Today, February 7, 2016, the 50th Super Bowl game in NFL (National Football League) history will be played by the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Therefore, it is appropriate to discuss the other dark and dangerous side of this football game – and all the ones played before and all the ones that will be played after – before it is played.
Super Bowl games have become extravagant and lavish productions in the last ten years or so, intended to bring into the audience people who normally either don’t have interest in the game or don’t normally watch football. Super Bowl games also represent an obscenely huge financial windfall for the NFL and for advertisers with enough money to pay for the coveted and outrageously expensive advertising spots during the game.
With money on the line, and a lot of it, this week has been a bombardment from the media to get the biggest audience possible in the United States – and perhaps around the world – to tune in and watch the spectacle.
Sadly and disappointingly, for this writer, the insistent urging has filtered down to the most unlikely of sources, including church pastors exhorting their members to cheer for one of the two teams and to host Super Bowl parties as a way to promote Christian fellowship.
For me, personally, the violence – physical and verbal (the motto of the Carolina Panthers is “keep pounding” and the only place people get pounded is in a knock-down, drag-out fight) – is totally incompatible with the principles Christians purport to live by (and by which we are to be evaluating everything in our lives) and it is totally incompatible with the way of life that Christians are supposed to be changing toward in who they are, what they think, what they say, and what they do. For Christians who are supposed to epitomize love for God and love for neighbor, where is that love when they are watching football and Super Bowl 50? I don’t see it.
So that is the first of two reasons why I don’t watch football and I will not be watching Superbowl 50.
The second reason for me is equal in importance. This blog discusses dementias, including lifestyle dementias, and Alzheimer’s Disease. This blog looks at all the things in our lives that can and may be causing the neurological damage that leads to the development of these devastating diseases that increasingly are becoming a part of the human experience.
The preponderance of evidence that has come to light in the last few years about how great and how likely the long-term neurological risk of playing football – from a very young age throughout college and then professional football, where old age and retirement is in the late 30’s – is for players is my second reason for not watching football and why I will not be watching Superbowl 50.
The sport of football has long been known to have horrendous physical effects on the bodies of its players. Peyton Manning, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos, who will be playing in Superbowl 50, has had several surgeries for neck and back injuries and the pain and infirmity of these injuries and surgeries has led him to hint that he will retire at age 39 after tonight’s game.
The game of football has left in its wake thousands of old, crippled men who haven’t yet seen their 40th birthday because of the brutal effects the violence of the game leaves for the rest of lives on their increasingly-debilitated bodies.
In recent years, the neurological destruction from repeated concussions over the course of these players’ careers and the ensuing traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) leading to the eventual development of dementia – if they live long enough (there have been numerous cases of erratic, inexplicable behavior and then suicide among players in their 20’s and 30’s who, as was discovered post-mortem, suffered from TBI and advanced CTE) – has widened and deepened the destructive effect of football on its participants. (I personally suspect that, in addition to the clear evidence of alcoholism, that Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel’s off-field behavior may also indicate neurological damage.)
The NFL has ignored and denied, until it no longer could, and then downplayed all of this, of course, and until the past year has done very little in the way of taking care of these players – medically, at the very least, since the organization has made a fortune off of them – when the long-term effects of playing the game resulted in dementia.
Even now the NFL keeps its head in the sand about the real, grave, and highly disproportionate in number (compared to other non-contact sports and the general population) neurological risks that its players face (the only real concession the NFL has made is supposedly-safer football helmets, but as this article points out, that will likely exacerbate the risk).
I suppose that Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, as quarterbacks (who are generally protected by their teams), believe that the risk of concussions, TBIs, and CTE is not as great. But they are wrong. Last week we learned that former Oakland Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler, whose playing style was similar to both Newton’s and Manning’s, suffered from neurological degeneration from CTE leading to cognitive impairment and memory loss in the last decades of his life, and eventually his death at the age of 69.
But this is personal for each one of us. Because without the money and support of the fans of football – you and me, if I was – there would be no NFL, no Super Bowls, and no financial incentives for the players to take the physical and neurological risks they take every time they hit the field, whether in practices or in games.
So ultimately it is you and me who also bear responsibility for the damage that is done because we create the audience – and the revenue – that supports it.
My personal and up-close experience and the vast knowledge I have gained with and about dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease with my mom, who never played a game of football in her life and who was one of the most intelligent, witty, charming, and playful people I have ever known until vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease came to stay through the end of her life, will not allow my conscience to ever advocate and support anything in this life that could lead to the development of dementia and what ensues afterwards.
I can’t speak for your conscience. Nor can I make the decision for your conscience. Only you, each of you, can do and make that.
However, I can tell you that because of my experience of walking down the long dementias road, throughout the entire journey, side by side with my mom, watching helplessly in slow motion the devastating destruction that Mama endured, the dementia journey is not one that I would ever want to see an other person have to experience and I cannot support, endorse, or participate in any activity within my control where the outcome is more likely than not to eventually result in the development of dementias among its participants.
Football and Super Bowl 50 are among those activities where the proof is irrefutable. And that’s enough evidence for me.