Friday, April 8, 2011

Time to Question the Risks of Sports

A recent University of North Carolina study painted a grim picture of head trauma and its long-term affects.

“Repeatedly concussed National Football League players,” said the UNC report, “had five times the rate of mild cognitive impairment (pre-Alzheimer’s) than the average population,” while “retired NFL players suffer from Alzheimer’s disease at a 37-per-cent higher rate than average.” Then came the kicker. Two doctors determined “that the average life expectancy for all profootball players, including all positions and backgrounds, is 55. Several insurance carriers say it is 51 years.”
Toronto's Globe and Mail,  Tues April 5, 2011

The average American male's life-span, in contrast, has risen from 65 in 1950 to almost 80 in 2011 [table above].  Yet hockey and football players clearly have potential sports-related injuries. These injuries may haunt them for years. None of us would consciously want to play hard only to pay for years with chronic pain.

The trouble is, these sports, at least the way they are now played, are relatively new when looked at from the perspective of time. We don't know the long-term consequences. Certainly the single-minded pursuit of sports excellence is now unmatched by anything in the past. It is motivated by money, and fed by supposedly demanding masses. It's true, we seldom think about  the negative repercussions of sports as a daily reality if we don't live with it.

 Sports rise and wane in popularity. It is time to revisit the injuries suffered by players. Remember the gladiators of Rome and how popular they were? Bull-fighting and dueling were far more popular in the past than they are now, due to the possibility of severe injury leading to death. Even boxing in America used to be more popular than it is now. Fatal danger is a common thread in sports that disappear over time.

Future ball players will have these statistics to ponder, and it is my hope they will pursue less dangerous pursuits in the future, in careers where risks are less costly. After all, exercise in moderation is excellent.
Pro athletes are overpaid  because their working life is short and for that reason, they enjoy compensation with astronomical salaries, support staffs, news coverage...I have long  marveled at how on earth sports salaries ever got so crazily high.

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