution is reversed. If an incident is missed during a game then an assessment can be ordered after reviewing a recording of the game.

The laws of rugby also include clauses about contact with the head, tipping a player onto their head, or knocking a jumping player in such a way as to make them land on their head.

Rugby players are getting bigger and faster and the hits are getting commensurately more energetic. Rugby is trying to keep players safe. Whether these measures help remains to be seen but I think the governing bodies take player safety pretty seriously.

One interesting stat that I heard is that one of the things that seems to be inversely correlated with head injury is neck strength so we may see more players training their already powerful necks.


The NFL actually has very similar rules involving suspected head injuries though in practice they seem arbitrarily enforced - especially if it involves a key player.


Even at club rugby level all of the players do neck muscle training! Even back in 2008 they were. Rugby is still dangerous, of course, but the governing bodies do take safety pretty seriously and reasonably openly, at least compared to the NFL. Besides, I prefer watching a huge perfectly executed tackle in union than I do watching two people run into each other without even attempting to get arms around them to bring them to the ground (I have issues with Leagues shoulder charges for the same reason)


> Even back in 2008 they were.

When I started playing Rugby Union back in 1989 as a teenager (League in 1986 for a couple of seasons) I was always taught to do neck exercises before training and playing. I was also encouraged to continue these exercises in my own time to build overall neck strength.

I'm sure this training has been around for a long time before that too.


This is how I feel about boxing vs MMA.

Boxing gloves are huge and massively padded, meaning you take hit after hit after hit, bouncing your brain around like a ball. MMA gloves are only padded enough to maybe prevent you from breaking your knuckles, and maybe prevent your knuckles from breaking someone's jaw. If you threw the kind of punches people throw in boxing with MMA gloves on, you'd wreck your hands.

That one is safer than the other has been discussed before:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mixed-martial-arts-safer...

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/20/science/which-is-more-dan...


> If you threw the kind of punches people throw in boxing with MMA gloves on, you'd wreck your hands.

MMA fighters often wreck their hands during fights. They are in no way pulling their punches; they throw as hard as they can, just as boxers do.

I find it plausible that MMA fights tend to end with less concussions and serious head trauma than boxing. But I doubt it's significantly safer. That ignores training, where fighters spend much more time, and still receive many, many sub-concussive hits.

I have trained BJJ for over 13 years. During that time, I have also trained MMA. I have helped training partners for MMA matches. I have cornered training partners for MMA matches. I follow professional MMA. But I am finding myself more and more unable to justify even paying attention to it because of the evidence that even repeated sub-concussive hits cause brain damage.


The issue with those studies is that they don't really account for more modern views about brain injuries. We know that boxers suffer "serious" head trauma more frequently but lots of modern research suggests small repeated head trauma is as dangerous.

Incidents of cte for instance in soccer maybe accounted for by heading drills. Which is why talks about concussions isn't enough.

I'd still expect MMA to be safer in this regard than boxing but there is enough head banging events in things like gaurd practice that don't occur during normal boxing practice that I wouldn't be shocked to learn MMA has as serious a problem with CTE as boxing.


Every knockout is a concussion, and likely brain damage. It may be relatively safer than Boxing but you can't keep striking and knockouts and think it's too much better.


Well the irony is that boxing gloves were introduced because hands are so fragile compared to skull that fights would be too short. It wasn't a noble reason.


I boxed a little and worked out and hit a heavy bag for years. I never would punch someone because I'm not that kind of man and secondly I would more then likely break my hand.


If I was a trained boxer I'd be way more worried about killing someone accidentally, with or without a broken hand.


In Australia, trained fighters who get into fights at bars for whatever reason have been charged with "weapons" charges, as their body is considered one (as opposed to the untrained person they're fighting)


In France I think it's similar. Martial Arts, boxing .. if you pass a certain level you're liable in case of serious injuries.


Of course, that's for classic boxing. I train muay thai and you're also liable to get a shin/knee/ankle/elbow from your opponent, and there's zero padding there.

However, as someone else commented, there are some crucial differences with football:

- there's no injury unless it's an actual fight. Sparring is intentionally toned down, because the sport is not about the power but agility and speed. Those can be practiced with minimal danger (of course there are always exceptions and accidents);

- there's the benefit of transparency. Hits may be heavier but are fewer and much farther apart than the repeated hits in football which may go unnoticed.


Repeated sub-concussive hits cause brain damage. That's the important point from all of the recent studies: it's not just the concussions, but all of the hits people take to the head. You're still at significant risk when sparring.


I could be mistaken but I thought a few concussions was enough to cause brain damage, once you get to three there's a marked increase in permanent, measureable damage in most people, if one is under 25, it doesn't take as much.


Any concussion is by definition a brain injury. Any brain injury is, by definition, damage to the brain. And we know that brain damage has an uncertain prognosis - it may or may not ever heal in any meaningful way, and might even get worse over time.

People handwaving around how much worse it gets under x or y circumstance just don't like the way the math adds up: brain injury is cumulative and progressive regardless of severity, age, repetition, or any other factor.


There is no way that MMA is safer than boxing in terms of traumatic brain injury, aside from the ability to win a match by submission rather than knockout. After a boxing knockout (which almost always results in concussion), the boxers are immediately separated. After an MMA knockout, the winning fighter is invariably allowed to jump on the loser and continue pummeling him in the face a few times. This is, incidentally, the worst possible thing that can happen after a traumatic brain injury.


I don't think MMA is safer than boxing (as I explained in a sibling comment), but this aspect is interesting. Yes, MMA fighters often get subsequent hits. Which is bad. But, in boxing, when you get knocked down but not out, you get a standing count. Then you take more punishment. But if that was an MMA fight, there's a good chance the downed fighter would be pounced on, and the fight quickly ended. Both are bad, but it's hard to say which is worse.


Boxers have much stronger punches and would break their hands. Boxers end their careers by punching someone without their gloves. It has happened many times in the past. MMA punch much lighter because it is a different style and skill set.


Joe Rogan feels that MMA would be safer if the participants did not wear gloves https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-SY0F6Kkg0


People always point to rugby when this topic comes up, but there is no conclusive evidence that it is any safer. In fact, this study found that the risk of concussion in rugby was far higher (4.13 concussions per 1,000 athletic exposure hours vs 0.53 for American football) by pooling data from 13 previous studies: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-concussion-youth-sp...

Of course there are always flaws, limitations, and contradictory evidence in these studies, but at least it is more worthwile than the eyeball test.


The key factor in that report though is that it concludes that "Concussion rates highest for kids in rugby, hockey and football".

I'd guess its likely that American football as played in the NFL is a very different game to the one played by kids, and there might be virtually no correlation of actual risks.

Rugby is also very different between kids and professionals of course - my 5 yr old plays ripper rugby which involves no contact tackling but instead ripping a velcro tag off the opposing player. Great fun to watch!


Even if there is no correlation of risks between the youth and professional levels of play (and I don't doubt that), parents steering their kids towards away from rugby, hockey, and football will eventually hemorrhage market share for those professional leagues in favor of safer sports.

We have flag football in the US for younger kids, sounds roughly analogous to ripper rugby.


There is also flag football for adults! They often have different leagues from no and partial contact up to 8-on-8 full contact (this is still flag and no tackle).


Another reason rugby tackles are different: The goal is to stop the player. The difference between one meter and another is minimal. In football, inches matter for the downs. So the hits are blowouts to stop people as soon as possible.


There are many many more tackles in rugby and the repeated inches do matter. Great defensive teams like the All Blacks fight for every inch.


In rugby, except for a couple of lines on the field, one inch doesn't strictly matter more than another, within the bounds of the rules.

In american football, one inch anywhere on the field can make the difference between four more downs or having to kick the ball away.


Rugby also has the method of tackling baked into the rules. If you tried to tackle in rugby in the same way as a block in NFL you'd immediately be penalised and could see yourself off the field. A typical rugby tackle almost by its definition in the rules will cede a metre or so to the attacking player as they are brought down to set up the ruck. IIRC Pete Carroll of the seahawks has taken advice from rugby professionals to help the d with their method of tackling


Reference? I always like to see these cross pollination stories, but I need a source on this one. The rugby way of tackling is the same as the way you are taught in Pop Warner and the way you do angle tackle drills, I thought.


> Wearing protective helmets just ups the ante as players launch into each other with full force.

Agreed, but funny thing is the protection has gradually developed over time to limit injury. American football used to be played with no protection, then with very limited protection, leather helmets, pads. Then hard helmets, armored pads. Etc.

Kind of an arms race, as with increased protection, the hits keep getting harder.

Unintended consequences of trying to reduce harm.


I'm not so sure about this. If you look historically, in game deaths seem very common in early football. As the game has gotten better pads, players have also been getting much MUCH bigger, which is increasing risk, but we haven't seen regular documented deaths during games like in the 1890s~1930s every few years. Now we get lots of deaths due to outside issues though (lots of car accidents and shootings on that list in recent years; lots of recent suicides on the NFL list just above too).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_football_play...

EDIT: I realize we're talking long term vs short term, but I wasn't able to find pre-compiled data comparing timelines of major advances in football pads and injury rates.



And people were dying before helmets. The differences in risk between Rugby and football are not because of helmets. Its an entirely different game. There is blocking in football whereas hitting in Rugby is mostly limited to the ball carrier. The flow of rugby is much more lateral than football where most players run right at each other.


This phenomenon is known as Risk Compensation[1].

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_compensation


The other difference is rugby limits the contact to the guy carrying the ball to a greater degree than American football. In the US version, the majority of players on the field will have contact on the majority of plays.


Rugby has the same problem with big hits and concussions occurring during them as American Football, but you are right in that it is illegal to block players without the ball in rugby and that is a pivotal part of American Football.

In fact the disease most discussed and studied has been Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. The position most likely (nearly 50%) to be affected are the linemen[1], not the guys leveling or receiving the bone crushing hits, but the guys doing the hum drum blocking on every play.

The positions reporting the most concussions though are the guys who are doing the hitting and being hit, the guys with the ball and tackling him[2]. But these guys get the big hits rarely as players are subbed in and out and the ball is given to different players all the time. If they get a concussion it is obvious and are usually pulled from the game.

Linemen on the other hand, are consistently in every play, and are blocking on every single play. They may be getting minor concussions every play, but not something noticeable enough to be pulled from the game.

[1]https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/07/25/boston-university-study-ct...

[2]http://apps.frontline.org/concussion-watch/#positions_2015


> In fact the disease most discussed and studied has been Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. The position most likely (nearly 50%) to be affected are the linemen[1], not the guys leveling or receiving the bone crushing hits, but the guys doing the hum drum blocking on every play.

This actually means there might be hope. The game could be modified to reduce the impact on the linemen. Reduce the distance the defense has to back off from the line of scrimmage, maybe even right down to zero or even a straight-up scrum. No lead-up to that first hit, they start out in contact. No lunge forward to close the gap between offence and defense.

Same gameplay happens - two lines of men trying to break through/protect the QB, but without that initial impact because they're already in a wrestling position.


Getting rid of the neural zone would be interesting. Other rules would have to be changed, and line strategy would also have do change. I wonder if it would favor quickness over size since you are closer together or if size would be even more important. I think it is at least worth experimenting with.


Thanks for that additional detail - I hadn't realized the CTE was so heavily concentrated among the linemen, though it does make sense.


Also, I don't see too many 350lb corn-fed rugby players when I've watched compared to American football.


That's because the biggest American football players, while having wonderful explosive power, would likely struggle with the endurance requirements of rugby.


You're looking at the evolution of the sport because of the equipment. If the players didnt wear so much protective gear they wouldnt have to be so big and fast and powerful, as described a few comments above.

That said they cant all of a sudden change the gear but they can evolve the rules to adapt.


This is incorrect. Football players actually wear substantially LESS padding now than in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Just go look at the pads from those eras.

Players are bigger, faster, and more powerful because that makes them better players. Not because equipment has evolved. It's the training of the athletes that has evolved.


Do they wear less protective gear, or is the gear just less bulky due to improvements in design?


You are right that it is the evolution of the sport, but I think it is driven by the increasing value (Billions of dollars at stake), more than the equipment.


Why wouldn't they be able to change the gear?


I'm not well-versed on the topic, but I'd guess that an abrupt change in protection could lead to more injuries in the short-term.


Ah. That's a good point. I know nothing about football. I just assumed that they could make changes if motivated given the enormous amount of money it generates.


Changes are made regularly, often to encourage player safety. But I think you can only make a game so safe when it's predicated on tackling people.


There are some but in sport agility is super important and technique as well. Mass helps but not as much as good tehnique.


No. But they are getting bigger which is a cause for concern with respect to injuries.


They started using that stuff because people were sustaining spectacular injuries (like cracking their heads open). I'm not sure it is so simple.


"The committee counted 49 deaths related to football in 1931--31 direct and 18 indirect. The only year on record between 1931 and 2013 with more direct fatalities was 1968 (36), but that year's indirect fatalities were lower (12) than 1931. Indirect fatalities were only equal or higher in 1933, 1935, 1936, 1961, 1965 and 2009. Only 1965 manages to tie 1931 for total deaths, leaving them sharing the title of deadliest year."

http://time.com/3387798/football-deaths/


Interesting watching that video of rugby hits, noticing the legs.

Perhaps it's just selection, but I'm wondering if it is rules requiring tackling above the waist, but it seems like every hit on that vid caused no leg injury; no knees got bend backwards, or jammed sideways, and they seemed to invariably fall with bent knees (which is protective as the leg can rotate with the force rather than tear ligaments). The hands, however, seemed to be often at risk.

Is this the case? If so, was the rule ever changed for improved safety, or just ~always that way?


Those are not very typical tackles. Tackling by controlling legs is common but not flashy high impact events and tend to allow the player to pass the ball mid-tackle. Legs generally seemed to sort themselves out in the normal case. Main risks I experienced as a tackler would be getting a boot to the face or shoulder impact. Main risk as a tacklee is what you land on - head, shoulders but you usually have quite a bit of control in the situation so its your responsibility to land safely and ensure you keep possession for the play to keep moving. A tackle is rarely surprising. Outcomes tend to be much worse for collisions with > 2 players when players are more likely to get inverted or things bent out of shape or landed on.


very informative - thx!


Rugby is a contact sport; football is a collision sport.


The same is true of MMA and hand-wraps. Ostensibly introduced to protect fighters' hands, they are actually just a threat to their heads.


Sounds like you know a bit about this - any chance you could weigh in on my question above? Does tackling serve a different strategic purpose in rugby vs American football (ie., not giving up an inch can be a big deal in US football), and could this also be partially responsible for the brain rattling quality of tackling?


Sounds plausible.

In rugby a goal is to always keep the ball in possession. When you are tackled, you try and feed the ball back to your own side, who are (ideally) close behind you in support.

So yeah - yardage gain is somewhat meaningless for its own sake in rugby, as long as you maintain possession. If you maintain possession, the other team can never score, and you eventually will.

So the player's thoughts as they are tackled are less about preserving yardage and more about ensuring you'll end up in a position where you can feed the ball back to your teammates to maintain possession. Maybe that means less impact in the tackle.


>Maybe that means less impact in the tackle.

In rugby if you run at someone they'll step sideways and you'll go past. In American football that I've seen they run right at each other, on purpose. You can't hammer straight at someone flat out and still be able to adjust your trajectory to account for a side-step. (Though Union is getting more like League now in the silly, endless, rucking which is TBH more like NFL).

In NFL they have plays of average ~4s, adding up to ~11 minutes across a 3½hr game time with regular changes of players using a massive team [see my other post for source]. In Rugby Union (UK) it's longer plays adding up to 45 minutes of ball-in-play across 90 minutes game duration (80 + 10 mins of half-time) with 15 players on pitch per team and up to 8 subs.

Bulk and running speed/stamina tend to oppose each other.


In the open field, American football players will attempt to sidestep or “juke” defenders.

Between the tackles and other close quarters situations, running “north and south” or “downhill” is the best strategy. From early ages, coaches will discourage running backs behind the line of scrimmage juking, stutter stepping, wiggling their heads, and otherwise not gaining yardage by shouting “Quit dancin’ and hit the hole!”


Reminds me of roads without trees on the side. People drive faster with guardrails and accident are as bad if not worse than before.


This is why I don't put a cover on my iPhone. Never dropped it.

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