Bo Knows Head Trauma

In 1989, NIKE started an ad campaign for cross training footwear featuring Bo Jackson, a former Heisman Trophy winner and the only man to be an All-Star in baseball and All-Pro in football. The ad featured stars in various sports proclaiming that “Bo knows” whichever sport, whether baseball, football, hockey or golf, was featured in the ad.

Apparently, Bo also knows about the association between participation in tackle football and brain trauma. And given that football season is, once again, upon us, it might be prudent to consider what Bo knows.

Jackson created a stir recently when he admitted during a USA Today interview that if he had known what he does today back then, “I would have never played football. Never. I wish I had known about all of those head injuries, but no one knew that. “

He also said, “there’s no way I would ever allow my kids to play.”

While the football industrial complex’s public relations machine is running full throttle in its effort to convince parents that advancements in equipment, diagnosis, testing, protocol and tackling techniques have made the game safe, the cold, hard truth is that these claims are being made with little concrete, scientific evidence to back them up. Even on the most basic of issues, there is widespread disagreement, an example being how long a victim of a concussion should be held out of action. Is it a week? Two weeks? A month? A season? We simply do not know.

Further, all of the attention being placed on concussions is somewhat misguided. The larger issue is the brain damage sustained by repeated sub-concussive blows to the head. Sub-concussive blows clearly rattle the brain, thus causing cumulative trauma and damage, but not to the extent where the negative impact is immediately and outwardly noticed.

It’s brain death by a million cuts. In other words, your child could be slowly, methodically damaging his brain without showing any immediate signs of doing so.

Until it is too late.

While we have little idea of the effectiveness of various treatments and safety measures, what is absolutely not in doubt is that playing tackle football is damaging to the brain. That is indisputable. The only question is the extent of the damage. And, based on accumulating evidence, the extent of damage is becoming much clearer.

Simply consider the most recent revelation from a study published this week in which 110 of 111 former NFL football players were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. , the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. (Note: C.T.E. can only be determined after death).

So here’s the question: Why are so many people fighting so hard to deny the science and promote suspect and unproven safety improvements to continue to justify allowing children to play what is clearly a brutal sport that has been proven to cause brain damage? And how many more young people will sustain brain damage while we wait for the proof of this link to become irrefutable?

Ask Bo. He knows.

The Campaign for “Bandwork”: It’s Now Personal

Last year, I wrote that the word “bandwork” should be recognized as an “official” word and thus included in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The purpose behind my proposal relates to the issue of music advocacy as it applies to school funding of music programs. It’s important that we recognize and use bandwork as an “official” word because words and terms are vitally important in effective advocacy.
While effective music advocacy is critical, due to a recent occurrence, this issue has now become personal.

Why should we care whether bandwork becomes an “official” word?

For too long, it has been the athletic community, particularly the football community, that has driven and shaped the dialogue regarding which activities are most effective in instilling in participants, the ability to collaborate and work together as a group. The fact is, football in particular, and sports in general, are no more effective at instilling such characteristics as is participation in music activities.

I have been on five person basketball teams working together to achieve a common goal of winning a game. I have also been in a five person band working together to achieve an agreed upon sound. And in both cases, the lessons learned – discipline, communication, personal and shared responsibility, persistence and sacrifice – are identical. Yet, the music community has remained silent regarding the notion that sports are unique in its’ ability to teach such skills. By remaining silent, the music community has ceded that narrative to the sports “lobby”.  Thus, it’s not surprising that when discussions regarding an activity’s potential to teach valuable communication and collaboration skills occur, all of the attention is focused on team sports’ potential to do so, while music’s potential to do the very same things is largely ignored.

It’s time to tell the other side of the story. And that starts with terminology. Words and terms matter. It is time that music advocates begin to recognize, and, for lack of a better term, “brand” music in a way that more effectively describes its value as an educational tool. A good starting point would be to recognize, promote and actually begin using the term bandwork, which should be defined as “the cooperative effort by musicians to achieve an agreed upon sound.”

In short, at a time when competition for educational funding is becoming more intense, it is imperative for music education advocates to be more focused and strategic in promoting music’s ability to teach the types of skills necessary to succeed in the more collaborative workplace and culture of the future.

To date, my motivation to recognize and include “bandwork” in the dictionary has been exclusively about music advocacy.

That has changed. It’s now personal.  

I was recently engaged in a heated game of Scrabble. The score was close and the game was nearing its end with only a handful of letters in the common pile remaining. I needed a good word. Looking at the letters in my hand and then at the board, it appeared, plain as day. I had the letters to spell it – Bandwork. And, it was worth 18 points! Add ‘em up: B for 3, A for 1, N for 1, D for 2, W for 4, O for 1, R for 1 and K for 5. Not only that, but it would have qualified for a triple word value. That’s a whopping 54 points! I would have easily won that game.
But as anyone who has played Scrabble knows, if your word does not appear in the dictionary, you cannot use it. Go ahead and look it up. It’s not there. This, despite the fact that millions of people intrinsically understand what it means and have benefitted from exposure to it.

So now the “Campaign for Bandwork” is no longer simply about music advocacy.

It’s also about Scrabble. And now it’s personal.

America’s Reassessment of Football: Another Brick in the Wall

Each year, the NFL goes about the business of drafting college players. Before draft day, players attend the NFL “combine” in Indianapolis where they are measured poked, interviewed and tested.  This all leads to the draft itself when a large chunk of the sports world follows with intense interest, which teams select which players. 

Media coverage of the draft generally focuses on two broad themes. The first are the rags to riches stories of the young men who have achieved their lifelong dream of playing in the NFL. These stories are inspiring and play into the NFL’s desired narrative of providing tremendous opportunity for fame and fortune. Everyone loves a story of an undersized underdog who “makes it” or the young man from a background of poverty striking it rich, often against all odds. It is a publicist’s dream. It’s compelling entertainment.  After all, the NFL is, at its’ core, “sportainment” – sports as entertainment. To that end, the league views the entire draft process as another advertising, branding and marketing opportunity. 

The second area of focus is on the winners and losers of the draft. Analysts debate and rate which teams improved their rosters with these narratives being closely followed by millions of fans. It is exciting to contemplate the possibilities of new players being added to the roster to improve their team’s chances of winning a Super Bowl.

Traditionally, media coverage of the draft can best be described as factual, breathless and fawning. Factual, in the reporting of the specifics of who drafts who and when. Breathless as in media members and analysts acting as if the NFL Draft is more important than world peace. And fawning, in our general tendency to genuflect and bow at the feet of athletes, coaches and sports figures and moguls.

But there was a slight difference in the coverage of this year’s draft. Specifically, an alternative narrative that seemed to be bubbling up just below the surface. While still overwhelmingly factual, breathless and fawning, there was a hint of social commentary, critical analysis and introspection. Specifically, that the institution of American football, with the NFL at its apex, is, at its core, a “meat market”.

The NFL a meat market? Astonishing! Of course, the NFL is a meat market! The NFL is a cold, hard business, plain and simple.

Clearly, the notion that the NFL is a business is certainly not news. And the fact is, there’s nothing wrong with the NFL being a business. Professional sports is the most “honest” form of sports that exists. Everyone knows the score. The players are all adults who know the risks, realities and rewards of the profession. Their job is to make as much money as possible while their bodies hold up or before the coach taps them on the shoulder to tell them they are no longer needed because they no longer produce enough for the team.

The goal of the owners and coaches is to squeeze as much production out of their “assets” (players) as possible. This is exemplified by the fact that owners can deduct players as a “depreciable asset” just like a machine in a factory.

The only difference between this system and an outright plantation system is that the “assets” are being paid handsomely. So let’s get over it.

Yes, the NFL is a meat market. And yes, players are simply cogs in a vast machine. No surprise there.

That said, there was something significant about the increased attention to this aspect of the realities of professional football and the NFL. While it may have only been a scattered few articles and certainly not a groundswell of coverage and attention, the fact is, the issue was raised and covered. It represents another level of public awareness and introspection regarding football’s role in our society.  More people are beginning to ask questions and critically assess the violent nature of football and their personal and our societal relationship to it.

From concerns about brain trauma to football’s culture of violence in general and towards women in particular to the enormous amount of time, energy and resources that are allocated to support it in our schools, people are beginning to ask more questions.  From parents being more hesitant to allow their children to play the game to decreasing television ratings, football as an American institution is receiving increasing scrutiny.

Granted, a few articles and some increased attention and critical analysis of the NFL as a “meat market”, in and of itself, will not bring the NFL to its knees.  But make no mistake, slowly and surely, things are changing as it relates to the role, influence and impact of football in our society.  Consider it another brick in the wall in America’s reassessment of the role of football in our society. Football is facing growing public scrutiny that will continue to increase.

And it should.

Every Day is Father's Day

PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY ONLINE at LancasterOnline.com /  June 18, 2017


The first words our first child heard were my wife’s. In the middle of a C-section, she called out, “Get a chair! My husband’s goin’ down!”

After regaining my senses, I was able to shake off this utter failure in my first test of fatherhood because I was to be the stay-at-home parent. I’d have plenty of chances to redeem myself.

That said, there were challenges and moments of insecurity. As much progress as we’ve made regarding gender roles, the stay-at-home father remains an oddity.

Some think you no longer have a “real” job. While they talk about work, you offer a detailed primer on the finer points of changing one child’s diaper before the other crawls off the bed or in the general direction of a deep body of water. Talk about the pressures of a real job!

And on more than one occasion — while standing in line at the grocery store with one child precariously “surfing” on the seat of the cart and the other safely “caged” but wreaking havoc with the groceries — a grandmotherly type would remark, “Oh, how nice. You’re baby-sitting.”

My response? “It’s called parenting.”

Another challenge was maintaining fatherhood self-esteem in the face of Supermoms. Supermoms have everything under control — always on time, kids impeccably dressed, lunches nutritionally balanced, diaper bag fully outfitted, all of it color coordinated, including a Ziploc bag of freshly baked snacktime cookies for their child’s entire class.

“How do they do it?” I’d wonder. It was enough to make any father feel inadequate as a mother.

Then there were the weekly play groups, in which stay-at-home parents would meet, children in tow, for coffee, snacks and some adult conversation. Always with wonderful spreads of food — symmetrically sliced fruit and a wide selection of breakfast items, often including three types of quiche, all in a spotlessly organized house. My menu consisted of two items — coffee and frozen pizza.

Fatherhood entails a lot of doubts and second-guessing. Often, there are no right answers. You do your best and move on. But I never once doubted that pizza-centered menu because being able to creatively doctor up and cook to perfection a frozen pizza is an essential parenting skill. And it’s a skill that keeps on giving, as your children don’t fully appreciate it until they are teenagers.

Fatherhood also provides countless moments of joy.

Dropping them off at school comes to mind. There is great joy in cranking up Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub” as I approach and slowly make my way through “car line.” Windows down, volume up, van rockin’ and everyone singing. All at 8 a.m.! As they exited the van fully jazzed up and bouncing off the walls, I’d wave and say, “They’re yours now. Back at 3. Good luck.”

Fatherhood taps into your every emotion — from intense heartache when your 7-year-old is retching into the toilet due to the flu and all you can offer are comforting words and a cold, wet washcloth pressed to her forehead — to bursting pride when your son does something thoughtful and kind for a complete stranger. And there is tremendous pleasure when you realize your daughter’s guitar skills have far surpassed your own and, in her sly way, she let’s you know it.

There are bittersweet tears when they go off to college, and you realize they’re grown up. But there is also great satisfaction when you begin to see the lessons you’ve taught come to fruition.

Ultimately, that’s what fatherhood is about — giving them the tools and instilling in them the values and perspective to make their own way in the world. While it’s difficult letting them go, ultimately it is their life to live.

And it happens so fast. One day you are passing out in the operating room, and the next day your son is not only beating you in H-O-R-S-E but trash-talking as he does it!

There is, however, comfort in knowing that fatherhood is constant and forever. Once a father, always a father, no matter where you are or at whatever stage of life you may find yourself.

Yes, there is nothing more difficult than being a father. But there is nothing better.

That’s why whenever you see kids giving their father a hard time, get their attention, point your finger and say, “Look at him. He’s your father. You only have one. Take care of him!”

Because every day is Father’s Day.

College Athletics’ Slimmed Down Future?

“The athletic department of tomorrow could go through what Bristol is going through today,” writes Frank Hawkins, principal of Scalar Media Partners, a Manhattan sports and media consulting firm, in a May 9, 2017 article in SI.com. Hawkins was referring to the recent severe downsizing at the Bristol, CT based cable sports network ESPN.

As a result of a major drop in subscribers, ESPN released roughly 100 on air journalists.  This, after a previous round of dismissals of several hundred behind the scenes jobs two years ago. The reduced revenue is largely a result of customers switching to an “a la carte” model where they can pick and choose which channels they pay for. As a result, by some estimates, television rights fees will drop by at least 30% in the coming years. While many college network deals have several years remaining, the prospect of such decline has college officials considering what heretofore has been unthinkable – downsizing athletic departments.

It’s about time. 

For too long, athletic department spending, particularly the top 60 or so programs has been out of control. Head coaches regularly earn millions and even position coaches receive salaries in the mid-six figure range.  In almost every state in Union, the highest paid public employee is the football or basketball coach. A facilities arms race has been raging for years. Clemson University’s athletic complex includes a bowling alley and nap rooms. Auburn added a $14 million video board to its stadium.  At Texas, new lockers were installed in the football complex at a cost of $10,500 apiece.  According to public records, athletic departments at 13 schools have long-term debt obligations of more than $150 million as of 2014. 

According to The Washington Post, between 2004 and ’14 revenues at 48 of the biggest athletic programs grew from $2.7 billion to 4.5 billion, but spending moved in lockstep from $2.6 billion to$4.4 billion. And still most athletic departments operate at a deficit.

In an era of rising educational expectations and standards, decreasing academic resources, rising student athletic fees and rising student debt, such lavish, unchecked spending on athletics is obscene.

Despite widespread belief to the contrary, as information relating to finances becomes more transparent, it is clear that athletics has not been as fiscally sound an investment as long believed. Virtually every financial trend, throughout every NCAA division, points to athletics expenses increasing not only at a faster rate than generated revenues, but also far outstripping overall institutional spending.  Further, the total athletic expenditures as a percentage of total institutional expenses continues to increase. The fact is, there are no Division II or III institutions and only a small handful of Division I institutions where generated revenues exceed expenses. According to the NCAA, in 2013, the median negative net generated revenue, representing expenses in excess of generated revenues at the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools was over $11.5 million and almost $11 million for both the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) as well as Division I schools without football. In 2014, at the Division II level, those numbers are $4.1 million for schools without football and $5.2 million for schools with football at the Division II level. And in 2014 at the division III level, those numbers are $2.2 million without football and $2.3 million with football. And by all indications, institutional deficit spending on athletics, already significant, will continue to grow. 

So while Division I athletic programs are clearly generating a substantial amount of revenue, the fact is, except for approximately 20 programs, they spend far more money than they generate. That being the case, it is critical that university leaders consider whether such deficit spending is appropriate and commensurate with the academic benefits generated. 

But that is only part of the story.

While many return on investment analyses start and end with the hard numbers, to truly understand the cost of athletics, it is imperative to consider the educational opportunity costs associated with such deficit spending, Specifically, could the general institutional resources that are currently spent to underwrite the athletic program be spent on other academic programs or services that contribute more directly to institutional educational mission?

For example, would those resources be better spend on improving science labs or offering additional sections in majors where students often can not enroll in required courses due to lack of course offerings? Or, perhaps various student services could be expanded or the library or institutional wi-fi service improved. Or, in an age of rising student debt, reduce the school’s activity fee, which in part, helps pay for the athletic department deficit.

In short, institutions that are not willing to take a hard ROI look at their athletic departments in an era of rising educational expectations and tightening resources may be in for a rude financial awakening. Students and their parents are increasingly skeptical about the real value of a traditional college degree and thus are taking a closer look to determine which schools are best equipped and most committed to delivering on a quality education as opposed to sponsoring lavish athletic facilities and spectacle.  In such an environment, schools would be well served to consider whether their athletic programs can be restructured or rescaled in a way that makes more sense fiscally and fits more comfortably into institutional mission. 

While the usual knee jerk reaction to the prospect of downsizing or restructuring the athletic department is for the athletic “lobby” to scream bloody murder and claim that downsizing athletics will result in the demise of the institution, there is another way to look at the situation.

Specifically, could there be an educational opportunity in pursuing such a path?

Perhaps there is a branding opportunity for a school to position itself as one that is truly committed to academics and increasing the value of their degree and the academic quality of the experience for the general student body rather than spending significant time, energy, emotion and resources on an athletic department that serves a small slice of elite athletes and entertainment for the masses. In other words, if I am a student who cares first and foremost about the quality of academic experience my college offers, I would be attracted to a school that is committed enough to that principle to seriously consider whether money spent on athletics would be better spent on academic resources. In an age of rapidly rising student debt that thought is not so far fetched.  After all, when it’s all said and done, athletics remains an “extracurricular” activity, which means it is not a central component of the educational mission of the institution.

The question is this. Are lavishly funded athletic programs truly important enough to the long-term success and effectiveness of the institution to continue to compromise academic integrity, abandon fiscal prudence and jeopardize institutional mission in the name of entertainment and championship banners? When an increasing number of trend lines point to a future of declining revenue streams and rapidly rising expenses, institutions that do not honestly, carefully and seriously consider recalibrating their financial commitment to athletics may, in the not so distant future, be forced to go through what ESPN is going through today.