I BEGAN FEELING GUILTY about my fantasy football team in the middle of a presentation by T. Blaine Hoshizaki. It was day one of this week’s conference on brain trauma, held at the Lou Ruvo Center downtown. The physiology professor from the University of Ottawa investigates the mechanics of head injury. His short lecture featured a montage of brutal head shots: A college football player is flipped into the air and comes down on the crown of his head. A hockey player takes a shoulder to the jaw. A line drive nails a pitcher in the ear. One by one, big bodies in prime condition drop like deadwood.
Oof! the audience said as the good professor calmly explained how he re-created the hits in his lab. It’s one part of a continuum of research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain disease that is having its inaugural conference. Eventually, these injured brains become scarred and stained with destructive proteins.
Instead of wondering about how my fantasy team is doing on this football Sunday, I wonder whether civilized society should even have a place for contact sports. The question really resonates in the sport of boxing, where CTE was first identified more than 80 years ago. See, in football and hockey, brain injuries are byproducts of physical sports. But in boxing, knockouts are the goal.
Dr. Robert Cantu, the “King of Concussion,” has helped the NFL develop safety guidelines for players, and he said that boxing matches are safer than they’ve ever been. The American Medical Association has called for a ban on boxing, but he doesn’t go that far.
“It is not my role to tell society what should be done,” he said. “If we want to let people destroy or possibly destroy their brains for money, that’s up to society.”
Doctors for the Ruvo Center are studying more than 100 fighters. Preliminary results show that after five years of professional fighting, brain volumes diminish. What does that mean in the fight capital of the world, where most fighters don’t have a union, or even decent health insurance?
Maybe worrying about boxers makes it easier to casually check the fantasy stats at home after the conference (looks like we’re going to win!). I mean, at least I’m not a boxing fan. Only a savage could enjoy that blood sport.