Tag Archives: science

On Football, CTE, And Its (Not So) Bleak Future

When you love something a lot, you’ll make any excuse possible to keep loving it, no matter how unhealthy it may be. Whether it’s a toxic relationship or skydiving naked over the arctic, our desire to love and preserve such love knows no bounds. It’s a testament to the power of excuses and our capacity for excuse banking.

We’ve all loved something that may or may not be unhealthy, if not downright toxic, at some point in our lives. We may know in the back of our heads that it’s unhealthy. We may even admit it to someone. That still doesn’t stop us from loving it. We’ll still try to find a way to make that love work. Like an alcoholic or a heavy smoker in denial, we don’t want to admit its a problem. In the long run, it often comes back to hurt us.

I say all this because in recent years, there are a growing number of voices calling American football the new tobacco. Apparently, getting hit in the head by a bunch of 200-pound athletes is just as dangerous as inhaling smoke. In the same way smoking contributes to dreaded diseases like lung cancer, football contributes to a new dreaded disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

CTE has become the most dreaded three-letter acronym to football players since ACL. It is a new kind of disease, one that ravages the brain of former athletes. It causes all sorts of horrors such as headaches, memory loss, erratic behavior, dementia, tremors, vertigo, and suicidal tendencies. These are symptoms that can’t get more terrifying without involving explosive diarrhea.

It has already rocked the sport, so much so that it inspired a crappy Will Smith movie called “Concussion.” Sure, it tanked, but it helped raise awareness to the issue for fans and players alike. In wake of the deaths of several high-profile football players, including Hall of Famers like Ken Stabler and Junior Seau, it’s taken on a tragic element that cannot be ignored.

Then, just this past week, a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report that probably has everyone at NFL offices banging their heads against the wall, if only to provide a sense of irony. Of the 111 brains of former football players they studied, 110 showed signs of CTE. In terms of sheer math, you literally can’t get a correlation that more precise without being paid for by oil companies.

This has led many to speculate that football’s days are numbered. Never mind the fact that it’s still, by a wide margin, the most popular sport in America. Never mind the fact that it generates billions in revenue and has some of the most passionate fans of any sport. An issue like this is just too damaging. A disease as awful as CTE is bound to drive people away from this sport, right?

Okay, I’m going to stop with the dire doom-saying rhetoric and call a timeout on the whole conversation. I do so while freely admitting, and admitting proudly, that I love NFL football and football in general. It is my favorite sport. I build my entire Sundays around watching NFL games.

I acknowledge that it’s a violent sport, one that leads to major injuries for various players. I make no excuses in my love for that kind of gladiator-style violence. I’m as human as anyone else reading this blog. Violent sports appeal to the primal parts of our brains. Like admitting you love an extra orgasm every now and then, there’s nothing wrong with admitting you love contact sports.

Does that make fans and team owners bad people for promoting a sport that leads to such a terrible health ailment like CTE? The answer is no. It doesn’t, not unless you’re willing to say car companies and car buyers are terrible people for promoting a product that killed over 32,000 people in the United States alone in 2015.

However, football fans and the NFL can take comfort in the knowledge that car companies have already created a model for addressing issues like CTE. There was no getting around it, even during the days of Henry Ford. Cars could be very dangerous to those who drove them and drove them poorly. Early cars were basically steel death traps.

Since killing customers is never a good business practice, car companies invested heavily in new safety features. They developed now-standard features such as air bags, seat-belts, and even on-board computers that stop your car for you. Cars today are safer than they’ve ever been before.

So how does this help football? A car is different from a human brain by orders of magnitude. The sheer complexity of the human brain ensures that a helmet or an airbag just isn’t going to cut it in terms of protection. We barely understand how the damn thing works. How can we hope to protect it?

Well, keep in mind that people once said the same thing about mapping the human genome. The human brain isn’t some magical object that runs on wizard spells and unicorn farts. It’s a hunk of biomatter no bigger than a football, ironically enough. It operates on the basic rules of chemistry and biology. It’s not some rough-cut diamond wherein one single flaw means it can never be fixed.

The brain can and does heal itself. It has to in a chaotic world that most people struggle to process. Sure, the damage endured by football players is greater than most. You can say that about anyone who spends four hours out of the week putting a target on their head and inviting others to hit it. What you can’t say, however, is that the problem of damaged brains in contact sports is insurmountable.

We’re not talking about teaching quantum physics to a hamster, here. We’re talking about a physical problem with the human body. As flawed as the human body may be, it’s also fairly malleable. The brain is no exception.

Back in 2013, a kid in North Carolina had half his brain cut out to alleviate his debilitating seizures. There’s no amount of head trauma any football player could endure that’s akin to having half a brain cut out. However, the kid recovered and his brain was able to effectively rewire itself so he could live a fairly normal life. That’s because of a little thing called neuroplasticity.

That’s just a fancy technical way of saying the brain can rewire and repair itself. Given how humans adapted in an environment full of giant predators and coconuts falling from trees, we kind of need our brains to do that sort of thing. The only issue is we still don’t understand it. However, we do understand the horrific damage done by diseases like CTE.

Therein lies the flaw in debate surrounding the future of football. It deals with something with which we don’t have a clear understanding. Even those who participated in the CTE study clearly admitted that it had its flaws. One of the researchers said:

“Families don’t donate brains of their loved ones unless they’re concerned about the person. So all the players in this study, on some level, were symptomatic. That leaves you with a very skewed population.”

That’s entirely understandable and a common problem within the realm of science. However, that will do little to alleviate the fear and dread among football players and football fans. We’re already seeing some players retire early due to concerns about concussions. Who can blame them, though? It’s a scary thought, the idea that playing a sport you love will destroy your brain.

However, fear often obscures the lens of reality. Add doom-saying, such as those who think a multi-billion dollar industry like the NFL is going to die, and you can expect reality to disappear from the conversation. The truth, in a sense, is not something you’ll find in a Will Smith movie. It also gives football fans and football players reason to hope.

Since the problem of CTE is a physical health problem, then that means there is a medical solution. Sure, there’s a lot we don’t understand about the human brain or healing it, but you could’ve made that same argument back in the 80s when AIDS was first discovered. For a while, that was a true death sentence. Now, we have treatments that make the disease manageable.

Keep in mind, though, that diseases like AIDS didn’t have a multi-billion dollar industry like the NFL with huge incentives to develop such treatments. When there’s a problem to be solved and there’s a multi-billion dollar industry with an incentive to solve it, you can probably assume said industry will invest billions in treating that problem.

That means if you’re a brain researcher and you develop a treatment for concussions, you can expect a lot of money from the NFL and various sports organizations to support you. Hell, Jerry Jones from the Dallas Cowboys will probably fly you to a resort and have the Dallas Cheerleaders give you unlimited massages.

CTE is a major issue, but it’s a solvable issue. On top of preventative measures like better helmets, medical science can help. That same science is what cured Small Pox, Polio, and is on the verge of eliminating many diseases with tools like CRISPR. It’s more than up to the challenge to tackle something like CTE.

Now that awareness of the disease is growing, you can expect the NFL and medical science to start pressuring it. That’s why football is going to be okay. This isn’t like smoking. This isn’t like human sacrifice. This is a problem that can only be solved with better tools. Say what you will about the flaws in humanity. We’re still exceptionally good at certain things and making tools is one of them.

For the players playing now, it’s definitely scary. However, that’s only because there’s still plenty we don’t know. It’s not an insurmountable challenge though. It is possible to defy the odds. If anyone knows that better than most, it’s NFL players. Just ask the 2007 New York Giants.

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How To Make Sense Of The World In One Easy Step

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When it comes to politics, the news, or general advice, I try to avoid it as best I can on this blog. I want this blog to be a refuge and reprieve from the vast, stinky ass crack that is the real world and the parts of the internet that amplify the smell. That’s why I prefer talking about less dire subjects like sex robots and sex-positive comic book characters.

If I do talk about something that’s in the news or controversial, I usually try to put a humorous and/or sexy spin on it. I don’t want to push an agenda, start a movement, or leader a rally. That’s just too much time and effort that could be better spent talking about hot teachers and bionic penises.

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I know that I sometimes give the impression that I have an agenda beyond selling my novels. I try to minimize that, but sometimes it’ll slip through. I try to avoid it, but I’m not going to apologize either. I’m only human. Every now and then, something I write or say will have some sort of connotation to real world news, events, etc. At the end of the day, I want to make this blog as sexy and fun as my novels.

That being said, I’d like to do something a little different today. No, I’m not going on some sort of political rant. I’m not going to get on a soap box, hold up a sign, and start talking about shape-shifting lizard people. I’ll leave that sort of thing to Alex Jones or the character/troll he allegedly plays.

Instead, I’d like to offer a bit of insight to those still struggling to make sense of the world, the news, and the people claiming that fluoride is an elaborate mind control scheme. It’s not necessarily advice. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I’m as qualified to give advice as I am to build a star ship.

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What I’m offering here is perspective, a precious commodity in a world where everyone has the means of muting messages they don’t want to hear. Anyone who watches the news for more than ten minutes or spends more than five searching for it on their Facebook feed is sure to be overwhelmed, upset, and confused.

It’s just too easy to filter out the news and facts you don’t like. It’s too easy to mold your own agenda into a neat little package that makes you feel content to some extent. Sometimes we do too good a job. Sometimes our agenda is so nice and neat that it does everything other than give us oral sex.

That’s why we need perspective. That’s why we need to step back, see the bigger picture, and understand that we all embrace our own particular brand of fake news, alternative facts, and elaborate excuses. It’s the only way to truly make sense of the world, at least as much as our caveman brains will allow us.

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So here’s how you do it. There’s only one step. It’s free. It’s simple. There’s no complicated instruction manual. It can all be boiled down into three simple words. Brace yourself because this is going to either rock your world, break your heart, or make you yawn. Take a moment if you need to. If not, read along because here it is. Here is the secret to making sense of a chaotic world full of crazy people.

Nobody Knows ANYTHING

Go on. Roll your eyes and laugh. Start calling me names in the comments.  Call me a cuck, a troll, or an agent of the Illuminati. I don’t expect this to blow anyone’s mind or soak anyone’s panties beyond a certain extent. It is, however, as true and honest insight as you’ll ever find in the era of fake news.

Now, I can’t claim to have come up with this on my own. This little bit of insight is actually something one of my old college professors told me on the first day of his class. Before you roll your eyes again, know that this professor could easily have been mistaken for a hobo who just robbed a fancy clothing store. Imagine every pipe-smoking professor you’ve ever had. Now imagine the exact opposite. That’s this guy.

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He dropped this incredible truth bomb on us the first day because he wanted to make clear that he would not be giving us the politically correct version of his class. He was going to be honest in as brutal a way he could without getting fired. The fact he was tenured and admitted to working drunk in the past kind of added to his credibility.

So what exactly did he mean when he said those words? How do they relate to what I mean by it? In the grand scheme of things, it has to do with the certainty we all seek. Our caveman brains, for better and for worse, crave certainty and abhor stress. When we have a gap in our knowledge and understanding, we naturally jump at anything to fill it.

Sometimes it’s a certain news source. Sometimes it’s a certain religion. Sometimes it’s a particular political ideology, social club, or even a TV show. Talk to anyone who was a big fan of “Lost.” They’ll put any charismatic preacher to shame.

Since our brains are so crude and aren’t equipped with a google connection (yet), it doesn’t matter whether or not the source we seek is true. It doesn’t even matter of it’s debunked. Our brains still cling to it because changing our minds causes too much stress and we’ll make any excuse to avoid that stress.

That creates an unavoidable paradox of sorts and I’m not talking about the ones Doc Brown worried about in “Back To The Future.” Our caveman brains are so limited, but they’re wired to seek certainty. However, because of those limits, our ability to achieve certainty on complex issues is next to impossible. In most cases, it is impossible.

Nobody knows for sure what the economy will do today, tomorrow, or even two hours from now.

Nobody knows for sure whether a new product will sell or be a flop.

Nobody knows for sure whether a rookie athlete will be a bust or a hall of famer.

Nobody knows for sure whether a particular movie will be a big box office success like “Deadpool” or an unmitigated disaster like “John Carter.”

Nobody knows for sure whether a law, court decision, or executive order will do more harm than good.

Nobody knows for sure how a new piece of technology will affect society.

Nobody knows for sure whether their theories about life, the universe, and everything in between are accurate.

In the end, nobody knows anything. It’s just that simple.

That’s not to say that we should be inherently doubtful of everything. At most, those who make bold proclamations can only make best guesses. It’s not always accurate, but sometimes it’s fairly close. Other times, it’s just dumb luck. Ask the guy who predicted the Chicago Cubs world series victory in 1993.

We can surmise, speculate, and reason all we want. In the end, nobody really knows anything. Nobody can really be certain. Nobody can have all the facts. That’s why people gravitate towards others who express such certainty. It’s akin to having a superpower. In our minds, having that kind of certainty is right up there with Superman, the X-men, or the Avengers.

Unlike superheroes, though, that certainty is self-delusion at best and a scam at worst. Those who at least try to be reasonable, offering facts and best guesses in extrapolating those facts, deserve a chance and some credibility. If they’re honest, they’ll admit they don’t know everything with absolute certainty. They can be fairly confident, but they can never be completely certain.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a news story, an article, a book, a self-help guru, or a religious zealot. They can only claim certainty, but they don’t know any more than you do. They don’t know anything for certain. That doesn’t make them inherently bad. It just makes them misguided.

I hope this perspective helps. I hope the world makes a bit more sense now. I can only do so much as an aspiring erotica/romance writer. Like everyone else, I don’t know anything with certainty. I know only that I want this blog to be both helpful and sexy. This is just another part of that effort.

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