Longform and Concussive Sports - tuesday 2011-12-13 0508 last modified 2011-12-13 1546
Categories: Current Events
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I've been enjoying Longform's compilation of essays for the past few months, a medium with more research and style than most of what's on the web while requiring less investment than a major literary work. I look forward to their continued curation.

One of their top twenty selections for this year is the three-part New York Times' piece on Derek Boogaard, a professional hockey player who died recently after several seasons of being an enforcer - the de facto fight guy on the team, the one who goes to the mattresses to help clear bad blood, one on one with the other team's enforcer. I was under the impression fights in hockey were all random flare ups as opposed to a ritual gentleman's agreement. Apparently not; they also have designated hitters in hockey.

Derek died at the age of 28 from a bad mix of pharmaceuticals and alcohol, dependencies on which are, amongst other disturbing signs, symptoms of what is effectively brain cell loss due to repeated blows to the head leading to repeated concussions. Anybody with one concussion should back off whatever they were doing for several weeks, if not longer; Derek laughingly claimed later to have had over a hundred concussions across his career. This shouldn't be a surprise. Making a living trading bare knuckle punches to the face with other large men can't be good for you.

Reading Derek's story was transformative. So while they never got much in the way of money from me before anyways, I'm going to avoid supporting hockey and American football* from now on, despite having an appreciation and enjoyment of both. There's no denying the level of athleticism or social entertainment they provide, but until and unless someone can scientifically prove this isn't slow murder, I'm out. Entertainment forms that require brain damage from entertainers need to evolve. What we call a major sport adopted by entire municipalities, states, large corporations, and emulated in schools everywhere should not leave players empty husks at the end of their careers.

We stopped demanding the sacrifice of life for the entertainment of the masses centuries ago. Now that we're pretty clear that's what's going on, let's figure out how to keep it a thing of the past.

* I'm not sure the same applies to commercial fighting. The choice is at least obvious to participants: fights are meant to cause injury past your threshold to take any more. It would be nice if there weren't a demand for it, but that doesn't seem to have ever been the case.

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