Over the seven years I have attended the CFL Player's Association Annual General Meeting in the world's largest playground of Las Vegas, I have found that you can always count on a prevailing theme to emerge from the conference and inundate your thoughts after the discussions, and this year was no different.
After three days of meetings with Reebok, the commissioner and his legal representation, our legal counsel, and the CFLPA executive, I found myself concerned with one issue more than any other as I boarded the 8:30 p.m. direct flight back to Winnipeg: player safety and the future of the game of football. Period.
This obviously sounds like a dramatic assessment to make when you realize that the numbers for the CFL were better in 2010 than they have ever been. We learned this year that we beat the NHL on average viewership per game, and anytime football surpasses hockey north of the border it's a big deal. Even when it comes to merchandising, the Saskatchewan Roughriders sell the third most apparel out of any team in Canada right now, just after the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. That being said, allow me to share with you some of the information we were run over with that led me to draw such a conclusion.
According to information from a UNC study we were shown, "Repeatedly concussed NFL players had five times the rate of mild cognitive impairment (pre-Alzheimers) than the average population." The same study also showed that, "...retired NFL football players suffer from Alzheimer's disease at a 37 per cent higher rate than average." Going into this conference we were all somewhat familiar with the long term consequences of playing football, but not to the depth that was introduced at our meetings.
Next we were shown that Time Magazine had produced a story about football called The Most Dangerous Game, and the author, Sean Gregory, concluded that, "Men between the ages of 30 and 49 have a one in a thousand chance of being diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimers, or another memory related disease. An NFL retiree has a one in fifty-three chance of receiving the same diagnosis." This was around the moment in Las Vegas where a collective 'thunk' was heard as all of our jaws hit the floor. These are not CFL statistics, but you would have to be pretty naive to think that these facts do not apply to our game as well.
By this point, morale was already at an all time low at Planet Hollywood, but then, if you can imagine, things got worse as we were shown the findings by Michael Glueck M.D. and Robert Cihak M.D. who wrote, "It is not a widely disseminated, downloaded or discussed fact that the average life expectancy for all pro football players, including all positions and backgrounds, is 55 years. Several insurance carriers say it is 51 years." According to this math, if I can live for another 19 years I will be beating the average! (Insert false enthusiasm here.) After hearing this sobering fact, I have to admit, I stopped paying so much attention to our report on the CFLPA pension plan, as it kind of defeats the purpose of saving money for retirement when you learn that most all of the people that work in your industry die 10 years before the normal age of retirement in Canada of 65.
I don't have any children at the moment, but if I do end up having a son I can honestly tell you I'm not sure right now whether he should play football and whether I would even encourage him to. Though the game has changed my life in numerous beneficial ways and afforded me opportunities, exposure, and a lifestyle I have always coveted, only in the last few years have the results of studies like these been coming out and people in our game made aware of the damage we are doing to ourselves.
These life-altering consequences and hazards of playing football are still not mainstream yet, but what do you expect will happen to participation at the grass roots level when it does? You don't have to be a professional football player to traumatize and permanently injure your brain. It happens at all levels of the game.
Before I go start working on my will this afternoon, I will leave you with the results of a Head Trauma-G-force study done by the University of Oklahoma that we also saw in Las Vegas. It tells us that, "Head to head lineman impact G-force," is 20 to 30 Gs. It also tells us that the, "G-force required for a fighter pilot to pass out," is five to six Gs. What happens to a lineman that plays 15 years of professional football and on average, experiences "head to head lineman impacts" 60 times a game, roughly 18 times a year?
I guess we are not going to have to wait too long to find out.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive tackle for the Blue Bombers and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.