Football, even the Super Bowl, may be hazardous to your health

Super Bowl LII Philadelphia Eagles

The Super Bowl is over, the Eagles won and in a moment, I’ll show you why the old phrase in the title — “may be hazardous to your health” — doesn’t just apply to cigarettes, but also football.

bob costas NBC Sports
Bob Costas (NBC Sports)

One of my favorite sportscasters since I was a teenager has been NBC‘s Bob Costas. He’s very smooth, been national since 1979 and knows what he’s talking about.

NBC just had two of the biggest events in sports less than a week apart: the Super Bowl and the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Costas, 65, was the king of both when NBC had the rights — until this year.

He hosted six NBC Super Bowls and served as NBC’s primetime host for a record 11 Olympics.

A year ago, the 26-time Emmy winner announced he wouldn’t be doing the Olympics this year. People magazine reports he said in a statement,

“It’s been a wonderful run, but I just felt now was the right time to step away and I’m grateful that NBC left that decision to me.”

2018 olympic logoIt’s a huge job, day after day, with so many events and athletes to know all about. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, he went on the air after catching an eye infection.

Now, NBC took Mike Tirico from ABC and ESPN to do the chore, which may have doubled because the network brilliantly decided to carry everything live on the west coast (starting at 5pm) and go until 2am in the east, when west coast prime time ends at 11. Of course, the South Korea time zone helped get everything live, but it’s still six long hours on the air.

It’s kind of fitting, in a way. Costas had hosted every Olympic Games since 1992. Tirico was the first student to receive the Bob Costas Scholarship at Costas’ alma mater, Syracuse University, back in 1987.

Costas is at the point in his career and life that he can say what he wants, and I love that. I hope I come across just as honestly these days, as well. It’s almost a waste to keep your mouth shut, if you know what you’re talking about.

helmetfootball

As for the Super Bowl, it’s one game and just over three hours of time that most of America and much of the world would be watching. And he’d only have to be an expert on two teams. Sounds much, much easier — something he can handle with his eyes closed.

(L-R) lining up to push and shove; Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles (#8) had just thrown a pass when he was with the University of Arizona; trying to tackle the runner

brains Wikibooks
brain comparison (Wikibooks)

But in November, he said, “This game (football) destroys people’s brains,” referring to players’ concussions and other head injuries.

He’s absolutely right! Don’t think so? Look at all the damage done. Look at the behavior of some former players who got hit too hard too many times. Keep reading for the names of some players who died too young because of the damage, and a description of how the damage happens.

Lenny Oak LogParents, is it worth a four-year scholarship to college? Do the students getting the scholarships actually study for a job in the real world, or is football an extra responsibility that’s much more important than regular studies and credits?

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching football, especially when I know the team and the players. But I’m no die-hard who would watch some college football game between two west coast teams I know nothing about.

I like watching the players give it all to catch a pass, the defense trying to block and then tackle the runner if necessary. And the runner doing whatever it takes to get an extra few feet or make it out of bounds while keeping control of the ball. But first, the defensive line trying to blitz the quarterback, with his offensive counterparts protecting him.

A Popular Science article two years ago stated a football game has

“an estimated 130-plus plays, hundreds of hits, tackles, spears, and lay outs. For a young and healthy athlete, that can lead to serious brain trauma.”

“According to the NFL, there were 271 documented game-related concussions this past season — the most recorded by the league since 2011. Roughly one-third of those were caused by helmet-to-helmet contact.”

The magazine describes “one of the season’s dirtiest” games. It happened in January 2016.

“How dirty? With 22 seconds left in the game, the Steelers’ star wide receiver, Antonio Brown, was midair, ready to catch a ball that he hoped would put the Steelers within range of a game-winning field goal. Instead, Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict launched himself at Brown as he came down, slamming his helmet (which in the NFL can weigh four to six pounds) into the side of Brown’s head, whipping it sideways on his brain stem. The hit, at an estimated 707 miles per hour, carried about 1600 pounds of tackling force. It flattened Brown on his back, seemingly knocking him unconscious. Jim Nantz, the NFL’s normally unflappable play-by-play guy, was apoplectic, calling the assault ‘disgraceful.’

“The Steelers, who ended up winning the game 18 – 16, later said Brown had suffered ‘concussion like symptoms.’

“In the NFL, that’s code for ‘has a concussion.’”

A co-director at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center told the magazine “what mostly likely went on inside Brown’s head that day.”

“As Burfict slammed into the left side of Brown’s head, he twisted it up and to the right. The slo-mo is painful just to watch. According to (Dr. Robert) Cantu, a hit like that would lead to a textbook rotational concussion, among the worst a player can suffer. There are several things happening inside Brown’s skull, the moment of impact. Brown’s brain begins to twist and spin. It does this in the opposite direction of the hit and inside his skull’s cerebrospinal fluid, a clear fluid that cushions the brain. In that same moment, his brain’s nerve fibers stretch and rotate.”

Also, according to the magazine,

“A large percentage of NFL concussions are the results of T-bone hits (at the ear hole) or right between the eyes. These hits rattle the brain’s center of gravity. What they do is make the brain to rock dangerously backwards and forward, repeatedly hitting the skull. In young athletes (think teenagers), the brain is flush with the bone. So this effect is not as pronounced as in older players, who have a one-eighth to a quarter-inch space, more room for the brain to ricochet off the skull, and thus to cause more harm.

“Blows to the side of the head, like the that laid out Brown, are far more dangerous. The spinning a brain undergoes during a rotational concussion can cause significant structural issues.

“As Brown’s body recoils, his brain continues swirling back and forth before finally oscillating to a stop. That’s where things fade to black, both in Brown’s consciousness and in our scientific understanding.”

Stanford bio-engineer David Camarillo recently told PBS KQED’s Quest blog, “One of the serious issues is the wobbling of the brain.”

“The exertion caused by a rotational hit puts a much greater degree of stretch and strain on the nerve tissue than a linear hit,” Dr. Cantu explained. “It isn’t just going in one direction. It is going side to side, front and back.”

The magazine describes the injury.

“As soon as Brown’s head is hit, his brain violently accelerates. Neurotransmitters — chemicals that allow neurons to communicate with each other — are released, but since the trauma is so great, these neurotransmitters are chaotic and rendered effectively useless. At the same time, the new membranes surrounding the brain’s neuronal cells stretch so thin that ions like potassium and sodium flow out of the neurons and into the fluid-packed extracellular space. These ions are quickly replaced by calcium, which flows into the cell and basically paralyzes the neuron.”

It continues,

“The cell is unable to transmit nerve impulses. So what you have is a cell that is alive, but is greatly impaired and nonfunctioning. Cantu calls it ‘an energy crisis in the brain.’ And it can last not just minutes, but for months. That means whatever responsibility that cell controls, whether it be memory, speech or rage control, it can’t do its job. ‘So if the cell affects vision, you won’t see properly,’ says Cantu.”

But that’s not all.

“Microseconds after the ion chemical reaction, Brown’s nerve cells and fibers start to stretch. Once the blood vessels in those parts break, microscopic hemorrhages occur. Doctors using specialty MRI scans have seen these ruptures in injured NFL players as tiny holes where vessels have bled out. If the vessels bleed into the brain’s tissue, the fluid could kill neurons, which can already be in bad shape from a hit as severe as Brown’s.

“Scientists do not know how to measure the number of cells injured in a concussion. They just don’t know. But for athletes who suffer from CTE, a degenerative condition that can only be diagnosed through autopsy (90 out 94 former NFL players who authorized the examination over the past eight years have had it), the cell death is crippling. It leads to massive atrophy in the medial surface of the brain’s temporal lobe. That’s the region and area of the brain that is associated, in part, with memory and language. If the cells don’t have enough rehab time (say, a player takes the field too soon), they ‘tip over,’ says Cantu, and die, causing brown stains to develop throughout that region (a phenomenon noted by medical examiners during autopsies on NFL players).”

Junior Seau Wikipedia
Junior Seau (Wikipedia)

Players like Dave Duerson and Terry Long wasted away due to the ravages of CTE and then ultimately committed suicide.

No football fan could forget Junior Seau. A team of scientists who analyzed the brain tissue of renowned NFL linebacker after his 2012 suicide concluded he suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head, researchers and his family told ABC News.

That January 2013 article reported,

“More than 30 NFL players have in recent years been diagnosed with CTE, a condition once known as ‘punch drunk’ because it affected boxers who had taken multiple blows to the head. Last year, some 4,000 retired players filed lawsuits against the league over its alleged failure to protect players from brain injuries.

“The NFL has said it did not intentionally hide the dangers of concussions from players and is doing everything it can now to protect them.”

Ken Stabler suffered from CTE, died of colon cancer in 2015 and donated his roughly three-pound brain to Cantu’s CTE Center for analysis. Shortly before his death, he established the XOXO Stabler Foundation to take

“up a cause that directly affected the foundation’s chairman: sports-related brain trauma.

“The foundation’s new initiative XOXO Game Plan for Change is focused on changing the course and culture of contact sports to increase sports safety and reduce brain trauma in athletes. To facilitate change, the XOXO Stabler Foundation funds research on related brain diseases, methods of treatment and prevention, and educational outreach.”

Antwaan Randle El, 36, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he suffered severe memory loss and couldn’t even walk down the stairs.

Calvin Johnson announced he’d retire at age 30 likely because of fears relating to his post-retirement health.

Aaron Hernandez Flickr
Aaron Hernandez (Flickr)

“The very severity of the disease, at least that we’re seeing in American football players, seems to correlate with the duration of play. The longer they play, the more severe we see it,” Dr. Ann McKee told The New York Times.

And most recently, in April 2017, Aaron Hernandez killed himself while serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a 2013 murder. Despite that, he was remembered in a video tribute before this month’s Super Bowl, when the league ran salutes to those the NFL lost in the past year.

Five months after the 27-year-old’s death, The New York Times reported,

“A posthumous examination of his brain showed he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.”

!!!!!

The gray lady’s ominous lead was,

“The brain scan came as a surprise even to researchers who for years have been studying the relationship between brain disease and deaths of professional football players.”

Frank Gifford Howard Cosell Don Meredith Monday Night Football
Frank Gifford worked with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith on Monday Night Football (Wikipedia)

The article claimed CTE has been found in more than 100 former NFL players including Andre Waters, Ray Easterling and sports announcer Frank Gifford.

surgeon general cigarette warning
The title comes from the surgeon general’s cigarette warning we were exposed to for decades, from 1965 until it got changed.

What if it was touch football or flag football, instead of tackle?

We’re talking about a whole different game! There would be a whole lot less excitement, fewer fans, less money in TV rights, and a lot less money in team and player paraphernalia.

Heck, if I could see and run better, I could even play! That just shows how different the game would be.

But going back to those injuries: Marc Buoniconti’s spinal cord injury causing him to be a paraplegic for more than 30 years. Who’s paying those medical bills? We’re talking about the rest of these people’s lives! As it stands, what percentage of former players go bankrupt due to bad advice or simply spending too much (which is much, much more than earlier players made)?

What is the union doing? This is its whole webpage on health.

Last month, Costas told Sports Business Daily the decision to sit out the Super Bowl was mutual. He explained,

“Not only do I not have a problem with it, I am actually happy about it. I have long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, it’s better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it.”

Bob Costas with President George W Bush Wikipedia
Costas (R) with former President George W. Bush (Wikipedia)

Again, Costas not part of the Olympics nor the Super Bowl seemed like a surprise. And again, it’s great to be able to do what you want and not do what you don’t want.

But Costas says we should not be surprised. His Olympics decision was made way back. And as for the Super Bowl,

“I have been making the same points for several years, often on NBC. In halftime commentaries, interviews with (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell and other prominent NFL figures, appearances on CNN and elsewhere, I have addressed the issue of football and its undeniable connection to brain trauma many times.

“Why?

“Because the evidence is overwhelming and the effects are often devastating. It’s the elephant in the stadium at every game whether others choose to acknowledge it or not. And it’s not going away. So the idea that I am only now finding my voice on this, or that NBC was taken aback by what I said at Maryland is just wrong. It’s all simple and straightforward.”

I love people who speak freely!world
money dollars cents

Yes, there are benefits to being a popular, rich athlete. A lot of good needs to be done in the world. It costs money. People need food and clean water. Children here need examples, especially the ones without fathers.

But would you go out on the field, even with a ton of protection, and do something that has destroyed so many people’s lives?

P.S. Too bad NBC doesn’t have time for professional hockey during the Olympics. The network has the rights to it, and the National Hockey League isn’t taking a break this year.

ESPN reported last April, owners were not happy with the weeks-long “intermissions” every four years and wanted “conciliatory offers from the International Olympic Committee and/or the NHL Players’ Association.”

The NHLPA said in a statement,

“Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.”

A deal didn’t happen, the players can’t compete and be Olympians this year, so Costas could call hockey. I don’t think he ever has, but he’s probably too smart to compete against the Olympics!

P.P.S. I couldn’t resist! Please forgive me.

ronald reagan smoking

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Why teaching isn’t for me anymore

(Yesterday, I wrote about why teachers have to give so many tests, why students have to take them, the many recent changes to teaching and learning in Florida, and what happened when I had to give results that many 3rd graders and their parents considered life-or-death.)

Fall, 2006: I brought former Miami meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary's Saturday Academy to teach about weather
Fall, 2006: I brought former Miami meteorologist Paul Deanno to visit Sibley Elementary’s Saturday Academy to teach about weather

I wasn’t an education major when I stepped into the classroom. I’d spent the past 12 years helping put on the news at TV stations. (Truth be told, I did look into teaching in Philadelphia, 2000-2001. I observed a middle school class but didn’t want to go for a master’s degree, and ended up at KYW). Years later, when I was producing Web sites for WFOR-WBFS-WTVX in Miami, a family friend (Lois) said she’d always seen me as an elementary school teacher. I looked into it, and it’s pretty easy in Florida. You need a college degree in anything, and have to pass the fingerprint test. The rest can be taken care of over three years.

May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary's Career Day
May, 2007: My father teaching my class about dentistry on Career Day. Very little on the walls due to 1st grade SAT testing.

I got my start when a teacher went on maternity leave in early 2006, and went to work halfway through the school year. It wasn’t easy. I knew how to photocopy and the other teachers helped me with plans and discipline. (That year, the administrators decided half the class should be good students and the other half, the opposite. Either the high achievers can help the low, or it was a recipe for disaster.)

I came to realize the teachers I respected the most, those who’d been doing it for 30+ years, were frustrated. They didn’t know what they were doing because of so many changes, and they freely admitted it (Sheila). I told a friend of the family (Kenny) who’d recently retired that I was starting to teach, and he asked, “Why?”

Fall, 2008: My class displayed "Where the Wild Things Are" for the school's Fall Festival. Sibley Maurice Sendak
Fall, 2008: My class displayed Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are for the school’s Fall Festival.

There’s not enough time to teach effectively. I totally understand fire drills but have problems with dances in the hope that students will do well (rather than as a reward for doing well) and going ice skating because the Winter Olympics were going on. Students need more time to meet tougher standards, don’t you think?

In many cases during my eight years of experience, the parents were part of the problem. Many didn’t show up at conferences. They didn’t get their children to preschool, so students started kindergarten with zero background. Often (again, from what I’ve seen), they’re too busy with their hair, tattoos, and cars to get their kids to school on time, pick them up on time, or make sure they do their homework — as if the teacher wants more papers to review.

August, 2011: My nephew Logan visited as I set up my 1st grade classroom.
August, 2011: My nephew Logan visited as I set up my 1st grade classroom.

The problem was the opposite at the private religious school where I was in the fall of 2013. It was a class system and it didn’t have anything to do with education, but money. Too many parents thought their kids were perfect and wouldn’t accept the truth. (And that’s why a lot of the kids went there.) I was forced to endure too many get-to-know-you activities, do-overs for bad grades (on teacher-prepared tests), not marking tardy if there was a train on the tracks around the starting time and, of course, Miami Dolphins Day. The list goes on because parents pay a fortune (at least to most of us) in tuition. Then, these students are pushed with after-school activities. They’ll never make it in the real world under these circumstances.  Private schools can get away with almost anything. I respect people who choose to pay for religious instruction, but not those who pay to take the easy way out because their children have issues and wouldn’t make it in public school.

March, 2012: Another of my students' award-winning science projects, "Which kind of laundry detergent removes dirt stains better, liquid or powder?"
March, 2012: Another of my students’ award-winning science projects, “Which Kind of Laundry Detergent Removes Dirt Stains Better, Liquid or Powder?”

By the way, money is the name of the game at all schools — public and private – and all levels of government. Don’t forget that. Look for bond initiatives and contracts for building and buying.

===

Unions in Florida are weak, because the land of sunshine is a right-to-work state. About half of the teachers take their union-negotiated salary and benefits without paying any union dues. Things would be better if unions could teach legislatures a thing or two. The United Teachers of Dade tried hard to recruit members. The Broward Teachers Union didn’t.

June, 2012: my name on Teacher of the Year marquee outside Sibley
June, 2012: my name on Teacher of the Year marquee outside Sibley

I taught 1st grade most of the time, but also 2nd and 3rd. We do what we’re assigned, and that could change in the middle of the year. I was lucky. One coworker (Cindy) had to move to a different classroom four times in six years!

Some folks think teachers are lucky to get summers off. No. They’re planning the next year based on new standards, and taking new classes or tests to teach subjects they’ve been teaching successfully for 30 years. That includes one Ph.D., right Dr. G?

Some don’t like teachers getting paid more based on their experience. The thing is, they don’t get extra vacation time based on seniority like in the real world. New laws limit opportunities for tenure and seniority. Right now in Florida, new teachers won’t see a contract for a period of more than one year. Who would work under that?

Bottom line: I’m past teaching. Over it. Totally. Many of my students were nice and tried hard. Some of their parents were helpful and considerate. Even some administrators. I wish them all the absolute best and wish I had answers, but let someone else do the teaching.

Why I’m happy not teaching

Other people seemed to love me being a teacher. They thought things like, “Oh how nice,” “The kids are so lucky,” “You’re a miracle worker,” etc., etc. But for the last few years, I couldn’t stand going into a classroom.

Facebook
Facebook

Do you know what this means?

You probably don’t recognize a lot of those terms and honestly, neither do I. But that’s what teaching has become. And it’s not for me.

I can take criticism. I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong, or when something isn’t right. A large part of my resentment to teaching is how teachers are judged. Teachers can tell if their students aren’t getting it. Can one high-stakes test determine whether the teacher is doing his job well? The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 makes states develop assessments in basic skills to get federal money, but lets the states make their own standards! Are Massachusetts and Mississippi’s requirements anything alike? How does that help?

from Jeb Bush's Facebook page
from Jeb Bush’s Facebook page

Jeb Bush also thinks highly of student testing to judge teacher performance. (On the other hand, I think it should be one consideration out of several. New York is debating that right now. Do we judge doctors on their success rate if their patients smoke? Or dentists, if their patients eat candy and don’t brush?)

Last November, the Wall Street Journal’s Beth Reinhard blogged: “As governor of Florida from 1999 to 2006, Mr. Bush tangled repeatedly with unions over his efforts to link teacher pay and job security to test results, as well as to award grades to schools based on their tests scores, to expand charter schools and to give private school vouchers to struggling public-school students. After leaving office, he advocated those policies across the country as leader of the foundation (the who-could-be-against-it Foundation for Excellence in Education).” Bush won.

The teachers’ union is suing over the voucher program, saying it violates the state constitution by diverting money from public schools to religious institutions. I think, except for a few unusual circumstances, students should go to the school nearest their home and it should have the programs students need – before, during, and after school. A properly funded public school is a constitutional mandate in most places, and the right thing to do in all.

June, 2012: receiving my
June, 2012: receiving my “Apple” for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy

Charter schools run for money aren’t better. By definition, the almighty dollar is their priority. They pay rent to the owner of the campus (which could be the same person, or a family member) and pay teachers what they want. They’re less expensive. Many can even choose who they admit, and we all know they don’t want special-ed, disabled, and non-English speakers as students. They would hurt test scores. Proponents use positive names, like National School Choice Week, which just ended. Check out what this Washington Post blog says was just learned about charter schools in Ohio.

Jeb Bush’s FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) has been feared by 3rd through 11th graders since 1998 and about to be replaced with new assessments. It was designed to measure student progress on the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) benchmarks. Then came the NGSSS, the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards Then we were trained for the Common Core State Standards, which were pretty-much nationwide and probably better than most of what 50 different states require. Then the state of Florida decided against the Common Core. Many conservatives (but not Jeb Bush) say the CC takes away rights from the states. Either that, or lawmakers in Tallahassee wanted to pay supporters to come up with new standards. Anyway, the new Florida Standards were born. They’re apparently not too different from the CC. With the new standards come new tests: one for each class in each grade. (Kindergarten students already have to hold #2 pencils in some places, including where I used to work, even if they can’t write their names.) This year, the testing is going through its transition. Click here to see what teachers have to work with, by grade level and then by subject. Try to figure it out.

August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she'd vacated the previous fall
August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she’d vacated the previous fall

I’ll never forget the year I taught 3rd grade. Students have to pass the reading portion of the test or be retained. It’s state law (and multiple choice, because computers can do the grading). They get some second chances but most repeat 3rd grade, the year they’re supposed to stop learning to read, and start reading to learn.

One day, the assistant principal interrupted all the 3rd grade teachers’ lessons to hand over the results. Students’ names were listed alphabetically for the whole grade, not divided into classes. I had to slowly go through and let them know what the biggest part of the future of their young lives held. There was screaming all up and down the hallway, coming out of many rooms. I couldn’t tell if they were happy cries or sad. In my room, the inclusion class that had several students in special-ed, the results were mixed. I let the students who passed call home to tell their parents the good news. The others were clearly distraught. This was the only thing that matters in 3rd grade in Florida. (But try getting a class set of reading workbooks!)

The schools and administrators look better if more students pass the tests that were handed down. And teachers get bonuses if their students do well enough. (Late last week, I got a W-2 for $1200 from Miami-Dade County Public Schools that I had forgotten I received last February. These things take time. I hadn’t worked for the district in more than a year and a half.) You can bet the FCAT-tested subjects are given more than their share of teaching time, to the detriment of others. And 30 minutes of physical education every day? In many places, forget about it!

(Unfortunately, the problems go on and on. Tomorrow, click here for more, and details on why I left teaching and don’t regret it one bit.)