Thursday, January 25, 2007

football and workplace injury

no matter where i look recently, there seems to be a trend in sports writing: long-term injuries in professional football players. the new york times had a general article titled "The N.F.L.’s Blue-Collar Workers," the sf chronicle examined injuries of the players from the 1981 49ers superbowl champion team, and the new yorker had an article looking at the ny giants recently retired running back tiki barber (not online, stupid new yorker), with quite a bit of discussion on the idea of retiring before the injuries really wreck his body.

here's a quote from the times article:

But despite all the trappings of a modern business empire, football — or more specifically its labor system — harks back to the 19th century. Like miners and dock workers of that time, the N.F.L.’s work force has little protection against job loss. Workers frequently toil outdoors in freezing temperatures. And they often literally put their lives at risk, as we were reminded last week when a neuropathologist claimed that the suicide of a former N.F.L. player, Andre Waters, was linked to brain damage he sustained while playing football.

“It brings to mind the high-risk jobs of the earlier industrial period,” said Raymond Sauer, an economics professor at Clemson University and founder of the Sports Economist blog.

To be sure, football players, with their generous paychecks, do not seem as exploited as those rail-thin miners dusted with coal. But compared with athletes who ply their trades in two other big-money sports — basketball and baseball — they’re strictly blue collar.

on particular injuries themselves, from the chronicle:
Keith Fahnhorst has a more fundamental wish: standing up straight. Fahnhorst, a mainstay on the 49ers' offensive line in the 1970s and '80s, stood tall at 6-foot-6 in 1981, but now he walks hunched over because of spinal stenosis and degeneration of the disks in his neck and back.

Fahnhorst, 54, also totes routine baggage for a longtime offensive lineman: worn, bent hands from years of grappling along the line of scrimmage. Fahnhorst said his left thumb and forefinger remain numb to this day, as they remind him every time he tries to button his shirt.

now, of course these people made a lot of money, and most of them say they would do it again, even with all the risk of injury. but to me, that sentiment seems to miss the point. the players and teams should examine whether the men on the field need to be exposed to so much risk when they play the game. from the articles, i gleaned that things were somewhat worse in the 70s and 80s, when players would hop right back onto the field after sustaining a mild concussion or injury, for fear that they would be benched and out a job otherwise. today, it's better, but i also read about a player who said that the hits these days are even crazier because all the new padding gives a false sense of security.

after reading these articles, i get the distinct feeling that the players do not have good representation at the table whe they negotiate with teams. the majority of players don't get paid that much, are in the nfl only for a few years, and leave with few benefits and a high risk of long-term injury. no matter how much money they make, the players deserve better.

this got me wondering about other types of long-term injuries, specifically mental ones, that could creep up on people in other professions. like lawyers. but i need to read more before i make any comments...

finally, in case you were wondering how viscious this stuff can be, watch this video (but be warned, it's awful!):

UPDATE on 2/1/2007:
here are two follow-up stories in the new york times that appeared as a result of their original reporting:

Dark Days Follow Hard-Hitting Career in N.F.L.
Ex-Players Say Increase in Pensions Is Needed


Anonymous said...

Grant said...

I disagree. This mentality largely assumes that the players of the NFL are too stupid to know what is good for them. The players should be made aware of the risks (and usual results) of playing such a violent sport, and reasonable efforts should be taken to avoid unnecessary injuries (like pads, helmets, and appropriate rules). But the players are adults and make there own decisions. They know how long most players last in the league. They know how much most players make and what they make.

I think that for many of them, it is much more than the money. They enjoy playing the game, and probably some the fame that goes with it. I don’t think it is right for me to take that away from them.

omar said...

that "freedom" already has been taken away! people with injuries these days sit out much longer than they used to back in the 70s and 80s -- for their health. and they know it! no one's asking for more time. should we go back to the way things were then? i doubt you'd support that.

furthermore, i don't assume anything about the level of smarts of the average nfl player. my point is that i think they are getting somewhat of a raw deal, and history seems to illustrate that. read the articles. for one, consider the health coverage they are guaranteed after retiring. it's ridiculous.

finally, i'm not sure what you think i'm proposing we take away from them. i'm not. i'm saying they need better representatives to fight for their health (of course they should fight for themselves too).

and a nugget to chew on: based on your logic, at least from what i see in this comment, it sounds like you'd be ok with allowing pistol duels. after all, both parties agree to duel, and acknowledge the consequences. but such duels are illegal...

bea said...

You should check out this article:

Honestly, in many ways a lot of football players aren't protected---if you are a low-level, mid-level player (not a star in other words), it can actually be a struggle to get the proper care and attention with regards to injuries.

bea said...

click here for the article