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Is Watching Football A Sin? ALL TOGETHER Podcast On Conscience And Concussions

Posted: 12/27/2014 1:38 pm EST Updated: 12/27/2014 6:59 pm EST

Welcome to this week’s ALL TOGETHER, the podcast dedicated to exploring how, ethics, religion and spiritual practice is informing our personal lives, our communities and our world. ALL TOGETHER is hosted by Rev. Paul Raushenbush, the executive editor of HuffPost Religion. You can download ALL TOGETHER on iTunes andStitcher.

The menorah has been stored, the Christmas tree dragged to the curb, and now America is ready for the other reason for the season – Football. Over the next weeks, both college and professional football go into high gear with bowl games, playoffs and championships and, of course, the Super Bowl.

However, a growing concern about the wellbeing of players is forming a cloud over this sport that captivates much of nation (and makes some people a lot of money). On Sunday, November 30th an Ohio State Football player named Kosta Karageorgewas found dead in a dumpster apparently due to suicide. Earlier that week Kosta, had texted to his mother: “Sorry if I am an embarrassment, but these concussions have my head all fucked up.” -- after he was found his mother confirmed that he had: “has a history of sports-related concussions” and “had a few spells of being extremely confused.” Kosta Karageorge was only 22.

It is still unclear that football related concussions were the determining factor in Karageorge's death. However, over the past years, the damage that football inflicts on a high percentage of the players has begun to come to light, a truth that was highlighted in the 2013 PBS Frontline documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

The fact of concussions on football players, past, present and future poses a moral dilemma for those of us who enjoy watching the game. Malcolm Gladwel, in the New Yorker went so far as to compare football to dog-fighting and called it a "moral abomination".

In this episode of ALL TOGETHER, we should ask the question: Are we contributing to the harm of these young men by tuning in on the television or showing up at these sporting events that bring in billions of dollars for colleges and the National Football League? By our presence, are we aiding and abetting the harm of other human beings? Is watching football a sin?

Wrestling with the question Raushenbush talks to New York Giants legendary linebacker, Superbowl Champion and football Hall of Famer Harry Carson; Dr. Annegret Dettwiler who is a researcher at Princeton University’s Neuroscience Institute and works with the Princeton Athletic department to do imaging of athletes brains to see how concussions physically affect the brain and how long it might take for the brain to recover; and finally with Professor Eric Gregory who is an ethicist in the Religion Department at Princeton University, and who played football himself as a high school student. 

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Question to Harry Carson: "If you knew then what you know now, would you still play football?"


Carson: No.


"Since his retirement, Carson now 61 years old, played 12 years n the NFL (1976-1988) has suffered from various physical maladies brought on by injuries incurred during his playing days. He suffers from post-concussion syndrome, and estimates that he had 15 concussions during his career.


In 1992 he stated: "I don't think as clearly as I used to. Nor is my speech, diction, selection of vocabulary as good as it used to be, and I don't know why."In 2001 while he was a broadcaster with the MSG Network he said, "I would mispronounce words and lose my train of thought. Things would happen, and I'd think I was going crazy. I'd go to the store to get something and forget what."


I do believe if Harry Carson knew then what he knows now, he would still play football.


Do I as a fan, need to apologize to Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard or any boxer I watched box professionally for decades who also suffer from brain damage caused by boxing?


Besides saying he would not play football if he knew what he knows how, Mr. Carson has a bigger dog in the fight that drives him to now disavow football:


Former NFL great and football NFL hall of famer Harry Carson is one of the leading retired NFL advocates for many retired NFL players who suffer from head trauma concussions just like Carson who has a difficult post career and life after football.


They all lived their childhood dreams but their dreams both physically and mentally, hasn't been too kind to them.



Federal judge approves NFL concussion settlement.

The NFL does not provide health insurance and health care for life for former players. Only health insurance for current players. Because of the continuous physical examinations, surgeries and high personal health costs, many retired players either have, are well on the way or have become financially broke.


The initial lawsuit filed by the retired players was 2 billion dollars and the retired players settled with the NFL for 675 million dollars.


They should have denied the lesser settlement and kept fighting.


MANY of those plaintiff NFL retired players aren't happy about it.


***The NFL's annually revenues per season is more than 9 billion dollars annually.****


A federal judge on Monday granted preliminary approval to a landmark deal that would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims.


The ruling by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia came about two weeks after the NFL agreed to remove a $675 million cap on damages. Brody had previously questioned whether that would be enough money to pay all claims.


"A class action settlement that offers prompt relief is superior to the likely alternative - years of expensive, difficult, and uncertain litigation, with no assurance of recovery, while retired players' physical and mental conditions continue to deteriorate," Brody wrote.


More than 4,500 former players have filed suit, some accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions. They include former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia.


The settlement is designed to last at least 65 years and cover retirees who develop Lou Gehrig's disease and other neurological problems.


"This is an extraordinary settlement for retired NFL players and their families - from those who suffer with neuro-cognitive illnesses today, to those who are currently healthy but fear they may develop symptoms decades into the future," plaintiffs' attorneys Sol Weiss and Christopher Seeger said in a statement.


NFL senior vice president Anastasia Danias said in a statement that the league was "grateful to Judge Brody for her guidance and her thoughtful analysis of the issues as reflected in the comprehensive opinion she issued today."

The original settlement included $675 million for compensatory claims for players with neurological symptoms, $75 million for baseline testing and $10 million for medical research and education. The NFL would also pay an additional $112 million to the players' lawyers, for a total payout of more than $870 million.


The revised settlement eliminates the cap on overall damage claims but retains a payout formula for individual retirees that considers their age and illness. A young retiree with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, would receive $5 million, a 50-year-old with Alzheimer's disease would get $1.6 million and an 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000.


This is what I believe how most NFL players past and present actually believe and think because it's years of mental conditioning:


Chris Conte: I’d rather play in the NFL and die 10-15 years earlier.


Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte has suffered a back injury, two concussions, a shoulder injury and an eye injury this season. And he says he’s OK with that.


Conte told WBBM in Chicago that playing football means so much to him that he’s willing to do it even if it’s bad for his long-term health.


“I’d rather have the experience of playing in the NFL and die 10 to 15 years earlier than not play in the NFL and have a long life,” he said. “I don’t really look toward my life after football. I’ll figure things out when I get there. As long as I outlive my parents.”


Conte’s point of view actually isn’t much different from that of people in all walks of life who say they’d rather enjoy the years they have than delay death as long as possible. Some people enjoy skiing, some people enjoy rock climbing, some people enjoy eating junk food. All of those things have health risks, but if a consenting adult chooses to accept the risk, who’s to tell him he shouldn’t?


But what Conte may not realize is that the risks associated with playing in the NFL are more about quality of life in old age than about taking years off life. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “On average, NFL players are actually living longer than the average American male.”


What Conte and all NFL players should weigh is the risk of injuries suffered on the football field affecting them later in life. Conte probably will live to be a senior citizen, and he will probably want to be not just alive but healthy when he’s 60, 70 or 80.


Conte says in his 20s that the enjoyment he gets out of playing football makes the risk worth it. I hope he says the same when he’s in his 80s.



Last edited by Cholly

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