Thursday, October 15, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell on the Similarities Between Football and Dogfighting

In this week's New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell has a particularly provocative piece (here) in which he points out the moral similarities between football and dogfighting. He specifically takes Roger Goodell to task for criticizing Michael Vick without any self-reflection about the "violence-for-pleasure" aspects of the NFL.

Gladwell summarizes the work of medical researchers who analyze the brains of deceased football players. He says that the researchers find, consistently, a tremendous amount of brain damage.

He also tells a particularly sad story about Kyle Turley, who if I remember correctly played most of his career with the Jaguars. Turley is now 34 and is dealing with all sorts of terrible physical and mental repercussions from his football career.

Here's Gladwell writing about Turley and a teammate, illustrating the team's/NFL's disregard for the welfare of its players anywhere except for on the field:
Turley says he was once in the training room after a game with a young linebacker who had suffered a vicious hit on a kickoff return. “We were in the cold tub, which is, like, forty-five degrees, and he starts passing out. In the cold tub. I don’t know anyone who has ever passed out in the cold tub. That’s supposed to wake you up. And I’m, like, slapping his face. ‘Richie! Wake up!’ He said, ‘What, what? I’m cool.’ I said, ‘You’ve got a concussion. You have to go to the hospital.’ He said, ‘You know, man, I’m fine.’ ”

He wasn’t fine, though. That moment in the cold tub represented a betrayal of trust. He had taken the hit on behalf of his team. He was then left to pass out in the cold tub, and to deal—ten and twenty years down the road—with the consequences.

No amount of money or assurances about risk freely assumed can change the fact that, in this moment, an essential bond had been broken. What football must confront, in the end, is not just the problem of injuries or scientific findings. It is the fact that there is something profoundly awry in the relationship between the players and the game.

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