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Will the NFL be as powerful in three decades?

The long-term viability of professional football

Half of Americans don’t want their sons playing football.
  • Half of Americans don’t want their sons playing football.

When billionaires beseech taxpayers to ante up for a football stadium, you can count on a repeat supplication in 30 years or so, even though the facility may be in tip-top shape.

Dean Spanos

Dean Spanos

But what if football itself is not in tip-top shape in 30 years? This is one of the questions San Diegans must pose as Dean Spanos, billionaire chairman of the Chargers, holds out his hat for a fat stadium subsidy. (Promoters now say the stadium will be privately-financed, but San Diegans should not believe that.)

With all the press coverage of injuries (particularly of the brain) and player drug use and domestic violence, today’s huge pro-football market may steadily diminish.

And there are some people who feel that governments subsidizing pro-football stadiums may one day be found financially liable, in part, for serious injuries on the field.

Victor Matheson

Victor Matheson

Victor Matheson, economist at the College of the Holy Cross, says, “There is some question about the long-term viability of professional football because of health concerns. You could build a stadium for a sport that doesn’t even exist by the time the stadium’s useful life is over.”

Pro football’s demise seems impossible now. This year’s Super Bowl was the third-most-watched television broadcast ever, attracting almost 112 million viewers. In first place was last year’s extravaganza, with a video audience of 114.4 million. In second place was the previous year with 112.2 million. Since 2010, the game has attracted more than 100 million viewers every year. Most of the team owners are billionaires.

The value of teams ranges from $1.4 billion (Buffalo Bills) to $4 billion (Dallas Cowboys), according to Forbes magazine. The Chargers’ worth is estimated at $1.53 billion. Those values have roughly doubled in a decade. The league’s total revenue was $12.4 billion last year, about double the level of ten years ago.

But look what happened to boxing. Fifty years ago, people loved prizefights, a television favorite. Back then, the brain injury we now know as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was called dementia pugilistica. Boxers suffering from it were called “punch-drunk.” The public became concerned, and the sport faded surprisingly quickly.

José María Gatica and Luis Federico Thompson, 1952

José María Gatica and Luis Federico Thompson, 1952

“Imagine somebody having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on boxing rings or horse-racing venues,” says Matheson. “They were two of the most popular sports in the first part of the 20th Century. The investor could have lost everything.” Today, “football is becoming a guilty pleasure,” he says.

Football promoters have to be worried. A Bloomberg News poll indicates that half of Americans don’t want their sons playing football. Bloomberg, too, points to the fast decline of boxing. People became repulsed by injuries caused by the sport’s violence, participants’ drug use, and athletes making headlines for violent crimes, often domestic. Americans are horrified by legendary football stars such as San Diego icon Junior Seau, who suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and eventually committed suicide. Retired pro-football heroes such as Mike Ditka and Troy Aikman have expressed reservations about the sport that made them rich and famous. President Obama has expressed qualms about football.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, players with at least five years of National Football League experience are three times more likely to die of brain damage than the general population. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “The [National Football League] itself has stated in court documents that it expects nearly one-third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems.” Players weigh huge salaries today against huge risks in retirement.

Thus far, football is hardly suffering grievously. Participation in Pop Warner and high-school football is down only a bit from a few years ago. “But at least there is a kernel of truth that some people are changing how they behave,” says Matheson.

“I have a feeling the [National Football League] has a pretty bad business model,” says Philip Porter, economist at the University of South Florida. “I have a real sense that this model is not going to last.” To protect the players from injuries, the National Football League is turning the game over to referees, he says. As a result, violence-addicted fans are less interested. As stories about dementia multiply, “the kids quit playing,” greatly at their parents’ insistence. Football-team owners could have an asset diminishing in value.

Rob Baade, economist at Lake Forest College in Illinois, says, “It’s all about risk,” and asks, “What protection do cities have?” The National Football League will fight to retain its popularity. “The first function of any organism is survival, and the NFL has a lot in the way of resources.” Governments making a long-term bet on pro football’s appeal are rolling the dice, he says, and that’s why, as Porter points out, “there is a backlash from cities” over the subsidies to teams.

Will the day come when governments that subsidize teams will be sued over player injuries? Schools are sued for negligence when a young player suffers an avoidable injury. However, “It’s not quite the same as suing the school board over sports injuries,” says Rodney Fort, economist at the University of Michigan. “The school board is the actual provider of the activity,” unlike a city, county, or state providing stadium funds.

Attorneys involved in sports-injury litigation doubt that a subsidizing government today could be found partially responsible for injuries. Michael Kaplen, who specializes in brain-injury cases and is a lecturer at George Washington University Law School, says, “Since the government entity has no control over the team and is just financing the stadium, I do not believe that a court would find that it had any duty or obligation to prevent injury.”

Says Robert Boland, chief executive of Boland Sports Practice and a faculty member at Ohio University’s sports-management program, “It would be difficult to prove that one location or venue played a major role in a chronic injury. I would assume most municipalities would require teams or others using facilities to require insurance, and in many cases, this would be enough to avoid liability — although it certainly would not be a complete bar.”

But times change. Municipalities such as San Diego have to be concerned about 30 years from now — not the law as it is presently interpreted. “It all falls under workplace safety. Other innovative legal approaches should always be expected,” says Fort.

Thirty years from now, that may mean financial liability.

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“Imagine somebody having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on boxing rings or horse-racing venues” -- perhaps an unintentionally ironic comment given that one of those old, famous, lavishly-built horse racing venues (Hollywood Park) is now being turned into the site for the most expensive football stadium ever to be built.

The Convadium won't be truly useful for anything other than American football. The occasional monster truck & tractor pull won't pay the bills. The capacity will be far too large to make it desirable for soccer; MLS venues typically are built to seat less than 30,000, and MLS won't place a team in San Diego unless a smaller, soccer-suitable venue with a grass field is built here. (A smaller stadium for both SDSU football and an MLS soccer team would fit the bill, but apparently no one with the city or county or SDSU has both the desire and means to fund it.)

Matt101: One of the options John Moores is considering is a pro soccer field. He has hooked up with Spanos, however, and football would seem to be the main priority at this time. Owners of NFL football teams rake in big bucks. if a convadium is built, its primary use would be ten football games a year -- one of the reasons the initiative is folly. Best, Don Bauder

Mike Murphy: I certainly hope your desires come about. However, city after city falls for the billionaire stadium scam. Best, Don Bauder

Bob Hudson: It is true that players who go on and play pro are much more vulnerable to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other maladies. However, college kids do come up with CTE. I just read about one the other day. Best, Don Bauder

Don neglected to mention another pernicious effect of football on society.

The so-called student athletes who attend often prestigious universities, and leave functionally illiterate, physically handicapped, and forever uncompensated.

These "lucky" boys, plucked from obscurity to win a football scholarship all dream of being professional players. But the odds are something like 14,000 to 1. In the meantime, instead of studying, they are required to practice, work out, play and kiss up to the alumni donors. When they do take classes, they're frequently pass/fail seminars with a single one page paper required. All athletic departments keep lists of the easy classes and generous teachers.

Students, being young, think they're scamming the system and would never tell. Yet they scam themselves. The much vaunted value of their "free" education is squandered. If they graduate at all (many don't) having slept through useless fluff courses, their skills outside of playing are non-existent.

I'm talking about what's happening now, and has been well-known for more than 30 years. I'm specifically naming San Diego Mesa College, San Diego State, and Utah State as institutions that turn out functionally illiterate former players. This is my personal knowledge as someone who got cash to write their papers, and later helped them fill in unemployment forms, and sadly watched as they failed to find any position better than parking attendant. They couldn't even do physical labor, since their knees, shoulders, and backs were in constant pain from football injuries.

These people were possibly not affected by CTE, and yet they may as well be for the practical outcome of joblessness, homelessness, and desperation.

That's the most common outcome for former college players who were steered away from an education, and many former professional players who find themselves in pain and unemployable after the dream is ended and all the money is gone.

This cost to society is criminal. Literally stealing the future from these hard working kids, in the name of entertainment and beer sales.

Seeing John Moores once again on the path to defrauding San Diego with a sports swindle is sickening. If such a structure is built on the back of taxpayers again, it's only yet more proof that football makes you stupid.

Just as "justice" is a joke, so is "education." Despite this unfortunate fact, good universities do manage to turn out a few first-rate minds, but the despoil a far greater number. Luckily, quality CAN beat quantity. Unfortunately, mediocrity smothers quality.

Using "assessment" at all is a stupid way to fan the flames of genius, and the smartest people in the world (universities) still employ simple arithmetic to "determine" whether or not a student is good enough for certification--which, in the final analysis, remain just a license to steal.

Flapper: I don't agree that universities despoil more first-rate minds than they turn out. The problem is that so many students who enroll in universities do not have what it takes to be first-rate minds. Best, Don Bauder

Mediocre minds, if they can recognize them at all, fear first-rate minds. Unfortunately, the authoritarian "education" system has a plethora of the former.

Flapper: Generally speaking, I would say the education system has fewer mediocre minds than most industries or professions. Best, Don Bauder

Neither of us has any data. In general, I would tend to agree with you, but the principle holds true regardless of the particular context cited. My guess would be that industries and professions suffer similarly. Any kind of guild system tends toward authoritarianism, which tends toward conformity, which tends toward marginalism of throwing out ALL of the nonconforming babies with the bathwater. As a result, only a few exceptional individuals survive. Say, for example, people like Noam Chomsky and Richard Feynman.

Flapper: Of course we don't have data. How does one define a mediocre mind? By IQ tests? Not even close. How does one define a first-rate mind? Similar problem. Both are subjective. So with fuzzy definitions and boundaries, how does one come up with data? Best, Don Bauder

Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska once said that the most intelligent statement anyone could make is "I don't know." Her poetry, of course, is excellent.

The real world is fuzzy; our perceptions of it are linear. We are bound by the blinders of culture, our presumptions, our suppositions.

"First-rate" is something like "world-class." Feeble attempts to reduce complex phenomena to language--a limited concept quite unable to make sense out of senses. Some try, as through "Fuzzy Logic," fractals, and chaos theory, but we never quite make it, do we?

You are quite right about IQ tests. The arrogance of the "educated," and an indictment of testing of any kind--especially for "assessing" the "progress" of any individual. Especially heinous is the practice of hanging GPA's (averages are, by definition, mediocre) around the necks of people (especially the young) like the Mark of Cain. Whilst, of course, conferring certifications upon the cooperative.

Flapper: If our real world is fuzzy, our perceptions of the world blinded, our ability to articulate non-existent, then why do all those presidential aspirants have all the answers? Best, Don Bauder

Rather than continue the infinite

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complete blog software,

I am moving my

response to

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Box.

Flapper: Is that the one in the sky? Best, Don Bauder

Mr. Williams:

"Students, being young, think they're scamming the system . . ."

Don't most have to be carefully taught?

Flapper: When we are young, we think love makes the world go 'round. As we get older, we realize it's greed that makes it go 'round. Best, Don Bauder

When we get old enough, we finally discover that we were smarter when we were about three . . .

Flapper: Age three: that's when we believed anything our parents told us. Were we smarter? Best, Don Bauder

Fred Williams: Welcome back. This is an astute observation. The young people who are stars in college, but not quite good enough to make the pros, are often lifetime losers. They incur injuries that plague them for the rest of their lives, but don't get compensated with professional level pay.

In the last two years, my alma mater, Wisconsin, made the NCAA basketball Final Four. They played such teams as Kentucky and Duke, which recruit the best high school players on the understanding they will play one year and then go pro. Many people found that repugnant, and rooted for Wisconsin because players there compete for four years.

But Wisconsin's graduation rate for basketball players was less than 50 percent. Best, Don Bauder

Shirley Brand: That is a terrific article. Everyone should read it. I did not know that young boys playing Pop Warner Football could get CTE, but I do know that some physicians and scientists recommend that people so young should NOT play football, because their brains are still in the formative stage.

The participation in Pop Warner Football has only receded slightly in recent years. Maybe it should be banned altogether. Best, Don Bauder

The Ivy League is banning full contact practices based on data which show that a majority of concussions at the college level occur during practice, not games. Roughly speaking, eliminating full-contact practice should eliminate 2/3 of the concussions.

Dartmouth has had this policy for several years and their defensive stats have been strong (indicating that it's not necessary to tackle real humans in practice to teach good tackling skills).

http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2016/3/2/Ivy-football-no-contact/

ImJustABill: Maybe there is progress -- slow, but encouraging. Best, Don Bauder

There is clearly a great deal of hypocrisy regarding college athletics. In theory, college football players are students first whose first priority is to attain an education. In reality, they are basically unpaid interns for college athletic departments working long hours and risking serious injury. Nobody cares whether or not they are receiving an education, with the possible exceptions of the athlete-students themselves and of their parents.

I think baseball is the only major sport that has a somewhat fair system for young aspiring professional players. Talented young baseball players who don't have any interest in college can start out in the minor leagues and receive a salary and benefits package while they are trying to see if they are good enough to make it to the major league level.

I think the fair thing for the NFL and NBA to do would be to set up minor league systems the way that MLB does. Of course, that will never happen.

They already have a minor league system, it's called college football, basketball as well.

Dennis: Yes, this is true of football, basketball, and, to some extent baseball. One might put golf in there, too, although pro golfers are playing for themselves, not for teams (except in certain situations). Best, Don Bauder

ImJustABill: There is no doubt that universities serve as the minor leagues for professional football, which doesn't have to pay the young players' salaries. How many athletes go to college for an education, and how many go to see if they can make the pros? Good question. Do they go for prose or pros? Best, Don Bauder

ImJustABill:But what if they prefer poetry? Best, Don Bauder

Too bad they don't have the option of ballet. Now THAT'S athleticism!

Flapper: True. Ballet requires athleticism -- superb coordination and stamina. Serious birdwatchers require stamina, excellent eyesight. Best, Don Bauder

That one is easy. You are a poet, but didn't know it.

ImJustABill: I love to read poets like Dylan Thomas, Robinson Jeffers, etc. Just try sitting down next to a fire and reading Thomas's "Fern Hill." It will move you. Best, Don Bauder

Try Edna St. Vincent Millay. "Mine the Harvest" is one of her best collections. Read "Not for a Nation." Her translation of "Les Fleurs du Mal" (with George Dillon) contains an excellent essay on translation.

Flapper: When I was studying literature in college in the '50s, Edna St. Vincent Millay was not taught much, as I recall. She died in 1950. Maybe she was taught in courses I didn't take. T.S. Eliot was the star of my days. Best, Don Bauder

Are you reinforcing my point?

Well, she was considered a sinner--unfit for the (Miss) education system. And boys didn't read stuff by girls.

Unfortunate that you had to rely only or primarily upon an institution for learning about all the stuff that poetry is about. T.S.? Well, okay, if you like slice-of-life stuff. Try a little Millay; then see what you say . . .

Flapper: I have always regretted not reading much Edna St. Vincent Millay. It is not too late to start. Best, Don Bauder

I shall have to try that sometime. I have to admit that I may be a bit of a philistine when it comes to poetry. The last great works of poetry I read were by Geisel, "I will not eat them with a box, or in a fox. I do not like them, Sam I am"

ImJustABill: My favorite Dr Seuss was Scrambled Eggs Super. I loved to read it more than my sons liked to hear it. Now my oldest grandson has it. Reading it to him is a thrill. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: Look, ma, no Hans! Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: I thought you said the devil is in the details. Now you say the devil is in this blog site. Best, Don Bauder

Well, we're narrowing

down

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Flapper: If you can't find Mephistopheles there, you will never find him. Best, Don Bauder

Ain't Mephistophilis a social disease?

Flapper: Yes. So is Gonorrhea with the Wind. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: The intellectual quality of the recent posts is, indeed, quite narrow. I get half the blame. Best, Don Bauder

"Flapper: If our real world is fuzzy, our perceptions of the world blinded, our ability to articulate non-existent, then why do all those presidential aspirants have all the answers? Best, Don Bauder"

My advice is "don't take my advice."

I promise you that the text at this link will be worthy of your time . . .

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1996/szymborska-lecture.html

And it will answer your questions far better than I ever could.

Here is a sample. WARNING! It is out of context, therefore, it may not convey the whole.

"All sorts of torturers, dictators, fanatics, and demagogues struggling for power by way of a few loudly shouted slogans also enjoy their jobs, and they too perform their duties with inventive fervor. Well, yes, but they "know." They know, and whatever they know is enough for them once and for all. They don't want to find out about anything else, since that might diminish their arguments' force. And any knowledge that doesn't lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life. In the most extreme cases, cases well known from ancient and modern history, it even poses a lethal threat to society." --Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska (translated from Polish)

eastlaker: Doesn't that border on verisimilitude? Best, Don Bauder

Is "it" more true than untrue or more untrue than true?

Flapper: She is great, but on one point she is wrong, I think. There ARE professors of poetry. There are professors in various fields whose lectures and writings are pure poetry. There are professors of English literature who are essentially professors of poetry.

Yes, poets are considered sissies. I remember when I was about a freshman or sophomore in college, and would talk about poetry to friends, they would belittle and pooh-pooh me.

I believe" pooh-pooh" could be considered a poem, at least as good as "We? Whee!" which is supposedly the shortest poem. Best, Don Bauder

I suspect that neither of you is wrong; you're simply thinking different "languages."

Flapper: Ding-dong, neither is wrong. Best, Don Bauder

Did I imply that poets are sissies, or was it someone else and I missed the post? The poets "get" the girls. The poohers are left to take matters into their own stubby hands.

So here we have come full circle--from jocks to sissies to jocks. Ain't that the grandest thing about really free speech?

Flapper: I was the one who said poets are considered sissies. But I didn't say poets ARE sissies. Best, Don Bauder

Anyone who professes to "teach" poetry . . . I shall refrain from labeling and libeling . . .

I took a course in creative writing in college (from a professor). My "grade" was issued thus: "As to the quality of your writing there is no doubt, but on the basis of [the quantity of] what you've turned in, I can only justify a 'C.'"

I later took some unsanctified "courses" in writing and poetry from a published author and poet, and got no grade at all--and was not "tested." But I got published, just not as poetry. As it should have been. Performance is what counts; certification is a license to steal. Beware the certified poet!

Art is like birth. It requires gestation; surrender to forces beyond conscious control. It is inconsistent with ego, which, of course, is very difficult to suspend. There exist, of course, egotistical "artists." College professors also exist that are without ego, but they seem to me to be exceptional. A label is one thing; a passion is something else that no institution can asses, much less understand. Such professors, if they are allowed to become professors at all and are not fired, are present in universities in spite of the "educational system," not because of it.

Flapper: Poets who get paid by the inch can be tedious. Brevity is the soul of wit and the muse of poetry. Brevity is levity. That rhymes but doesn't mean anything. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: The column above is about football. And here we are discussing poetry! The Chargers will have a good laugh. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: I hope they don't con the San Diego electorate. Best, Don Bauder

"I believe" pooh-pooh" could be considered a poem, at least as good as "We? Whee!" which is supposedly the shortest poem. Best, Don Bauder"

Haiku is more than a sneeze in Japanese.

Poetry that is poetry reveals rather than conceals.

Flapper: The wheeze precedes the sneeze. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: I tried it. My arm tastes awful. Best, Don Bauder

Another example from a different source:

"We had had many discussions at the galley table and there had been many honest attempts to understand each other's thinking. There are several kinds of reception possible. There is the mind which lies in wait with traps for flaws, so set that it may miss, through not grasping it, a soundness. There is a second which is not reception at all, but blind flight because of laziness, or because some pattern is disturbed by the processes the discussion. The best reception of all is that which is easy and relaxed, which says in effect, "Let me absorb this thing. Let me try to understand it without private barriers. When I have understood what you are saying, only then will I subject it to my own scrutiny and my own criticism." This is the finest of all critical approaches, and the rarest.

"The smallest and meanest of all is that which, being frightened or outraged by thinking outside or beyond its pattern, revenges itself senselessly; leaps on a misspelled word or a mispronunciation, drags tricky definition in by the scruff of the neck, and, ranging like a small unpleasant dog, rags and tears the structure to shreds. We have known a critic to base a vicious criticism on a misplaced letter in a word, when actually he was venting rage on an idea he hated. These are the suspicious ones, the self-protective ones, living lives of difficult defense, insuring themselves against folly with folly -- stubbornly self-protective at too high a cost."

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) and Edward Flanders Ricketts (1897-1948) The Log from the Sea of Cortez, 1951 Chapter 27 "April 8"

Flapper: Scrutiny begets mutiny. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: I read Sea of Cortez but don't remember these profound passages. Best, Don Bauder

I hope you took it littorally.

There is, of course, a book called "The Sea of Cortez." I presume you read Steinbecks's.

Flapper: I thought I said I had read Sea of Cortez. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: I thought I said I had read the book Sea of Cortez. Best, Don Bauder

If it was by Steinbeck (and Ricketts), it was the one from which "The Log From the Sea of Cortez was excerpted. The rest had to do with littoral organisms.

Flapper: We started talking about football on this blog. Between the time we started and the present, the NFL acknowledged that football can cause CTE. How did we veer into poetry? Best, Don Bauder

And perhaps this may be more to your tastes, Mr. Bauder:

'Gheorghiu says her fierce independence and uncompromising nature when it comes to art were born of leaving home at 14. "I was used to taking all the decisions in my life by myself. I am very independent; I never asked advice, ever. This is not just bla-bla-bla-bla for me, c'est une mode du vie. It is my way of life.

'"To do in my career, even in my study, all my roles from the age of 18, I never had a teacher, or a pianist or a coach for language."'

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/will-soprano-angela-gheorghiu-bring-her-diva-demands-to-australia-20150907-gjeklj.html

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/will-soprano-angela-gheorghiu-bring-her-diva-demands-to-australia-20150907-gjeklj.html#ixzz42qUxM69O

Flapper: i thought we were on poetry, not opera. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: Negative, sir. Opera and poetry are separate and distinct areas of study, except that opera libretti can be poetic. Best, Don Bauder

It's about the principle, (what makes you think I'm a "sir"?). "Art" is maybe the best term we can manage to describe, clumsily, a phenomenon which is beyond mere language.

Flapper: OK. "Negative, madam or sir." Best, Don Bauder

As long as I don't catch you peering at me.

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