Pumped To Throw The Pigskin

Chait defends football against its critics. He draws a distinction between pro and amateur players:

More than a million boys play high-school football every year. If the effects of those games remotely approached those afflicting former professionals, there would be millions of American men walking around with brain damage and a national epidemic of male suicide. The tragic cases of brain-damaged NFL veterans that have filled the news — the Junior Seaus, the Dave Duersons — would be replicated on a scale a thousand times as large. That something like this has escaped attention until now defies plausibility.

It is true that the improvements of weight-training methods have made high-school football players, at least at the highest levels of competition, bigger and stronger than those of a generation ago, which may produce as-yet-unrealized hazards. And we do know that it may be a series of minor concussions that ultimately poses the biggest threat to the brains of football players. Thankfully, we also have data about how common concussions are in other sports, and that data gives us no reason to consider high-school football a dramatically riskier activity.

He calls football “the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me”:

This is not because my life is a failure, and it is not because football stole my youth. Football’s enemies have an accurate sociological observation, but their conclusion is backward. Nothing else pumped so much adrenaline through me that I couldn’t feel my feet underneath me as I ran and could barely remember my name, or made me weep or scream uncontrollably. It is the adventure of your life, a chance to prove yourself as a man before other boy-men who, even if you never see them again, you will always regard as brothers-in-arms.

This is an increasingly antiquated conception of male socialization. George Orwell, the old socialist, was well ahead of his time when he scribbled out an angry rant against the sporting ethic, which, he wrote, “is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” That is all more or less true. But shooting is precisely the problem with war. War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.

Relatedly, Ian McGugan looks at how football fans are made:

[Sports economist Stefan] Szymanski told me that when he moved his family from Britain to Michigan three years ago, his two teenage sons were already N.F.L. fanatics — not because of television, but because of PlayStation. “A new generation is consuming games in new ways,” he says. “The gap between the virtual and the real is narrowing, and the N.F.L. is in an excellent position to capitalize on that.” A virtual N.F.L. could offer fans the opportunity to play along with real games and compare their play calls with real ones. It might also allow fans a way to indulge their appetite for violence in a virtual world while allowing the real game to become safer.

Research also suggests that early exposure makes all the difference. Lorenz Kueng, an assistant professor of finance at Northwestern University, co-wrote a recent study of Russian drinking habits, in which he found that men’s preference for vodka or beer varied widely by generation and depended on the beverage’s availability around when a person turned 18. “The research suggests,” Kueng told me, “that your first exposure to a product could shape your long-term preference to a large degree.” It’s not a huge stretch to suggest that consumption habits for sports are just as persistent.

The Dish’s thread from a couple years back on the dangers of professional football is here.