What do tennis elbow and American football concussions have in common? Well, let me start off by stating for the record that these two issues are not on the same level. One involves the elbow. When damaged, it can hurt, cause reduced mobility and lead to frustration. The other involves the brain. When damaged, it can radically alter all of life for the worse. I do not pretend to equate the seriousness of the latter with the former. However, that being understood, I do want to suggest there to be an interesting parallel between these two issues as they are currently playing themselves out in our modern culture. This new set of posts is not a scientific study but rather a brief editorial on the power of sports, the passion for winning at virtually all costs and the willingness to sacrifice true health on the altar of competition.
Momentum is slowly growing in favor of those sounding the alarm about American football’s risks concerning mental health. Brain studies on deceased former players as well as testimony from living retired players has led to mounting evidence that concussions and/or repeated head blows game after game are having far more deleterious effects on the aging mental health of those who have suffered them. Those who control the leagues and who profit most from their popularity…and who would stand to lose the most from their diminution or demise…are not eager to engage this issue in full light, arguably. But concern is increasing as evidenced by one leading youth league witnessing decreased participation recently. No one knows yet where this will all go. But the power of American football within American culture is virtually hegemonic as the game has evolved to a place of offering the most attractive blend of beauty and brutality. American football is to this culture what gladiatorial combat was to ancient Rome. And the people love it. Money and winning go hand in hand. Arguing that the game is inherently dangerous in a way beyond bruises and breaks and being heard takes overcoming a level of inertia that is tidal. Concussions, brain trauma and their associated mental disease(s) at this point at least continue to remain an acceptable sacrifice for the sake of the cheers.