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.