Bears

Bernstein: David Haugh Is Wrong About Risks, Rewards Of Football

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Johnny Knox is tended to by doctors after suffering a frightening spine injury against the Seattle Seahawks in December of 2011. He has yet to fully recover. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Johnny Knox is tended to by doctors after suffering a frightening spine injury against the Seattle Seahawks in December of 2011. He has yet to fully recover. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist

(CBS) “I won’t tell you how to raise your kid if you won’t tell me how to raise mine,” writes the Tribune’s David Haugh.

Agreed. That’s a deal.

But I can tell someone to base such important decisions on something more than logical fallacy, cheesy romanticism and complete unawareness of science, medicine and facts.

Football is fine for his son, he says, because it just is. At least that seems to be the foundation of the argument. For him, “Football helped raise a small-town boy into a man.”

Cue the Mellencamp.

“I saw football give countless lost teens direction,” we find out, and I’m sure that’s true. That’s absolutely the case for boxing and military service as well. But carrying that fact over to justify involving one’s own son is curious: is he somehow “lost?” If not, what is his point?

There’s more disconnect, too, as he falls back on the erroneous idea that there’s something inherently special about the game that teaches young men important things about life. This is a pillar for those retroactively justifying their own participation, one that conveniently ignores the truth that the very same things could have been learned through other means.

But because it happened to be via football, it could only have been via football – an assumption that makes absolutely no sense. The same self-discovery could have occurred any number of ways, but too many football minds can’t allow for that. Oddly, Haugh does, kind of, which makes it even more weird.

“I feel confident my wife and I can teach those lessons to our 11-year old son if he never plays football. I have little doubt he would learn them quicker if he does.”

So wait…now it’s not about whether or not he learns such things, but the speed at which it occurs? Present the two options to reasonable parents: one, your son learns important life lessons. Two, your son learns the same important life lessons faster (maybe, based on no actual evidence that this is even true), but exposes his developing brain to trauma that causes still-unknown risks. Per that silly, flimsy logic, there’s an obvious right choice.

He doubles down on the canard, even. “The rule being that football offers kids the type of structure and discipline and camaraderie they can’t often find anywhere else.”

This is nothing but baseless supposition, the furthest thing from a “rule.” All sports have those three things, as do various non-sport pursuits, but football always causes people to fall back on this very lie.

The most important problem with all of this is Haugh’s apparent choice to be frighteningly uninformed about what the dangers of football – particularly for younger players — actually are. He refers to “the exceptions – the catastrophic injuries,” and makes the mistake of focusing on “understandable concerns related to concussions.” He makes a strange, failed attempt to inoculate himself against counterpoint by half-bragging “I experienced at least two concussions.” So?

At the very least, he should be expected to read his own newspaper. On October 5th of 2010, the Chicago Tribune published this. The sobering study is but one that ties cognitive decline in high school football players not to concussions, but to the accumulation of sub-concussive hits over time. Indeed, the kids who suffered concussions were actually LESS brain-damaged than those who never had the repetitive pounding interrupted. This has been bolstered by research at Boston University, and by the specific case of Chris Henry, who suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy despite never having suffered a concussion.

It’s not just concussions, we now know, it’s football. It’s the constant jarring of the brain inside the skull. Haugh should know better than to misrepresent this, should know better than to casually and irresponsibly say things like, “I wonder if efforts to change rules, improve equipment and manage concussions have made it safe as ever.” Instead of wondering, find out. Determine the actual risks, or allow for all that we just can’t know until more results of longitudinal, scientific study are available, instead of giving us a misguided, misleading paean to football.

Doing so is a disservice to the many parents trying much harder than he is to make the right call on whether their own sons participate.

He is free to do whatever he wants, of course. I will not tell him how to raise his kid.

But there is never an excuse for something so significant to be shaped by a perilous, unfortunate combination of flawed reasoning and willful ignorance.



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Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.

The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM (or you can listen online).
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