The League

Dr. Matthew Prowler
Resident Psychiatrist

Dr. Matthew Prowler

Resident Psychiatrist at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

Modern Gladiators


The post-mortem results have been back for awhile, with strong anecdotal evidence that a career in football conveys a significantly increased risk of early-onset dementia, as well as mood and personality changes.

The NFL and Congress are finally getting serious about the problem -- attempting to back up the findings with science and upcoming hearings. A recent study commissioned by the NFL and conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, using phone surveys, reported a prevalence of dementia in ex-NFL players considerably higher than the norm (almost 20 times the national average in ages 30-49 ). And this week it was reported that the NFL assistance "88 Plan," begun by the league and the players union, has data that corroborate the Michigan study.

The methodology of the NFL study has been widely criticized. But this does not mean that the problem doesn't exist, just that the statistical significance is not proven. Not yet.

So why has it taken so long? Could it be collective denial? Maybe pure business.

Or perhaps, the NFL was slow to address this problem because they had little impetus to do so. There was no pressure from the consumer to change practices. The fans want to see the hard knocks. It is an undeniable and fundamental part of the game. And with it comes the constant risk of severe head injury.

Is it possible that we love football not in spite of its violence, but because of it? It can't just be the agility of the players. The NFL ditched the Pro Bowl skills competition in 2007 with little fanfare. The thrill of competition? It's hard to imagine a Hank Williams Jr's : "Are you ready for some Flag Football? "

No. Football is unique in our pantheon of sport. The football player is a modern gladiator. While a soldier, a miner, or a firefighter show valor in the face of great risk, the football player is the only one putting his physical integrity and future health in grave danger for our pure enjoyment.

The NFL will undoubtedly try to implement further safety measures -- stiffer enforcement of tackling rules, better gear, etc. But nothing too drastic or game-changing. Because what would football look like without the violence? And who would watch?

By Dr. Matthew Prowler  |  October 28, 2009; 6:10 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , Dr. Matthew Prowler , Medical , NFL , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Dr Prowler writes:
"the football player is the only one putting his physical integrity and future health in grave danger for our pure enjoyment." I find this comment to be pure BS - the football players at the upper echelons of the sport are in it for the stardom and the money. I mean even lineman are getting multi-million dollar contracts nowadays. And you can't tell me that grown men have no idea that when a 275lb linebacker slams into a 300lb lineman at full speed that there won't be some damage done; I know 6 year olds that can answer that question. And what about the pure ferocity and bloodlust of the sport these days? You can't tell me a cornerback doesn't relish the thought of knocking a receiver out of the game, or a defensive lineman doesn't dream of crushing a QB with a body slam sack. These players crying woe is me made their choices. But I do believe that if the NFL knew about these injuries and teams and the league knowingly put players back in games at the risk of their health, they should be held accountable.

Posted by: CTL123 | October 28, 2009 9:47 AM

Big paychecks come with a big price. If you don't like it - you can live the safer life with your fans who get gouged at every turn to pay your fat paychecks.

Posted by: mwcob | October 28, 2009 12:57 PM

While there are the obvious financial benefits of playing in the NFL and clearly the players on the field getting multimillion dollar contracts are not martyrs for fan enjoyment, I don't think that that is the issue at hand at all. According to the NFL, the average career life of a player is about 3-4 seasons and after those seasons are over and the contracts end, what are the players left with? Broken bones and knee injuries are no longer the only concern. Long after these players are not gracing your tv's every sunday and monday night and the contracts end, they will still be paying for their time on the field. You are implying that a large paycheck is adequate compensation for long term head injuries. What about the families of these players? Or do you even care?

Posted by: isabellew | October 28, 2009 3:45 PM

I do not care at all about these players. They knew what they were getting into. They make more in one year than most people make in a lifetime. Everything has a price. Don't want the injuries? Fine, give up the huge paycheck. If they end up broke then it is their own fault.

Posted by: jondercik1 | October 29, 2009 9:01 AM

There are thousands of young men who play the sport for the pure love of the game with no chance of ever "cashing" in with a contract in the NFL. There needs to be a serious study done on the long term effects of concusions not because some over paid athelets might suffer in the long run, but because there might be detrimental risk to the amatures that participate in this sport

Posted by: Magee1 | October 29, 2009 3:18 PM

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