I am working my way through A Preliminary Investigation of Active and Retired NFL Players’ Knowledge of Concussions – the extremely valuable 2004 doctoral dissertation of Don Brady, who is now a clinical psychologist in New York State. Readers here will recall that Brady was the source of my August 8 post, “EXCLUSIVE: 1975 ‘Lancet’ Article Yet Another Smoking Gun in Football Concussion Saga.”
As we go along, I’ll have more about Brady’s work (on which his wife Flo frequently collaborates). But first I want to say a few words about where I’m going with it. My perspective may not be popular with some of the hardest-line concussion-reform advocates; and indeed, the Bradys themselves might not completely agree with me. But it’s the way I approach this subject.
I think information on what the National Football League knew and when it knew it is dynamite – both for current and future litigation and for the long arc of public discourse. Brady compellingly establishes that the answer to this question is not good news for the NFL, and the sports industry and its fans have a real mess on their hands.
I am less enamored of microscopic statistical analysis of the consequences of concussions, both pro and con. It’s not that we don’t need a lot of such analysis. It’s just that the debate over it can be uselessly ideological and polarizing (or, as the academics might put it, reifying).
I think people of good will, pondering the brain-trauma evidence and our collective conscious and unconscious enabling of its denial, should realize that Dr. Joseph Maroon is full of it when he makes vague and absurd assertions about the safety of the completely discretionary activity of football, relative to the daily life logistic of teen automobile driving.
However, I also think critics of the sports establishment do their cause no favors when they exploit marginal data to support a world view in areas where no one on the other side is about to change his mind. A crude analogy might be the argument against the American war in Iraq. I, personally, don’t believe our intervention has been responsible for the deaths of “millions” of Iraqi children. Such an alignment of stats has to put the pedal to the metal of every possible favorable metric while steadfastly ignoring every possible unfavorable one (for example, the basic idea that the end of the sanctions regime might have saved lives). There is more possibility of consensus around the simple notion that the cost of the American operation, in blood and treasure, far exceeded the most generous definition of its benefits.
And so I will proceed in my interpretation of the wise and original research in the Don Brady dissertation. To be continued.