Nel's New Day

September 25, 2017

Divider-in-chief Attacks Athletes, Ignores Presidential Issues

Forty percent of the states in the United States have a population less than 3.4 million—the population of Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory that is completely without power—perhaps for another six months—after Hurricane Maria hit the island. Seventy-thousand people are in danger of the Guajataca dam’s breaking. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) may send a disaster aid request to Congress in another few weeks while Puerto Rico suffers a humanitarian crisis. Texas got help within a week.

DDT tweeted over a dozen times this past weekend about athletes not kneeling during the national anthem but presidential. Nothing about Puerto Rico. Or North Korea’s claim that DDT has declared war and they will shoot down U.S. even if they’re not in North Korean airspace. Or that DDT is getting deeper into the Russia influence on the presidential election. And certainly nothing about DDT’s most recent problem, that his family and aides—Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Gary Cohn—used government business while he continues to accuse Hillary Clinton of doing this. Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server was a prime fixture in DDT’s campaign against her, and he’s still promoting the “lock her up” argument, as recently as last week’s rally in Alabama.

At the same rally when DDT sort of supported GOP Sen. Luther Strange for election to his appointed position, DDT started a firestorm by demanding the firing of sports players who kneel instead of stand during the national anthem in protest to racial injustice in the country. (You may have heard about this; there are almost 40 million links to the story.) DDT also suggested an NFL boycott and referred to those who kneeled as a “son of a b—-,” an insult the players’ mothers. On ABC’s Sunday news show, This Week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tried to cover for DDT by saying that he means NFL players “can do free speech on their own time.” Mnuchin added that the president is saying “that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem.” To DDT’s profane slur, Mnuchin said that “the president can use whatever language he wants to use.”

The protests moved to London where several Ravens and Jaguars players knelt during the national anthem. Shadid Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jaguars who donated $1 million to DDT’s inauguration, demonstrated solidarity with his players by linking his arms with them. Several professional teams stayed in the locker room during the anthem yesterday, and coaches and owners supported them. The responses from over 30 pro NFL teams is here.

America First Policies, a DDT-supporting PAC, is disseminating an anti-NFL ad called “Turn Off the NFL” on social media to boost DDT’s criticisms. It encourages NFL fans to watch a patriotic movie instead of NFL games.

DDT attacked the NBA as well as the NFL.  LeBron James called DDT a “bum,” and Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, called DDT “an embarrassment in the world.” After the NBA champion Golden State Warriors waffled about accepting an invitation to the White House, DDT said that he was disinviting them although he had not sent them one. DDT personally attacked Warriors star Stephen Curry, who said that DDT’s comments to “target certain individuals … rather than others” are “beneath” his office.

Non-pro teams protested as well.  Garfield’s Bulldogs, including the coaches, knelt during the anthem before the team’s 52-9 Metro League win against West Seattle. A coach asked why people talked about the flag instead of the issues (listed here) surrounding the players’ actions. The third verse of the anthem ridicules black men for seeking freedom from U.S. slavery by joining the British, stating that “the hireling and slave” cannot find “refuge.”

DDT, who avoided military service with “bone spurs,” has tried to make his battle against sports figures about patriotism. He tweeted, “Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag — we MUST honor and respect it!” In a classic blog, Margaret wrote her friend Helen that a sports player has as much right to “taking a knee” as DDT has to say that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) isn’t a war hero because he was captured.

The White House and DDT are trying to avoid the racial overtones of his criticism. DDT overlooked the refusal of Tom Brady, a white player, to accept an invitation to the White House but lambasted Stephen Curry, a black player, for doing the same thing. Colin Kaepernick started the movement over a year ago to protest police brutality against people of color, but this morning DDT tweeted that the protests have nothing to do with race. His war started in a place known for segregation, and conservatives have praised DDT for his brilliant strategy. Yet the statements may have come from DDT’s impulsivity, not his thoughtfulness. He loved the attention he received, however, and continued to dominate the press with his tweets.

The massive internet exchange on the issue of kneeling during the national anthem is reminiscent of events a half century ago during the civil rights protests. Moderate Republicans currently think that blacks should politely sign a petition instead of taking up the cause at the sports games; in 1964, 74 percent of people thought that “mass demonstrations by Negroes” would “hurt the Negro’s cause for racial equality.”

DDT also repeated his argument at the same rally that pro football isn’t violent enough for him. Part of his disjointed babblings in the speech described a “beautiful tackle” and made sarcastic comments about a referee’s wife “sitting at home …. so proud of him” when the ref throws a penalty flag. He said:

“Today if you hit too hard — 15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.’’

In USA Today, Tim Sullivan called DDT’s statement “callous, short-sighted and without nuance, the kind of barstool bluster you hear from those wired to react without research or reasoning.” The calls for more violence came the same week as the revelation that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez suffered from a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Just days before that discovery, a study showed the same brain disease in 110 of 111 former NFL players who had died.

In another study released last week, men who played football before they were 12 have a doubled risk of “problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive functioning” and a tripled danger of “clinically elevated depression scores.” The increased risk is dependent on the number of years playing football and the number of reported concussions. Key brain development in males occurs between ten and 12 years of age, but earlier first exposure to football is connected to worse clinical function.

CTE begins with headaches and loss of concentration and moves to depression, mood swings, short term memory loss, and explosive behavior. The disorder moves to language difficulties, impulsive behavior, and thoughts of suicide as well as cognitive impairment and ends with memory loss combined with dementia. Common causes of death in people suffering from CTE are respiratory failure, cardiac disease, suicide, overdose, and symptoms associated with end-stage dementia and malignancy.

DDT’s latest campaign is to promote violence and concussions for his personal entertainment with indifference to the possibility that the majority of men in the United States will develop symptoms of CTE. Future polls and NFL ratings will determine his success.

February 2, 2014

Super Bowl – Expensive, Deadly

The highest annual worship of football started at 3:30 pm today in New Jersey, as the Seahawks battle the Broncos in New Jersey. Lest you wonder about my use of the word “worship,”  the event represents religion for many of its fans. A national survey from Public Religion Research reveals that about half of the people from the United States who watch sports are under the impression that supernatural forces are at work in the games’ outcomes which are susceptible to prayer, curses, and/or rituals.

“As Americans tune in to the Super Bowl this year, fully half of fans–as many as 70 million Americans–believe there may be a twelfth man on the field influencing the outcome,” said Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert Jones. “Significant numbers of American sports fans believe in invoking assistance from God on behalf of their favorite team, or believe the divine may be playing out its own purpose in the game.”

Football fans are most likely to resort to prayer; 33 percent of them ask God to give them the winning team. They are also more likely to think their teams were cursed (31 percent compared to 18 percent) and to take part in rituals before or during games (25 percent to compared to 18 percent). The same survey found that a plurality of Americans (48%) believe religious athletes are rewarded with good health and success.

Team members join the fans in these religious beliefs, holding prayer circles before, during, and after games. After the Super Bowl, as any other football game, expect players to say “God was with me” or “I give thanks to God.” As for health, the average life expectancy for NFL players is 58 years, compared to 78 for the general male population in the U.S. The suicide rate of NFL players is six times the national average.

The NFL is the real winner of the Super Bowl and pro football. Host cities of the annual event see less than a $60 million increase in their economies while the NFL rakes in big bucks from NFL-generated events and NFL-branded memorabilia. The NFL makes $9 billion each year and pays no taxes because it is declared a non-profit organization.

One person is fighting NFL’s extortion. When New Jersey resident Josh Finkelman found that the cheapest price for a $500 seat is $2,000, he filed a class-action complaint in federal court. According to New Jersey law, tickets can be sold for only 5 percent more than “all available seating for the event.”  Only 1 percent of the 80,000 seats are directly available to the public; 75 percent are distributed among the NFL’s 32 teams, and the NFL keeps the others for officials, media, and important corporate sponsors. Last week seats cost between $2,900 and $962,000 for corporate suites. New Jersey law would dictate that 95 percent of the tickets would be directly available to the public for the tickets’ face value. A class-action suit could involve tens of thousands of people.

The biggest problem with football, however, are the brain injuries. For over a century, there have been whispers about the physical dangers of playing football. In November 1905, 17-year-old Vernon Wise was buried on the field by a number of Hyde Park opponents. The fourth casualty of the game happened when Wise’s replacement was kicked in the head. Wise regained consciousness, told his mother he would give up the game, and died two hours later of a broken back.

Alarmed by the large number of deaths from football that year, President Theodore Roosevelt worked to make the game safer. Over 50 years later, significant equipment and rule changes tried to make the game safer again after an increasing number of head injuries. Greater safety from these changes was short-lived because regulations provide little protection against concussions. The skull may not fracture, but the brain bounces around and hits bone, a worse impact than fracturing.

The NFL makes money on spectacular high-impact play. As players became bigger, stronger, and faster, the danger of concussion grew worse. It is common for players to endure hits that are the same as a 25-mph car crash. Although individual hits cause injuries, the biggest problem is the quantity. Concussions come from a totality of blows, according to a Purdue study.

The danger isn’t only at pro-football level. Neurologists surveyed several hundred high school football players in 2002 and concluded that athletes with three or more concussions were almost ten times more likely to experience persistent amnesia. A 2004 study revealed that football players with multiple concussions were 7.7 times more likely to experience a “major drop in memory performance” and that three months after a concussion they continued to experience “persistent deficits in processing complex visual stimuli.” Athletes with two or more brain injuries demonstrate statistically significant lower grade-point averages than students without concussions.

The damage to the three-pound organ in the skull isn’t determined by the severity of the hit: players can walk away from vicious hits while getting felled by incidental impact. No one knows the length of time the brain requires to heal although the latest surmise is 10 days for adults. Adolescents need longer. During restoration, the brain damage’s side effects are painful bright lights, fragile memory full of holes, and impossible focus. With even a secondary impact during this time, the damage to the brain can be permanent. Teenagers are far more susceptible to these problems because their brains are still developing, particularly in the frontal lobes responsible for self-control and abstract reasoning.

The biggest danger from frequently smashing the brain into the skull is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Symptoms can be indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s—memory loss, mood disorders, and depression. CTE can be definitely diagnosed only after death through dissection of the cortex. A 2009 study, however, found that former players between 30 and 49 have severe memory-related diseases nineteen times the rate of the general population. Ann McKee of Boston University autopsied 15 former players who suffered from various mental conditions, including memory loss and depression, and found CTE in fourteen of them. She also found the irreversible CTE in a multiple-concussed 18-year-old football player, the earliest evidence of CTE ever recorded.

Although more than 60,000 concussions are diagnosed among precollegiate players every year, the true incidence may be approximately 50 percent higher. According to a 2009 study, more than 40 percent of athletes go back on the field too quickly. Sixteen percent of high school football players who lost consciousness went back on the field the same day.

Current equipment can’t stop concussions. Jeffrey Kutcher, chair of the American Academy of Neurology’s sports section, told U.S. Senators, “No current helmet, mouth guard, headband, or other piece of equipment can significantly prevent concussions from occurring … It is extremely unlikely that helmets can prevent concussions the way they prevent skull fractures.” He criticize claims by helmet manufacturers suggesting otherwise, noting that even Riddell’s specialized anti-concussion helmet has only been shown to reduce the rate of concussions by 2.6 percent. Even with better helmets, players would respond with even riskier behavior.

The past whispers of brain injuries from football are developing into a muted shout. The Fox network is broadcasting today’s Super Bowl to a possible 110 million people, but two of their leading athlete/employees, Troy Aikman (Dallas Cowboys) and Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh Steelers), have gone on record about the game’s dangers. Bradshaw concluded he wouldn’t let a son of his play football, and Aikman said he wouldn’t “be real inclined to encourage” a 10-year-old boy to participate. Boxing faded after people noted its dangers.

Tony Dorsett, Cowboys Hall of Fame running back, was diagnosed with CTE last November. He is 59 and has the same buildup of the protein consistent with what dissection reveals in the brains of players with CTE. Former player Dave Duerson committed suicide, leaving a note asking that his brain be examined. He was 50 and had CTE. The same thing happened with linebacker Junior Seau. He was 43 and had CTE. Offensive tackle Rayfield Wright told the New York Times that he is suffering from dementia. He is 68. A year ago, Truth-Out published an article profiling Duerson, Seau, and seven other victims of football CTE.

Dorsett and Wright are among 4,500 plaintiffs suing the NFL for not revealing what it knows about the dangers of repeated head hits. The NFL agreed to settle for $765 million, but a federal judge put the settlement on hold, for fear that it won’t be enough to settle all claims.

Pop Warner football membership is down almost ten percent from 2010., and head injuries are the top reason for decline in participation. Patrick Johnson II, 12, is still playing. His father, president of the North Texas Pop Warner program, said, “Kids are kids. They can get hurt anywhere.” NFL rookie Ryan Swope, 22, has far more sense than Patrick’s father. After three concussions he retired, citing his history with head injuries.

While the NFL tries to get information about CTE quashed, the Major League Baseball (MLB) is working to reduce the number of collisions between catchers and base-runners at home plate. Fans aren’t happy about trying to reduce CTE: 61 percent of voters in an ESPN.com poll said that they are “not OK with” these reforms.

The sports fans of the United States are part of a violent culture.They aren’t interested in the skill of sports and will be satisfied with nothing less than violence. For more information about the result of football violence, check out these Frontline reports.

Now I’m hoping for a roar about the unwarranted deaths of football players.

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