FoxNews.com published a piece on Monday claiming in no uncertain terms that scientific concerns about both football-related concussions and global warming are not backed by hard evidence.
The piece, written by Dylan Gwinn, who is appropriately enough the author of a book titled "Bias in the Booth: An Insider Exposes How the Sports Media Distort the News,” argued that the media is overhyping both issues in hopes of exploiting the public’s “fear and angst”:
Don’t look now, but concussions have become the new global warming: a debate where “consensus” trumps evidence, and heroes and villains are determined by their stances on an issue where the science is bogus at worst and murky at best.
What we know for sure is that, as with the climate-change debate, the media will feed us nothing but a steady diet of fear and angst. And the facts that show football isn’t killing people will be an inconvenient truth.
A number of people in recent weeks have questioned whether football is actually dangerous. The NFL-affiliated doctor Joseph Maroon argued last week on the NFL Network that the sport is actually safer than bicycling, and the right wing political site Breitbart recently published this headline, which really speaks for itself:
— Maxwell Strachan (@maxwellstrachan) March 18, 2015
It’s true that there’s a lot we still don’t know about the long-term effects of concussions. Scientists are still figuring out just how much cognitive damage concussions cause at a young age cause, and the exact link between concussions and the brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is still a work in progress, as well as our understanding of the full effects of that disease.
But just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we know nothing. We know that while NFL reported that concussions have dropped in recent years, there were still at least 111 in the league last season. We know that the vast majority of former NFL players who posthumously donated their brains to the nation’s largest brain bank -- 76 of 79, by one count -- showed evidence of degenerative brain disease. We know that football leads to more emergency room visits for traumatic brain-related injuries among boys age 10-19 than any other activity. And we know that former NFL players who started playing football before age 12 have more cognitive issues later in life than those who started playing later on, according to a recent study.
As evidence of their position, FoxNews.com and Breitbart correctly note that the link between suicides and concussions remains “murky." And the Breitbart article references a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that found NFL players live longer than the typical American man. That’s true: Professional athletes are on average healthier than the typical slovenly male. But NIOSH also found in January 2013 that NFL players were more than three times as likely to obtain brain and nervous system disorders.
Here’s a chart that goes into a bit more detail:
We don’t know a lot about the dangers of football, but we certainly know something -- and the evidence is mounting. Arguing that we should ignore signs that football could be dangerous would be akin to having denied evidence of deleterious health consequences associated with cigarettes.
Oh, and by the way, 97 percent of scientists, who usually live to deal in things like “scientific evidence,” agree that humans are causing global warming when they express an opinion of any sort. There’s not really much debate there anymore.