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January 10, 2013

Is new brain science now suggesting football is more dangerous than marijuana for kids?

As I was working on this post concerning pot prohibition politics, I heard about the news that fomer NFL great Junior Seau was suffering from brain damage when his committed suicide last year.  Parts of this New York Times article, which discusses these matters and recent brain research, prompted me to think about the question in the title of this post:

The former N.F.L. linebacker Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma when he committed suicide in the spring, the National Institutes of Health said Thursday.

The findings were consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease widely connected to athletes who have absorbed frequent blows to the head, the N.I.H. said in a statement. Seau is the latest and most prominent player to be associated with the disease, which has bedeviled football in recent years as a proliferation of studies has exposed the possible long-term cognitive impact of head injuries sustained on the field.

“The type of findings seen in Mr. Seau’s brain have been recently reported in autopsies of individuals with exposure to repetitive head injury,” the N.I.H. said, “including professional and amateur athletes who played contact sports, individuals with multiple concussions, and veterans exposed to blast injury and other trauma.”

Since C.T.E. was diagnosed in the brain of the former Eagles defensive back Andre Waters after his suicide in 2006, the disease has been found in nearly every former player whose brain was examined posthumously. (C.T.E. can be diagnosed only posthumously.) Researchers at Boston University, who pioneered the study of C.T.E., have found it in 33 of the 34 brains of former N.F.L. players they have examined....

“What’s been coming out has raised a lot of questions about public health,” said Dr. Walter J. Koroshetz, the deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is part of the N.I.H. and finances traumatic brain injury research. “What we have now is a tip of the iceberg, and we don’t know what’s below.”

The N.I.H. is not the only government organization studying head trauma. In September, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released a study that showed that a disproportionate number of men who played at least five seasons in the N.F.L. from 1959 to 1988 developed Alzheimer’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Players in “speed” positions more prone to high-speed collisions were three times more likely to have died as a result of a neurodegenerative disease, according to the study.  The Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academies of Science, has also undertaken a 15-month investigation into sports-related concussions sustained by young athletes.

I wonder when Patrick Kennedy and David Frum, who have now started Project SAM because of their purported concerns about the public health consequences of marijuana reform for kids (discussed here; website now here), will start Project SAFE to help promote Smart Approaches to Football Elimination.

January 10, 2013 at 10:17 PM | Permalink


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I stopped reading at the word, Boston. Nothing from that place has the slightest objective validity. I urge New England to join Commie Canada, in exchange for their Western Provinces.

One suspects another government attack on our American way of life, and an opening of a new field of tort litigation to defund another successful American business, the NFL. One smells the toxic stench of feminist inquisitor in this sponsored research. The Institute of Medicine is a notorious Communist front organization made of academic doctors. They do not really see patients, which these scholars consider to be nuisances.

One suspects an effect of low impact trauma on all the organs of the body, and who has not endured these repeated traumas. They are part of life. Who has not jumped off several steps, landed poorly in a pool, had a car crash, fell skating?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 10, 2013 11:02:18 PM

Don't let science get in the way of our values. Scientists always think they know better than us folk, with their peer-review and scientific method. What has science ever done? This is a very clear issue. Football is good because it produces manly kids, pot is bad. I don't care what science says about anything. Also, alcohol and guns are ok, but no pornography--that can really hurt a kid. Finally, teach your kids to use guns and hunt, but don't even think about telling them that sex exists, because that is just disgusting and you'll ruin their innocence.

Posted by: Margaret Bowman | Jan 10, 2013 11:23:17 PM

Margaret may be a feminist. If not, apologies ahead of time. I oppose premature sex ed.

I want to teach Kindergarten students how to make bombs. I will preface the lessons by saying this is a dangerous adult activity. They are never to do it themselves. Does one get more or less bomb making by Kindergarten students? When you say, they are never to do what is being taught, isn't that an irresistible proposition, now?

In any case, I want Margaret to get more sophisticated about scientific articles. The overwhelming majority have fatal flaws which make them garbage science.

1) Many population fractions can be captured by sampling methods. The most important assumption in the validity of small sample studies is random selection. If you read of any exclusion criteria to enter the sample, stop reading, the study is over, and should be tossed in the trash.

2) These sampling methods will accurately predict the proportions in the larger population. For example, I knew Obama would win a month ahead of the election from the sampling of 1500 people, including a key state like Ohio. So they are designed to predict the fractions in a larger population. They are not designed to predict the response of an individual. The population is described by the bell shaped curve (parametric statistics). The response of individuals is described by the binomial statistic describing coin tosses, for example. This coin toss statistic is covered the first day of 11th grade statistics. No medical research leader has ever attended that opening day of statistics class, since none knows the invalidity of applying parametric statistics to the clinical situation, best described by the binomial statistic.

3) There is a bias in the publication of medical literature, strongly favoring the positive finding. So, the funding, and careers of the researchers would be over if they had found no association with trauma and early dementing processes. The findings might not even get published. So guess what. You will get findings in the interest of tort lawyers, regulators, and other running dogs of the feminist lawyer now in total control of the three branches of government.

Wake up.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 11, 2013 12:03:36 AM

Scientific literature is far more reliable than just about any other kind of literature or scholarship out there. It is a discipline that prides itself on testing its assumptions and subjecting them to critical analysis by many competing scientists. That is why it has produced remarkable, breathtaking achievements in the last 200 years, advancing human progress at a faster rate than perhaps anything, ever. If it weren't so reliable, we wouldn't be typing on computers, living longer, etc. Of course it is far from perfect, but its methodology--testing hypotheses--is far better than anything else we have to arrive at empirical truths, such as religion, instinct, astrology, idealism, etc. Unless you have some alternative that has proven more reliable, I'd stick with science on questions requiring empirical evaluation.

Posted by: Margaret Bowman | Jan 11, 2013 12:12:08 AM

"I wonder when Patrick Kennedy and David Frum, who have now started Project SAM because of their purported concerns about the public health consequences of marijuana reform for kids...will start Project SAFE to help promote Smart Approaches to Football Elimination."

I wonder when Ethan Nadelmann and George Soros, who have been carrying the flag for legalization because of their purported concerns about the public health consequences of continued prohibition of pot, will start Project SAME to help promote Smart Approaches to Meth Embracing. After all, what substance a person decides to put into his own body..................

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 11, 2013 2:25:11 AM

Margaret Bowman --

Speaking of science: I was wondering if you could quote the part of the AMA statement on marijuana that endorses smoking pot as legitimate medicine, and then goes on to encourage smoking it for simply recreational purposes as well.

It's all well and good to laud science in the abstract, but it would be more enlightening to hear directly what the leading medical organization has to say about the wonderfulness of puffin' a few joints.

I'm all ears.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 11, 2013 2:32:55 AM

Football is dangerous, something Jewish mothers have known for years!

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Jan 11, 2013 10:20:12 AM


I am not saying that marijuana doesn't harm its users. What I am saying, however, is that our prohibition of it is based largely on views unconnected to science. Society has a perception of it and, like so many other perceptions, it is informed, only in the end, by science. That is why alcohol is permitted. We have a closer association to alcohol, but view pot as something communist hippies promote. The scientific evidence that demonstrates severe harm from alcohol consumption and abuse in this Country is irrelevant, despite that it is far more documented than marijuana. This leads to my first post. We will not ban football. We will not ban anything that conservatives view as wholesome or traditional, no matter what the science.

Again, the point is not that we shouldn't ban marijuana, or that it isn't harmful. It is that the way we approach these questions has very little to do with science or consistency. And I'm always surprised when conservatives embrace science when it suits them, such as in the dangers of drug consumption, but deride it in many other domains as liberal claptrap.


Posted by: Margaret Bowman | Jan 11, 2013 11:53:04 AM


I am a conservative.

In which "many other domains" do you suppose either I or my ilk deride science as liberal claptrap?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 11, 2013 1:07:31 PM

Maggie --

I believe that who wants to ban what -- be they liberals (ban guns) or conservatives (ban pot) -- depends in part on science but, legitimately, in part on other things, such as historical acceptance and longstanding legal constraints.

Guns should be and are regulated (e.g., no possession by felons, children or lunatics) but, because of the Second Amendment, cannot be banned, nor should they be, since they have legitimate uses for self-defense and sport.

Neither pot nor any other drug enjoys Constitutional protection, and thus there is no legal barrier to Congress banning them, see Gonzales v. Raich. The question, then, is whether they SHOULD be banned, and that in turn depends on scientific, social and historical factors. As you note, pot is harmful, so the impulse to ban it is not irrational, to say the least.

Whether the costs of banning it are worth the candle is a different question, and reasonable minds differ on that. In my view, the compromise we have reached is that pot remains de jure illegal, but de facto legal in the (quite important) sense that the percentage of pot smoking that gets done that winds up with the smoker serving a prison sentence is infinitesimal.

Like most compromises, this one pleases neither side fully, but that's how business gets done in a democracy.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 11, 2013 1:47:57 PM


I find that conservatives tend to refuse to accept scientific evidence on the following issues: (1) any neuropsychological evidence linking certain criminal behaviors to brain irregularities, as it upsets the tradition view of absolute personal responsibility and the black-and-white distinction between good and evil; (2) any psychological, historical, anthropological, or sociological evidence about the potential lack of inherent harmfulness in exposing children to sexuality; (3) biological and neuropsychological evidence suggesting that retributive views may be grounded in revenge-seeking; cognitive psychological evidence on bias, decisionmaking, and coercion (this explained, now conclusively, why eyewitness testimony can be so fallible, why people confess to crimes they don't commit, and how judges and juries' decision can be influenced by surprising factors (such as time of day). This is a very quick and incomplete list.

This has nothing to do with whether such evidence is conclusive. Conclusive or not, many conservatives (but of course, not all) will not even entertain such studies.


Posted by: Margaret Bowman | Jan 11, 2013 2:20:51 PM

Kudos, nice start Maggie you might be able to add global warming to that short list too :-)

Posted by: Grady | Jan 11, 2013 5:57:42 PM

Just waiting for those DARE commercials urging kids to not play football.

Posted by: MW | Jan 11, 2013 7:26:04 PM

MW --

Why wait for DARE when you could fund your own commercials urging kids to smoke pot?

It is, after all, so groooooovy! And good for them too, just like smoking other stuff!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 11, 2013 10:23:13 PM

I never advocated pot for children, or for anyone else. My point was simply about consistency (alcohol, guns ok, pot and porn not ok). It was also about the irrelevance and active ignorance of science in much of policymaking (yes, on both sides of the aisle).

Posted by: Margaret Bowman | Jan 11, 2013 10:31:28 PM


You go girl!

It is the ultra-conservatives whose ox you have gored. You have to forgive them. They refuse to recognize the illogical positions that their Self-Deceit and Self-Deception have cause in their lives (Robert Trivers). The problem is, many of them work (or have worked) for the government (heads bowed please).

Pigeon-Holing is much more satisfying in their minds, hence atypical straw-men are built that are then brought down.

Posted by: albeed | Jan 11, 2013 10:38:43 PM

Marijuana have medical purposes I think making it legal would be ok as long as there are some limits just like in other countries. Football is a great sport but sometimes it can be a little bit dangerous.

Posted by: College Football | Mar 4, 2013 3:28:34 AM

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