TIME Developmental Disorders

Study: 96% of Deceased NFL Players’ Brains Had Degenerative Disease

The seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington on June 21, 2013.
The seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington on June 21, 2013. Charles Dharapak—AP

The brain bank's research furthers the argument that football is linked brain injury

The brains of 76 out of 79 (96%) of deceased NFL players showed signs of a degenerative brain disease, according to a study released Tuesday by the nation’s largest brain bank.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Massachusetts, a collaboration between VA and Boston University’s CTE Center, found that the instance of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain condition that causes dementia and other cognitive problems, was so high that it doubled the number of CTE cases previously reported by the institution, PBS reported.

“Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE,” Dr. Ann McKee, the brain bank’s director, told PBS. “Playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk.”

Doctors at the brain repository have previously conducted research on brain tissue samples from professional, semi-professional, college and high-school football players. The rate of CTE, while lower than 96%, still remained high, at 80%.

The studies were made possible by football players who volunteered their brains for scientific research, because CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously, according to PBS. As a result, doctors who conducted the study said their sample may be skewed, as many volunteers donated their brains because when they were alive, they already suspected that they suffered from CTE.

Still, the findings have added fuel to heated discussions that football—both at professional and lower levels—may be linked to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, as a recent study showed. The NFL has also come under fire for allegedly covering up the risks of head injuries and concussions, which are linked to individuals who suffer from CTE.

TIME Football

Michigan Coach Under Fire for Sending Dazed QB Back into Game

Brady Hoke accused of ignoring symptoms that university physicians later confirmed were the result of a concussion

University of Michigan’s football coach has faced a rising chorus of calls for his resignation for allowing a limping, visibly disoriented quarterback to stay on the field, despite symptoms that university physicians later confirmed were the result of a concussion.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke defended his decision to send quarterback Shane Morris back into the game Monday, saying that Morris appeared to have suffered an ankle injury and that the team “would never, ever put a guy on the field when there’s a possibility of head trauma,” CBS Sports reports.

But a report from the University’s athletic department confirmed that Morris had suffered a concussion and blamed the delayed diagnosis on “inadequate communication” between coaches and medical staff. “This clearly identifies the need for improvements in our sideline and communication processes,” said Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon.

The sight of Morris wobbling and struggling to stay on his feet caught the attention of the game’s announcers. “They’ve just got to get him out of the ballgame,” one said, adding, “That number 7 is still in this game is appalling to me.”

[CBS]

 

TIME NFL

NFL Under Fire for Penalizing Muslim Player After End Zone Prayer

He was handed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct

The NFL sparked yet more outrage Monday after appearing to penalize Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah, a devout Muslim, for kneeling on the ground in the end zone to praise God after scoring the second touchdown of his career.

This post-TD reaction was deemed unsportsmanlike conduct for excessive celebration and resulted in a 15-yard penalty:

The reaction from Abdullah’s brother and agent indicated this was indeed a moment of prayer:

Which, according to former VP of Officiating at the NFL Mike Pereira in a 2013 tweet, is not the intent of the rule against going to the ground:

In a 2009 interview, Pereira said that he didn’t want to penalize prayer for fear of getting “struck by lightning.”

Fans took to Twitter to denounce the call, which has incited the creation of various memes showing what prayer is deemed acceptable and what is penalized:

But Abdullah himself said it was likely his slide across the end zone that had provoked the penalty call, and not his impromptu prayer. “I got a little too excited,” he told local media. “The slide before it, I’m pretty sure that did it.”

The Chiefs ended up beating the Patriots 41-14.

TIME

Daily Show Airs Segment That Infuriated Redskins Fans Before It Even Broadcast

Fans of the NFL team were outraged after being confronted on camera by Native American activists

Comedy Central aired an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Thursday night that waded into the controversy over the ‘Redskins’ NFL team name, despite outrage from team fans interviewed by the show who said they were “ambushed” and “duped” during the taping of the segment.

During one part of the report, Daily Show reporter Jason Jones spoke to a group of Native Americans who want the team name changed because they feel it is offensive, along with a group of Redskins fans who defended use of the name. The Redskins fans said they were surprised and upset when Jones invited the Native American activists to meet with them.

“This goes way beyond mocking. Poking fun is one thing, but that’s not what happened,” Kelli O’Dell, 56, told The Washington Post after the segment was first taped. “It was disingenuous. The Native Americans accused me of things that were so wrong. I felt in danger. I didn’t consent to that. I am going to be defamed.”

Before airing the segment, Stewart said the show takes seriously any claims that people are duped into participating. Comedy Central, it seems, determined that the offended fans were not misled.

MONEY Budgeting

How to Keep Fantasy Football from Fouling Up Your Finances

Fantasy Football
How much does your weekend pastime cost you? iStock

Make sure your weekend hobby doesn't wreak havoc on your budget—or your marriage.

Allison Lodish used to be a huge football fan.

Her affection for the game evaporated when her husband got fixated on fantasy football, a leisure pursuit where participants draft their own dream teams and compete against each other, based on how those players fare.

Before she knew it, he was in three leagues of fantasy football. Then, it became 10. “It was crazy,” says the 41-year-old personal stylist from California’s Marin County.

Crazy not just in terms of time expended, but money. Since many fantasy leagues charge fees for entering, trading players, or picking up free agents, the sums involved can be substantial.

At the height of her husband’s involvement, the hobby was costing north of $1,000 a year, Lodish estimates.

Indeed, the fantasy game has plenty of fans, with more than 41 million players in North America, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. That’s up from 27 million in 2009, with the typical player dropping $111 a year on the hobby, and others, far more.

In an era of stagnant incomes and rising prices, it’s no wonder some spouses are alarmed by the amounts involved. The average player spends more than eight hours a week perfecting his or her team, the trade group says.

So, is there a fix for the obsession?

Experts say the first steps toward resolving familial conflicts around a fantasy sport involve turning off the TV for a few minutes and not obsessively checking statistics. Then, start working through marital differences that can easily spiral out of control.

“You have to figure out the crux of the problem,” says Sharon Epperson, CNBC’s personal finance correspondent and author of a financial advice book for couples, The Big Payoff. “It may be about the money, or it may have nothing to do with that. It may be the amount of time being spent away from the spouse or the children that is really annoying the other person.”

If a partner feels neglected, or the cash involved is being drawn from other family pots, that is a problem, says Matthew Berry, ESPN’s senior fantasy analyst and author of Fantasy Life, which chronicles the exploding interest in the field.

“Everything in moderation,” he says. “I don’t think fantasy football is different from any other couples issue. It’s about communication, and understanding what’s important to the other person.”

Here are some tips that may safeguard the family budget, or your marriage, from an unchecked fantasy-football fetish:

Family needs come first

“I don’t think spending money on fantasy sports is a bad thing—as long as you can afford it,” says Epperson, herself a devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan who grew up watching greats like Franco Harris and Lynn Swann.

But if that cash is being siphoned from other critical needs, it’s a guaranteed recipe for marital discord. So before you sign up for multiple fantasy leagues, get your other bases covered.

Epperson’s advice: Stay current on all monthly bills, save 20% of your income in long-term vehicles like 401(k)s, and another 10% in short-terms savings like a household emergency fund. Then you can set aside 10% of income for “fun money”—and that’s where your fantasy-sports budget needs to come from.

Avoid secrets

Everyone likes to spend a little time and money on personal passions, whether it’s fantasy sports or designer shoes. And that’s okay – unless that information is being hidden from your significant other.

“It’s only a big deal if you are not telling your spouse,” says Epperson. “That’s like loading up a credit-card that your spouse doesn’t know about. That’s financial infidelity, and that’s a big problem in marriages.”

Involve your partner

If your spouse pushes back against your fantasy-football interest, take it as a compliment: They want to spend more time with you. So here’s an elegant solution: Get them involved, if you can.

“My advice is always, ‘Try it, you’ll love it,'” says ESPN’s Berry. “My wife now plays in my fantasy league. That way, Sunday becomes a day you can spend together, instead of apart.”

Hand over the winnings

If your spouse has zero interest in fantasy sports, here’s a novel approach: Pledge that any cash you win will go directly into their bank account.

“That’s what I did with my wife originally,” says Berry. “Whatever I won, she got to spend. So when I won my league, she got a brand new purse. It worked out great. Nowadays, if I’m falling behind in third place or something, she tells me to get it together and start studying up.”

Still, the outcome may not always be so collegial.

Allison Lodish eventually set up a website for fellow fantasy-sports “widows” and ended up splitting with her husband.

“It should be a fun game that brings people together,” she says. “But if it’s driving people apart, that is where you need to take a hard look at it.”

TIME Football

NFL Players Association Hires Its Own Top D.C. Lawyer

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos
Doug Pensinger—Getty Images

The NFLPA will conduct their own investigation into handling of Ray Rice case

The NFL Players Association has hired its own D.C. lawyer, Richard Craig Smith, to conduct an investigation into how the Ray Rice case was handled, it announced Wednesday.

Smith, a former federal prosecutor, will conduct his investigation in parallel to Rice’s current appeal of the league’s decision to suspend him indefinitely after a video of him punching his now-wife was leaked, the NFLPA said in a statement.

 

TIME Soccer

Even Soccer Fans Don’t Recognize Clint Dempsey Without a Jersey

The U.S. men's soccer team captain is apparently hard to spot when not playing

Soccer player Clint Dempsey, who captained the U.S. Men’s National Team through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, may have won the adoration of American fans on the field, but off the green he appears to be harder to spot. In fact, even soccer fans seem to have trouble recognizing America’s star soccer player out of uniform.

TIME Sports

Tiny Football Players Thwarted by Their Greatest Nemesis: A Vinyl Banner

Watch here in slow motion

Fresh off an impressive 24-0 victory, the Mighty Mites — a youth football team in Wallkill, New York — attempted to celebrate their success by running through a large white banner. Alas, things did not go as planned for these young athletes, ages 6 and 7.

They try and try to break through the vinyl banner and the whole thing just ends up as one big disaster. Major props to whoever made the decision to put this video in slow motion. Also, props to the young cheerleaders who thought this moment was an appropriate time to bust out their best moves.

(h/t Deadspin)

TIME Sports

WATCH: This High School Football Player’s Motivational Speech Will Inspire You

Friday Night Lights fans will want to watch this one.

Fans of Friday Night Lights will want to check out this interview with an enthusiastic Texas high school football player who was fueled by his love of the game to make an exuberant and loquacious speech.

While the television show taught the world to love high school football, thanks in no small part to the tough, but caring Coach Taylor and his words of wisdom, when it comes to making inspirational speeches, Coach Taylor has nothing on Apollos Hester.

The East View High School player was thrilled that his team was able to recently triumph over Vandegrift High by just one point, and he had some thoughts about never giving up, even when you’re down.

“It’s an awesome feeling when you know you are going to win, when you know you are going to be successful, regardless of the scoreboard, because of the effort that you put in,” he told TWC News Austin reporter Lauren Mickler in Georgetown, Texas. And even if your team doesn’t win, “Just keep smiling!”

This student doesn’t need a guidance counselor to tell him that he should consider a career as a motivational speaker, because he already is one.

Take a knee, and let this player’s enthusiasm wash over you.

 

TIME Sports

Football’s Dangers and Lessons Are for Men—Not Boys

JOHNSON JAGUAR PRESEASON FOOTBALL 2014
J.O. Johnson Jaguar football practice at Johnson High School on Aug. 21, 2014 in Huntsville, Ala. Eric Schultz—AL.COM /Landov

Chris Nowinski is the founding executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute and the author of Head Games: the Global Concussion Crisis.

Seven-year-olds can hit each other in the head nearly as hard as college players

I no longer think children should play tackle football.

I played football for eight years, and was an All-Ivy defensive tackle for Harvard University. Football taught me about teamwork, toughness, and accountability. It gave me opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. It teaches invaluable lessons about community, manhood, and family. Regardless of the lesson, however, when is it ever acceptable to encourage a child to be hit hundreds of times in the head in the name of teaching a lesson?

Researchers at Virginia Tech found that seven-year-olds can hit each other in the head nearly as hard as college players. It’s not a pillow fight. These seven-year-olds, however, have a litany of biological disadvantages compared to the men on a college field. Proportionally, a child’s head is many times larger relative to their body mass, and his neck is weaker. The damage to a college or professional athlete’s brain can be severe, but it pales in comparison to the potential damage caused by brain trauma to the developing brain. There are critical windows in adolescence where the brain is maturing and rewiring, and it’s a terrible time to shake it up. By high school, their brains are more resilient to damage, they are more likely to have access to trained medical professionals on the sidelines, and they are more able to identify and report concussions.

My Sports Legacy Institute co-founder and senior advisor to the NFL Head Neck and Spine Committee Dr. Robert Cantu has been advocating for raising the age of tackle football for years, but concern for young players goes beyond just the medical community. Hall of Fame coach John Madden recently told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on a public panel, “I’m a firm believer that there’s no way that a six-year-old should have a helmet on and learn a tackling drill. There’s no way. Or a seven-year-old or an eight-year-old. They’re not ready for it. Take the helmets off kids.”

Other sports are getting the message. USA Hockey raised the age of the introduction of checking to 13, both to minimize brain injuries and to promote skills. US Lacrosse is using rule changes and penalties in an attempt to eliminate all hits to the head. Our Sports Legacy Institute is working with soccer legends like Brandi Chastain and Cindy Parlow Cone to eliminate heading the ball in soccer until high school, and this #SaferSoccer Initiative is quickly gaining supporters.

Football leadership is taking a different approach. The NFL is donating $45 million to the USA Football Heads Up tackling program, which is trying to convince parents and coaches that training children on tackling technique will limit risk, even though there is no scientific evidence that this will reduce hits to the head in young players.

There is a steadfast refusal to have a discussion about when tackle football, and the hundreds of hits to the head that come with it, is age-appropriate. Even baseball coaches refuse to teach players curveballs until around age 12 to protect their elbows. We need to protect children’s brains.

I worry that this inability to have a rational discussion about whether football should be different for men versus boys is driven by the football industry’s concern that admitting that tackle football is inappropriate for kids will cause children (and parents) to choose other sports, and never return to football in high school. However, the reality is that flag football and/or 7-on-7 are both healthy alternatives to introduce children to the fundamentals of a great game without purposeful repetitive brain trauma. Football should be less worried about enrollment figures, and instead invest in these safer alternatives, thus joining the growing trend of protecting young athletes who are the future of the game.

Let’s protect our players, and protect the game. Football at the NFL and collegiate levels is becoming rapidly safer with rule changes, fines, and better medical resources and care. However, we can’t provide that level of medical resources to children, and we cannot give them fines, so children will never be as safe as the professionals. Because children cannot give us informed consent, let’s take a step back and choose safer alternatives. I don’t know if the right age is 12, 13, or 14 years old to begin tackle, but I am certain it’s not 8. None of the lessons we want to teach children require purposeful brain trauma, so let’s change the games to fit our goals of healthier, happier children who are better prepared for success in life. The best way to preserve football’s legacy is to protect youth football players, and save hitting for high school. Our children will thank us.

Chris Nowinski is the founding executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to concussion education, research, and advocacy, co-founder of the Boston University CTE Center, and the author of Head Games: the Global Concussion Crisis.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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