We’re working on it.

Go to your office, pick up your laptop and then drop it on the
ground. Start it up and see how it works. If it still works, do it again, only
with more force. Repeat for several hours and see what happens.

Chances are, no matter how good your computer is, how well
it is insulated or how resistant it is to shock, eventually this think is going
on the fritz.

The sad thing is, you wouldn’t think of doing this. You know
better. With that in mind, it’s amazing that the National Football League is
still doing its “We’re not entirely sure that the impact of repeated blows to
the head have caused a rate of dementia three times that of normal men.”

The NFL, the players union and other folks found themselves
in front of a congressional committee the other day,
trying to explain how it
is that guys like John Mackey, a Hall-of-Fame tight end who was once as loquacious
as Deion Sanders, are virtually catatonic. The answer they seemed to be giving
is “We’re working on it.”

This doesn’t help the John Mackeys of the world, who find
themselves in assisted living due to the punishment they’ve received over the
years. This doesn’t help the guys like Mike Webster, the Hall-of-Fame center
from Pittsburgh who spent much of the end of his truncated life sleeping under
bridges because his brain was too damaged to function.

It also won’t do much good for guys like Brian Westbrook,
who was knocked out of Monday night’s game after taking a knee to the head.
He’s expected to play this weekend, even though he was diagnosed with a
concussion. It takes upwards of six weeks for nerve cells to start to stabilize
according to expert testimony at the hearing. Westbrook will be back in six
days. It won’t help the kids in college who are taught to tough it out or the
high school kids who don’t want to be viewed as a wuss for taking a week or two
off after a head injury. After all, if you can’t see the wound, if the bone
isn’t sticking through the skin, apparently, it’s not a big deal. Tough it out.

The brain is more fragile than most computers. It’s so
complex that we barely understand half of its inner workings. When it breaks,
we can’t really get at it without massive surgery. When it is hurt, we often
don’t know how to fix it or have ways to heal it.

In one way, it’s very clearly not like a computer: you can’t
just get replacement parts to fix it. The NFL needs to recognize that and give
players a better line than “we’re working on it.”

15 thoughts on “We’re working on it.

  1. I can understand why the NFL may not want to make any results public (kind of like smoking causes lung disease).
    But like you say, the results are obvious. You have a well defined population meaning an epidemiologic study is fairly easy. (and easy to look up using the medical databases)
    So I’m rather confused why this takes a congressional investigation rather than an OSHA.

  2. …it seemed odd to me that the subject, as some apparently unsettled question, even needed to be discussed, especially in that setting. There is a sufficient body of evidence regarding the neurological effects of repeated blows to the head suffered by boxers – even those who have never been literally knocked out – to suggest that multiple concussions, or even getting repeatedly whacked upside the head without manifestation of brain trauma, increases the long-term risk of brain injury.
    One, if gripped by a cynical mindset, would almost suspect that the NFL and the NFLPA can’t answer the question because they don’t want to deal with the ramifications of that answer…

  3. MapleStreet makes a good point about OSHA but if OSHA was handling it you wouldn’t have a forum for grandstanding politicians.
    Hockey is just as bad with concussions, maybe worse. I don’t think you can have a human being traveling at high speed and crashing into another human being violently on purpose and ever make it safe. It doesn’t even have to be two people. There are studies that show pro soccer players suffer trauma from heading the ball. Your brain is precious! That’s why it comes with a big fat skull to protect it.

  4. You think that, even if all the risks were made public, that people wouldn’t still play football?
    There’s been a consensus that boxing leads to brain trauma for a long, long time; however, boxing’s still legal, and there are still people who line up to train–even if they know they’re never gonna come close to the big time.
    Even if there wasn’t all the money involved in pro football, people would still play, and still play when they shouldn’t due to injury. Shit, life’s dangerous. Sometimes, some people just want to roll the dice. Risk is a part of life; on a long enough timeline, to borrow a quote, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
    That said, it ain’t right that John Mackey doesn’t have a fat pension. The people who helped build the league into the multibillion dollar business it is today deserve to benefit from the institution that their blood & sweat created.
    Doc, I realize you weren’t talking about banning football–I’m kind-of, sort-of reacting to both your post and jerkoff Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker column comparing football to dogfighting.

  5. Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article is here:
    And even though Jude is already biased against Gladwell, fact is, football is a game where there have always been brain injuries. I’m amazed that a guy like Steve Young, who was in Concussion City for most of his pro career, is doing well as a broadcaster now – I keep wondering when the synapses will quit snapping for him, only because he unfortunately seems about due.
    This is the reality of playing the game. Players and owners know that – but for them to be in collusion with each other to where “we’re working on it” is the only answer they can give? Players and their families deserve better than that. Kyle “Helmet Hurlin'” Turley (while he was a Saints player – yep, it ALL goes through New Orleans at some point), though he admitted he’d play “all out” all over again if given the chance, deserves to have some sort of answer for the blackouts he still suffers from. If “working on it” equals donations to brain research along with pensions for these players still suffering from brain injuries, that’s an even better start.

  6. Well, what can they do? It’s not really possible to build a helmet which can insulate the head from repeated smackings. I suppose they could convert to touch football–and watch their fan base go down the drain. I guess all they can do is not allow players to go back on the field after a concussion–but even that won’t help because you suffer injury even without a concussion.
    Sadly, the United States has adopted as its offical game a violent, destructive game. Guess it fits, though, if you think about it…

  7. Banning all high school sports is the only sensible idea. You not only have the permanently disabled from high school sports, a terrifically understated number. Hey, where are the stats on the number of kids killed in high school sports.
    The other problem with sports is that it increases enormously the need for the narcotic adrenaline. One of the most incredibly powerful drugs ever discovered. Adrenaline is not a good fix. Check out your absolutely worst police officers and you will find second string adrenaline addicts. Cops that retire kill themselves not because they don’t feel of value to society, but because they aren’t going to get their daily fix by acting like subhumans all day.
    There are absolutely NO redeeming values for any contact “sports” except for sick people who enjoy violence. Yeah, I’m saying your Monday nite football isn’t a harmless little pleasure, you semi human. You could get your rocks off on a Crucifixion or two. Oh, attacking one of the true “american” virtues.
    Mothra, cancelling the “sports” would be a great first step. Not new uniforms, just end the stupid of no purpose violence except as amusement for the people who just can’t make it to the Coliseum to see the gladiators “mix it up.”

  8. If they really want an answer, they only need to go back to the day that Lyle Alzado bragged on camera after the game about breaking somebody’s neck, and there was barely a peep from either the sportswriters or the fans, or the Commissioner.

  9. On the Jetsons they use robots. How about robot football players? That would be cool.
    This is kind of about health care and the safety net isn’t it?
    In a way football sounds like joining the Army. “We will give you all this money but it might be dangerous. 60 percent of you will be mentally or physically damaged by this activity, you might be one of the luck 40 percent who are not damaged permanently, Do you want to talk the risk? Yes or no. Remember you get a college education out of this AND a decent salary for a couple of years. What do you say? Before you answer remember you will get lots of sex too. And a car with build in video games.”
    Now, given that who could resist?

  10. I don’t think you can ban violent impulses so you may as well have violent sports as an outlet. Maybe if Joe Lieberman wasn’t suck a total dweeb all his life and got a few hard licks in playing Sport X as a kid he wouldn’t be advocating for war (and getting it) with everybody from Grenada to Afghanistan. People can be violent naturally and the humane thing is to grow away from that being the outlet for expressing frustration towards something more civilized. Like amateur hockey!

  11. liprap: compare your Steve Young to Jerry Jones’ Troy Aikman.
    Can’t usually stand to listen to him.

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