By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Fancy, new, expensive, high-tech football helmets do absolutely nothing to prevent old-fashioned brain injury.
All the high schools and youth programs across the country that stretched their meager athletic budgets to outfit kids in the latest gear got conned by slick advertising and their own wishful thinking. The thousands of wasted dollars would have been better categorized as public relations spending, since that was the primary goal – using new equipment to provide the illusion of safety to increasingly nervous parents.
It has been a common theme the last couple seasons, with schools wanting to boast of doing everything possible to care for students, even if they had no idea if they were telling the truth. The helmet manufacturers created new products that came with both NFL endorsements and densely-worded disclaimers – the bright, militaristic image of protection covering the paralyzing fear of lawsuits, in an inherently conflicted, ironic effort.
The futility was exposed by a University of Wisconsin study released Monday that confirmed powerfully what most already believed: no brand, type, or age of helmet makes any difference in preventing concussions.
What’s worse, the nefarious charlatans peddling specialized mouth-guards are endangering kids as they use bogus claims to steal money from school districts. The study found a much higher likelihood of concussion with their use, as opposed to a standard mouthpiece.
Even legislators had been involved in this mess, with various governing bodies mandating the use of newer helmets. All this did was temporarily pad the pockets of Riddell, Schutt, and Xenith with cash they’ll need to pay legal fees for as long as those companies continue to exist.
Throwing money around with no medical or scientific rationale to buy shiny, empty promises is just one of the self-told lies of desperation occurring around the game. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is embarrassing himself with limp propaganda stunts to pretend football won’t hurt your kids.
He is Big Tobacco behind a shield.
Cleverly, however, Goodell is keeping his audience attuned to concussions, rather than the real cause of neurological problems later in life. As discovered by numerous studies – most strikingly so in this alarming examination of an Indiana high school team – it is the accumulation of mundane, sub-concussive impacts that does the better part of the damage, particularly to younger, developing brains. By focusing on the big hits that indeed can take place in any sport, he clouds the fact that his game requires a consistent, endemic rattling of the skull not seen anywhere else outside of boxing.
The lying must stop in both directions, from the top down and from the grass-roots up.
If Goodell fears litigation, he should remember that the basis for the suits he just settled was not the danger of the game itself, but the league trying to cover it up. Professional players appear willing to sign away their rights in exchange for honesty and a reasonable, fully-aware approach to their current medical care. They are big boys who know what they do for a living.
Instead of his shallow photo-ops and phony media campaigns that will continue to be exposed awkwardly by real science, Goodell would be better served preparing for the inevitably smaller pool of potential football players. He should be dealing with what is actually happening, and doing so as transparently as possible.
More importantly, high schools and Pop Warner leagues across the country must end the false, reassuring guarantees they make to be able to field teams, even if some coaches do have the best intentions. They have a solemn responsibility to avoid actionable misrepresentations of safety.
Football is bad for you, and that’s ok. Many will still choose to play, just as many still vie for glory and riches in the boxing ring. Some parents will believe that the benefits for their sons outweigh the risks.
There is simply no good reason for a campaign of ignorance.
It is a great and terrible game. We know this, and we cannot un-know it.
We should not want to.
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.