Neuron Holiday: Honoring the Brain Cells We’ve Lost

I declare a new National Holiday. It will occur the Monday after the Super Bowl each year and we will call it the Neuron Holiday. It will honor all those brain cells lost unnecessarily and all those who served valiantly on the playing field, and survived, returning home to take their chances next season. Yes, there are still trillions of brain cells at risk on the fields of soccer and hockey, but there are many more taking a deep breath and wondering if the risk will get any better come next September.

“Roger Goodell Insists Football Is Safe: There is Risk in Life.” This quote, the headline of an article by Ken Belson, is from a New York Times report on the state of Pro Football published 5 February 2016, just before Super Bowl Sunday on the 7th. This was in the same week more news revealed the endemic loss of neurons. Mr. Belson wrote:

It was disclosed this week that two football greats, quarterbacks Ken Stabler and Earl Morrall, were the latest of dozens of players found to have had a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head hits. Yet N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell, when peppered with questions about player safety on the Friday before Super Bowl 50, gave one of his most earnest endorsements of the safety of the game. [Read the entire article online.]

Goodell has two daughters but added if he had a son, “I’d love to have him play the game of football.” Either the commissioner is stupid, and by all measures he is not a stupid man; or he is so self-absorbed that he can not have empathy for young people, even his for own (imagined) son – which he fortunately does not have. The real answer, of course, is that he is protecting his own skin and his multi-million dollar salary and the fortunes of the owners of each N.F. L. team, from whom he is the piper and has learned to play the tune. I honestly do not wish any bad things upon his family. But I do hope he lives long enough to see his legacy be that he buried his head in his own orifice (which is anatomically impossible, I think) while the pandemic of traumatic brain injuries builds and destroys the game of football. Of course, it does not have to be this way, but the dollar signs blind the imagination of those who could really solve the problem.

To show how low-down and dirty the N.F. L will go, you need only have watched a portion of the commercials during the game to see the advertisement sponsored by the N.F.L itself. Remember, after showing warm and nostalgic shots of family members watching games in front of the fire or on crisp fall afternoons, the caption appeared for all to say, “Amen: Football is family.” Yes indeed, the family that has members who play football to the ultimate reward, bashing heads on Super Bowl Sunday, can share warm feelings together as they, together, change the nappies of Daddy, who fought on the gridiron of glory – that is the green pastures of football fields – and was rewarded with an early dementia called CTE.

Unable to keep from opening his mouth and removing all doubt he has drunk the cool-aid of the N. F. L, Commissioner Goodell added, astonishingly, after stating he (not the boy) would love if his son played football, “There’s risk in life. There’s risk in setting on the couch.” Yes sir, Mr. Commissioner you have offensively, condescendingly patronized us all, expecting we will kneel before the alter of the almighty figure of Vince Lombardi, or George Halas, or Robert Craft, or to whomever the local fans pay homage, without thinking seriously about how the risk(s) could be significantly reduced. We all, most parents that is, do fully understand we can not protect our children from all risks; in fact taking some reasonable risks is part of living and loving. But this is all about risk reduction. The measures taken in professional football and youth football, have not substantially reduced the risk. So, if we want to save the game, we have to work harder and be more realistic; and not so egocentric.

I will end this near obsession of mine, about protecting our brains, the most phenomenal, eloquent, beautiful organs ever created, with a quote from a NY Times Op-Ed on 4 February 2015 by Dr. George Lundberg, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

If the N.F.L. can’t effectively deal with the concussion issue, it may follow the same arc as boxing. That would be a shame. I have had a love affair with American football, especially Alabama football, since 1944, the legendary Harry Gilmer’s first year. The only thing I love more than football is the human brain. Blows to the head damage the brain, period. It need not be a full concussion. We learned from decades of studying boxing that multiple sub-concussive blows result in aggregate widespread tearing of nerve fibers and small blood vessels, and possibly to chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Do you hear that Mr. Goodell? Now, I will give my neurons a rest on this topic; at least until our politicians decide, again, to expose our soldiers to even greater trauma. Remember, there is no such thing as a minor brain injury.