In 2011, retired NFL players began suing the League for concealing the dangers of concussions. Over 5,000 ultimately brought suit.
Have you seen the movie Concussion? It is the riveting true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu and the NFL. Dr. Omalu is played by Will Smith, and its one of his best roles.
Dr. Omalu discovered, at his own expense, that concussions in football actually give players brain damage. And the outcome is that it destroys their lives. They lose the ability to sleep, to remember, and to regulate moods. Some become violent, and many have become suicidal. I highly recommend seeing this movie, since it is one thing to know this intellectually, and another to know it viscerally.
The NFL knew about the severity of concussions, but did not disclose this with players at the time.
But just like the big tobacco companies, once the truth could no longer be denied, the NFL changed their position. Why? Because the NFL is a massive profit-making machine (which, btw has tax-free status, which should upset every single tax-payer, but thats a whole other article).
This movie makes it graphically clear that the repeated concussions sustained in football results in many players eventually losing their minds - they experience attacks of rage, inability to focus, remember, or sleep, all symptoms of a damaged brain - and it's usually the frontal cortex that sustains the most damage - the part of the brain that makes us most human, involved with decision-making and planning - executive functions.
Dr. Omalu discovered and named the condition that they suffer from: "CTE" or "chronic traumatic encephalopathy", fancy for 'Brain damage due to repeated trauma" Not something you want your kids to get is it?!?
After football, players often go on to become very much like war veterans, unable to live a normal life. According to one study: 28% of professionals foot-ball players are affected.
And guess what else football does... You know that small part of our brain, in the middle, which we call the 'brain stem'? Well, the aggressive actions and emotions of football actually makes that part of the brain larger. The brain stem in a human being is also called the 'reptilian brain'. This is the part of our brain responsible for instincts, like fight or flight. It is what got us through our much earlier period of sabre-tooth tigers, pterodactyls appetizers, and so on (we were the appetizer). So it's good we have our brain stem. And this part of our brain normally gets smaller as a person learns to be calmer and kinder. But the opposite of that happens in the competitive 'sport' of football.
At the end of Concussion, we see this: In 2011, retired NFL players began suing the League for concealing the dangers of concussions. Over 5,000 ultimately brought suit.
Actuaries hired by the NFL have concluded that 28% of all professional football players will suffer from serious cognitive impairment, including CTE.
Dr. Amen On Brain-Rehab for Football Players
Another brain specialist is Dr. Daniel Amen, who's pioneering work with the new SPECT scanning technology has revealed many new things to us about the brain. Here he talks about the work he did with football players, helping them improve their brains' health. Dr. Amen has a great sense of humour.
Dr. Amen's main point in the above talk is simple: the brain is soft, about the consistency of warm butter, and the skull is hard, which quite simply means...
Our heads were not designed to sustain impact.
You might think, 'well I wear a helmet', which of course is a good idea. But notice that they get concussions in football all the time, and that is while wearing a helmet. It's just plain unwise to slam your head into anything, helmet or not. Even in the holistic healing community, more and more doctors and health coaches are finding that even "minor" concussions can be the cause of a range of health symptoms.
But What About Other Sports?
I realize that the above is not happy news. And in fact, some are saying that ALL professional sports will eventually go away. Why? Partly because injuries, chronic life-long injuries, are sustained in all of them. Commonly. The other reason is that competitive sports are hard driving...they might talk about having fun, but really you're there practicing aggressiveness towards your fellow man, a quality society is becoming less and less interested in tolerating. I also have read that pain-killers (addictive opiates) are often handed out indiscriminately to players, by doctors on the pay-roll.
Life is not a game.
You've got boxing matches happening in hockey (a punch to the head is a concussion), and wrist and arm strain injuries happening in baseball - the pitcher has to throw soooo hard, and with such weird spins... not a natural movement or a kind movement to do with a human arm over and over and over. I don't know about basketball, but I bet it's not exempt.
Not seeming much like 'games' anymore, are they? But many things are like this. We just didn't know any better. That's changing now.
The Good News: Martial Arts for Self-Mastery
To be clear, I'm not against training our bodies. There is nothing competitive or aggressive about going to the gym - you are competing against yourself only.
And in fact, if we look at the vast cultural inheritance that we have called "Martial Arts", like the Shaolin Animal Styles for example, we actually see that training the body leads to us being calmer people, with greater self-control. Plus, by training the body now, we've laying the ground for training the mind later.
Obviously, this VASTLY different training than putting on pads and playing a game of moving a ball down a field. Or into a net. Or into a basket. Shaolin martial arts involve learning breath control, posture awareness, strength, endurance, and flexibility...to very refined levels.
Martial arts are mind-body integrative experience. And training the body now can lead to training the mind later.
But I'm not talking about learning how to beat someone up. I'm talking about training that leads to such self-mastery that you are so calm that you don't even raise your voice unless the situation truly demands it.
Embodying Qualities of Balance
I did three different martial arts myself, and it was some of the most fun I ever had. I especially loved the 'forms' ('katas') of Karate. It was like a dance that brought out vitality and left me feeling amazing, calm, clear, and focused. After I would feel a glow, strong and alive but deeply calm. I can only imagine that the animal forms of Kung Fu/Wushu would be even more amazing.
In learning White Crane form you might be embodying the qualities of balance and grace.
Whereas with Tiger Form you might embody qualities like grounded strength and power.
And then all these qualities are available in our day to day life, making us more effective in the world.
Being active, of course, is great. Working with a team, too is a wonderful thing. But the path to being a Sage, or a Buddha, or a very Calm Person... isn't a path of competitive 'games'. Its more a path of diligent mind-body training, something that feels enjoyable and wonderful. You're not asked to put yourself in harms way.
I have heard that in ancient China, a person would start out as a Warrior, then become a Doctor, and then a Sage.
Warrior - of peace. Strong and calm and vital. Self-control and self-mastery. Doctor - herbs, diet, acupressure, and understanding human beings and healing. Sage - wisdom. Profound understanding of life.
So as we can see, its a fairly clear path of development, and very different from professional sports.
Life is not a game. I can only imagine what would happen if we put out kids into something like the martial arts, getting them started on a path of outer physical training and inner self-mastery... instead of the competitive 'games' we call sports today.
The question might be: are we becoming more calm and wise, or more aggressive and competing?