Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘National Football League

Chris Henry, and why your football-playing child may already have brain damage

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GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 20: Wide receiver Ch...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Chris Henry was a talented wide receiver, but he was far better known for almost single-handedly giving the Cincinnati Bengals the reputation as criminals thanks to his numerous arrests. When Henry died during the 2009 season after falling off the back of a moving pickup truck — on which he had jumped during a fight with his fiancee, who was driving — it appeared to be a tragic but not unexpected end for someone who just couldn’t control himself.

Now it appears there was a reason Henry was out of control: His brain was  knotted and beaten up from repeated blows to the head, according to researchers.

At age 26, he already showed signs of progressive generative disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. From the June 28 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu, with the Brain Injury Research Institute in Morgantown, W.Va., have examined 10 other retired players, among them ex-Steelers Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelzcyk. The researchers found frightful similarities between those brains and that of Mr. Henry. Those men were older than Mr. Henry and had taken thousands of blows to the helmet during long football careers. …

“It didn’t look like the brain of a 26-year-old,” said Dr. Omalu, a former Allegheny County pathologist who first found CTE in an autopsy of Mr. Long in September 2005.

“This is not something to celebrate. It is not something to be joyful about. It is something that is very humbling, very introspective. It is a call to action.

“I’m not calling for the eradication of football; no, I’m asking for full disclosure to the players. Like the surgeon general considers smoking to be dangerous to your health, repeated impacts of the brain are dangerous to your health and will affect you later in life. Period. The players need to know this.

“I think it’s an epidemic. It’s beneath the radar. We simply didn’t identify it [early and properly]. The more I encounter NFL players, the more I realize … it is much more prevalent than we had identified.”

For all the laudable attention on ensuring that children are promptly identified and treated for concussions, the implications of this look at Henry means that brain damage among football players is more extensive and pervasive than we could have ever dreamed. Despite not having reached 30, Henry’s brain, and the dementia he was likely suffering, were much like that seen in an 80-to-90-year-old.

So what do we do with this information? Ban football? Take the head out of the game? There are some serious questions to be answered, because who knows how many high schoolers, having played since age 6 or 7, are already on their way to serious brain damage.

One thing the doctors in Henry’s case recommend is genetic testing, because there is one gene that is common to all the players they’ve examined who have suffered extensive damage: Apolipoprotein E, which is found in roughly 25 percent of the general population. APOE is considered one of the biggest genetic risk factors for development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Does that mean every baby should be tested for APOE, and if found positive, should never play a sport with a high risk of head injury?

I don’t know. But I do know I’m feeling even better about my kids having no interest in playing football.

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NFL draft: This one's for all those kids who got picked last

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I don’t want to make a habit out of recycling old pieces I’ve written, but it is Earth Day, and this column I wrote about the NFL draft in 2003 for Flak Magazine is appropriate here as well. Even if you’re not a fan of the NFL, or the draft, or sports in general, at least a pro draft can be good for one thing: letting some athletes know how you felt getting picked last for every team in gym class — or not getting picked at all for schoolyard games. (NOTE: I’ve made a few edits to update the draft format, but otherwise the column is reposted as originally written.)

If you always got picked last for sports on the playground or in gym class, assuming you got picked at all, you can get some psychic revenge by watching the April 22-24 NFL draft.

Ostensibly, the purpose of any professional sports draft is to organize the distribution of the top young players not already signed to pro contracts. Other than a few hotshots whose early selection is preordained, most athletes will have to sweat out how late in the draft they’ll get chosen, if they’re chosen at all. They’ll curse the silence of their phones, which ring only with relatives and friends from back in the day calling to ask the damning question, “Why haven’t they picked you yet?” With each passing pick, the potential embarrassment gets greater, the pressure to smile through the pain grows stronger, the mental voice suggesting maybe they should have spent more time in class gets louder.

Isn’t that great? Who doesn’t love seeing jocks get a taste of their own medicine? At least when you didn’t get picked in the schoolyard, all you lost was your pride. They can lose their careers before they even start! A pro draft is one of the most stirring reality shows on television — you never know who’s going to get voted off, or voted in!

The NBA, anticipating an audience that one day would thirst for Simon Cowell yelling at warbling nobodies, about 25 years ago launched a tradition of public draft-pick humiliation. The league invites the presumably assured top picks to the site of the draft, which is now a very TV-friendly two rounds. The players have a tradition of showing up in pimped-out suits, in which they stroll up to the podium after their name is called by league commissioner David Stern. For their troubles, they get a baseball cap featuring the logo of their new employer. As each player heads for the podium, the dwindling numbers in the green room sit on edge, feeling like fools for still being there and for wearing such lousy suits. The camera inches closer to each remaining player, with announcers saying things like, “Boy, he was expected to go higher, but there he is. I wonder what’s wrong with him?”

The NBA draft’s definitive moment came in 1998, when high-school phenom Rashard Lewis slid all the way out of the first round to the fourth pick of the second round, being bypassed not once, but three times by his hometown Houston Rockets. With each pick, the camera came within fewer atoms of his face, which had teary eyes and the hangdog look of a guy who’d just been stood up by his prom date. Lewis somehow mustered the nerve to walk to the podium like a stud to get his Seattle SuperSonics baseball cap, only to be met by … assistant commissioner Rod Thorn. Stern doesn’t stick around for the second round. That’s gotta hurt.

At the NFL draft, the humiliation comes courtesy of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., the TV network’s longtime draft analyst. Kiper is what’s known as a “draftnik,” which means “geek with a satellite dish and way too much free time.” The only helmet Kiper ever wears is his hairstyle, but he gets to pick apart every player even under consideration in the seven-round draft.

[youtubevid id=”UHiUqL2KLiM”]

Who the hell is Mel Kiper Jr.? Ask Bill Tobin.

Talk about a sports loser’s revenge — millions of fans will base their opinions of a drafted player — a guy who’s spent his life beating the hell out of other people and getting the hell beaten out of him in hopes of some great financial reward — on the words of a community college grad who says things like, “He demonstrated some foot speed at the college level, but he’s going to struggle because his hands are small and his arms are too short.”

That’s right, you jocks. Mel Kiper Jr. has looked you over and discovered the dirty secret that you have baby-girl hands and tyrannosaur arms! What do you think of that? Maybe you should have chosen the Mel Kiper Jr. types for your elementary school teams instead of picking on them! But it’s too late for that, isn’t it?

Kiper also gives his instant gradings of a team’s draft, which brings us to another way to get psychic revenge. If you got picked last, with captains prefacing their selection by saying, “Do we have to take him?” then surprised everybody by showing a modicum of athletic ability, you can live vicariously through lowly drafted, or undrafted, players who make a team and end up performing far beyond expectations. For example, four years after Lewis’ televised humiliation at the hands of the NBA, he became one of the league’s top young players and a highly desired free-agent acquisition. He stayed with the Sonics, with a guaranteed $70 million on the way. (And Lewis got even bigger money later in Orlando, while the Sonics franchise itself followed by getting bigger money later in Oklahoma City.)

With so many ways to have a catharsis about your own early athletic experiences, there’s no way you should miss watching the NFL draft, or any draft. Not that I have my own issues about getting picked last, or anything.

Written by rkcookjr

April 22, 2010 at 9:57 am

If you missed my youth bowling live tweet…

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You can see it at twitter.com/notgoingpro. It went great, until my Blackberry’s network crapped out in the seventh frame of the last game.

bobbys-cameravideo-100Last year’s Penguins, now this year’s Field Force Monkeys: Liam, Ryan, Nick and Trevor.

The live-tweet was part of my ultimately futile effort to show support for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, under fire from the NFL gendarmes for his desire to tweet during games. The NFL is upset that somebody might discover nothing interesting goes on during Bengals games.

I call this futile because the NFL will do something to Ochocinco after he does whatever Twitter thing he promises to do during his game tomorrow, and that Ochocinco took his grandma to the new Tyler Perry movie instead of following my in-game tweets. Well, I can hold out hope he’ll catch up with them later, and appreciate everything I’m doing for him.

Written by rkcookjr

September 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Like Chad Ochocinco, I have a tweet surprise coming for my son's bowling league

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Big-time sports is shaken up over Twitter, afraid that athletes and coaches twiddling their texting thumbs during games will distract themselves from their jobs or, more importantly, distract fans from the live television coverage they’re getting paid billions for.

It appears Chad Ochocinco, the Cincinnati Bengals receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson (he changed his last name to match the nickname he received because of his jersey number, 85 — wait, shouldn’t his nickname be “Ochenta y Cinco”?), is planning to challenge the NFL’s ban on player tweeting. He’s planning what is being called a “tweet surprise” for the Bengals’ opening game Sunday, some loophole he’s found in the rule that prevents him, his representatives or fans he signals in the stands to post his in-game thoughts to any social networking site.

“I’ve been really, really quiet, and there’s a storm coming Sunday,” he told reporters. “That’s one of the things that I do when I’m back: I have something. I keep you on the edge of your seat. NFL, I would like to apologize to you guys early. I understand. I read all the fine print in the letters you sent, but I did find loopholes. I found loopholes.”

Or, as he posted to his Twitter feed: “Storm coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Well, I have a storm coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, too. It’s going to roll out, no pun intended, Saturday during the first match of my 6-year-old son’s bowling season.

In solidarity with Chad Ochocinco, I’m going to live-tweet my son’s match!

I know you’re dying for the behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during a crazy youth league Saturday at the Brunswick Zone in Oak Lawn, Ill. OK, maybe you don’t. But if the No Fun League can stop a man who changed his name to friggin’ Ochocinco from tweeting, any of us who can tweet during sports events should do so, just to let it and other leagues know we want to be social no matter what you think.

In fact, this weekend I would encourage all of you to tweet your events. Maybe it’s your daughter’s swim meet, or you son’s wrestling tournament. (God knows there’s plenty of downtime in those that needs filling, and the Sunday newspaper isn’t as large as it used to be.) You could tweet the youth football game you coach, or the basketball game you’re playing in. For the latter, try to master switching your Blackberry to your off-dribble hand as you do your crossover.

The important thing is, fill up your Twitter feed with anything and everything about whatever sports you and your children are involved with this weekend. Heck, live-tweet a neighborhood game of Ghost in the Graveyard (though, for legal reasons, you should make sure you have a child directly involved in it). If you just want to follow my feed, go to twitter.com/notgoingpro.

Now is the time to strike the blow for sports social media freedom. Do it so that someday you never start a sentence, first they came for Ochocinco, but I did not speak out because I was not a pro football player…

Photo_10Please do it. Chad Ochocinco is begging you.

Written by rkcookjr

September 11, 2009 at 12:58 am