If you like watching sports on TV, more than likely you tuned into the season opening Giants vs. Cowboys game Wednesday, the first NFL game played on a Wednesday in 64 years (the game would have been played on Thursday, but with the DNC nomination acceptance speech at the same time, the NFL didn't want to compete with POTUS). I don't have expressed written consent from the NFL to write about the Cowboys @ Giants game, but I don't want to anyway; I just want to deliver some of my ruminations about America's favorite professional sport.
Head trauma induced illnesses and death of NFL players brought on by repeated concussions has made news multiple ways the last few years and continues to grow in scope as new research comes to light.
Junior Seau's death in May from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest shocked the nation, but it's part of an unfortunate trend of retired players committing suicide, suggesting repeated brain trauma leads to depression. Seau didn't leave a note, but it's widely believed he shot himself in the chest rather than the head so scientists could research his brain.
Pieces of Seau's gray matter are still under the microscope, but you don't need to be a neurologist to see a trend -- a new study just came out comparing causes of death in retired NFL players to the general public.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, the study found, "that professional football players in [the] study were three times more likely to die as a result of diseases that damage brain cells compared to the general population. A player's risk of death from Alzheimer's disease or ALS was almost four times higher than the general population."
ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It affects a brain's ability to communicate to the body through the spinal cord and sadistically degenerates voluntary movement while leaving brain cognition perfectly fine. Those suffering from ALS eventually need respirators to breath and can only communicate with eye movements, yet they're painfully aware of the world around them.
Former NFL player Steve Gleason suffers from ALS. He appeared on HBO's "Real Sports" a few weeks ago to talk about his condition. He still has partial movement of his body and can still speak without a machine. Gleason's resolve and hope in the face of a horrific disease inspires people and makes him worth listening to, but HBO's interest in his story draws from the fact he played for the Saints, a team penalized in the off season for holding bounties over opposing players' heads.
Damning audio evidence of former Saints defensive coach Gregg Williams recorded by a film crew documenting Gleason's struggle with ALS led to the highly publicized suspensions. HBO played the audio. Williams is heard saying to his team in the locker room, "If you cut off the head, the body will die."
The sad thing is, if no money was paid in reward to hurt opponents, the strategy orated by Williams would have been perfectly acceptable in the NFL -- it's the way football is played and a big reason why Americans love the modern-day gladiator sport. As Gleason said in his HBO interview, "In my opinion, speeches like the one given by Gregg Williams are not the cause of increased rate of brain disease in the NFL population. The increased rate of brain disease In the NFL population is caused by the way the game is played within the rules."
That's the realization every NFL fan tries to push away. They don't want the truth because it threatens to further change the way the game is played. Knowing facts about the dangers of repeated concussions makes me less likely to criticize an NFL player's toughness when they sit out after a concussion. Brain injury is serious and no amount of money or glory is worth dying from ALS.
I'm in three fantasy football leagues this year. Every year I try to limit myself to one league, but friends successfully convince me it's going to be fun. It's not. Playing one league is fun, playing three is overkill.
I'm not going to give you tips on whom you should draft -- if you watch the game you should have a decent idea. What I will do is tell you some things you should avoid doing.
Don't talk about fantasy football. Nobody wants to hear it. You may think when someone brings up the topic in conversation they are interested in your team. They're not.
On top of people not actually caring about your trades, your waiver pick ups, or your amazing sleeper pick, talking about fantasy football in public alienates everyone who doesn't care (mostly women) from the conversation. You can still briefly talk about sports, but if someone brings up fantasy you should change the subject.
Avoid checking your fantasy scores in the middle of a game. Rooting for the guys on your team is fun, but checking your boxscore after every time one of your guys touches the ball is ridiculous. Wait for halftime, or better yet, wait for the end of the day. Enjoy the game.
I'll be attending the Cardinals opening game against the Seahawks this Sunday. If you decide to go to an NFL game this year, avoid the responsibility of driving. Parking is terrible, plus if you enjoy beverages you shouldn't drive after the game.