7 reasons to boycott the Super Bowl from a medical standpoint

7 reasons to boycott the Super Bowl from a medical standpoint

You’ve probably watched the Super Bowl as I have many times, faithfully, elevating the occasion to some kind of macabre family tradition. It is a spectacle of athletic agility, drama, and struggle; the pinnacle of American sporting contests. Despite the heavy onslaught of commercialism, faux halftime culture, and evident violence on the field, we suspend our awareness that this event may not be a magical moment worth our time and validation, even as its winners call out to some magical Disney kingdom.

Here are 7 points to consider:

7. Obesity and cardiovascular disease. Up to 45% of youth participating in football are overweight or obese. The nature of the sport favors, and increasingly demands, a large body size. The physique acquired in adolescence often persists into adulthood.
According to a 2007 study of 653 boys ages 8-14 playing football in Michigan, 20% were overweight and another 25% were obese, as defined by body mass index. Studies have shown that linemen have high early mortality rates, and for all professional players who have played 5 years or more, life expectancy is less than 60.

6) MRSA infections and abscesses. Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have suffered from it.

In 2003, five members of the St. Louis Rams developed large abscesses due to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

In 2002, two members of the USC football team were hospitalized, with one requiring multiple surgeries and skin grafts. The following year USC football reported 17 players contracting MRSA infections requiring incision and drainage.

A 2007 survey of collegiate football players found an infection rate of 6.7%.

Three studies completed by the Texas Department of State Health Services found that at least 276 high school football players in Texas were infected with MRSA between 2003-2005, at a rate that was 16 times higher than the national average.

MRSA infections can be fatal. Football is a particularly risky sport for contracting MRSA due to skin abrasions, potentially contaminated turf, sharing of towels, poor hygiene, and high antibiotic use (in the case of the St. Louis Rams study, players were given antibiotics at 10x the rate of the general community).

5. Heat illnesses. CDC researchers analyzed cases of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke among players of 9 types of sports at 100 high schools. 70% of illnesses occurred among football players, many of whom were overweight or obese. This translates into roughly 6,400 annual heat-related illnesses resulting in at least one day of athletic participation lost.

4. Spectator heart attacks. The most vivid anecdote of this phenomenon may be the story of a Pitttsburgh Steelers fan who went into ventricular fibrillation, a lethal heart rhythm, as he watched Jerome Bettis fumble while crossing the goal line.

A German study found that cardiac emergencies were over 3 times as likely in men, and almost 2 times as likely for women, during days the German national football (soccer) team played in the 2006 World Cup.

3. Concussions. The violent shaking of the brain against the skull causes a flood of neurotransmitters and discharged neural circuits in the brain, leading to varying degrees of confusion, blurry vision, nausea, dizziness, headache, memory loss, imbalance, and sometimes unconsciousness. Repeated concussions lead to permanent brain injury and long term degenerative brain disease as listed below.

2. Musculoskeletal gore. Athletes become paralyzed from vicious collisions, accidental and malicious. During some games it seems there are more pauses for injuries than forward passes. Microphones capture the crunching sounds, cracking joints, and juice-filled meat poundings of each hyperintense collision. How often can the mob watch breathlessly as another football player lies motionless on the ground, hoping for a twitch to assuage the collective guilt of a blood thirsty audience?
If the sum total of all the torn cartilage, tendons, muscle, skin, and fat were placed in an abattoir-worthy heap it would tower into the sky like an oozing, fetid, bacchanalian monument to human misery. Need references for that claim?

1. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It has been implicated as a cause of depression, completed suicide (football players such as Ray Easterling, Junior Seau, and Dave Duerson), and dementia in untold others. Even mild but repetitive impacts have been associated with long term brain damage, and increasingly attention is being focused towards the negative consequences of the sum total of head trauma.

Perhaps George Will said it best in an editorial in the Washington Post last summer:

In the NFL, especially, football is increasingly a spectacle, a game surrounded by manufactured frenzy, on the grass and in the increasingly unpleasant ambiance of the fans in the stands. Football on the field is a three-hour adrenaline-and-testosterone bath. For all its occasional elegance and beauty, it is basically violence for, among other purposes, inflicting intimidating pain.

So join me in boycotting the Super Bowl and its grandiose commercialism, entertaining violence, and sad risks for the health of its gladiators. Create art, have a conversation with your kid, get a colonoscopy… there are much more edifying pursuits than tolerating, nay worshipping, the violent tendencies within.

“Dr. Charles” is a family physician who blogs at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/vikas.desai.92560 Vikas Desai

    booo, football more than ever is doing everything they can to make the game safer, yet there is more negative press than ever. Roger Goodell is made to look like some kind of dictator but he is making the game safer and is preparing for the overwhelming number lawsuits that the NFL will have to settle. Let’s not pile on. What is important is change, on the high school side lets make coaches and parents accountable for what they are doing to their growing kids. That you shouldn’t have to workout till you vomit in the summertime. The problem is that football gives people a right to act like a total D-bag every sunday(pro), saturday(college), friday(high school). this kind of culture needs to change, no be eliminated

  • Ambulance_Driver

    Thanks, but I’d rather watch football.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-McMahon/100001108154115 Tom McMahon

    I just need one reason: Ray Lewis

    • http://www.facebook.com/Cheryl.A.Handy Cheryl Handy

      Tom, Does Ray Lewis make you want to watch or not watch? Another medical issue: deer antler extract (spray) or IGF1 that is only detectable in blood. NFL only tests urine.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-McMahon/100001108154115 Tom McMahon

        Not watch. That double murder that’s the elephant in the room …

  • http://www.facebook.com/Cheryl.A.Handy Cheryl Handy

    Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. There’s even half time show with kittens. Don’t tell PETA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.parks.58 Jeffrey Parks

    Football is on the way to marginalization, a la prizefighting.

  • AKMaineIac

    I wasn’t going to watch the game, because my team didn’t deserve to play in it this year. But I think I’ll watch anyway now.

  • Michael Cutting

    Why not ban hospitals then, since 60% of all MRSA infections come from hospitals (Uptodate)? Not to mention the the numerous other nosocomial infections.

    Also any exercise for the obese is better than no exercise… Although most lineman don’t make it to 60 yo, the correlation seems off. Most linemen die of cardiomyopthy not coronary artery disease and other chronic conditions as obese people do. Obviously there is another factor at play.

    I think prevention of heart disease rather than avoiding excitability is a better solution to the sports related MI situation.

    Some of the other issue you raise are merely philosophical and not medically related, injuries are common with many activities. Life is at your own risk after-all.

  • drg

    LOL. Good point and well written.

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    What are you, nuts?

    The whole point of health care, and society in general, is to facilitate the Super Bowl. I can’t believe I have to tell you that. Go Niners!

  • Brad White

    Football celebrates violence? That is easily disproven with a simple question: What gets the biggest, most visceral reaction from fans, a nasty injury or a long bomb into the end zone?

    Football is about tough competition, guts, teamwork, strategy, and winning. In short, all the things that make America work!

    • rakyrak

      Really? You must be watching it wrong. It’s modern gladiators; violent, rough, man-to-man, nose-to-nose, trench warfare… And it’s supposed to be.

      I agree with the last paragraph though! It’s an American game with American spirit. And my guess is… the game will be packed and the TVs will all be on ;-)

  • cynholt

    How about the death of spectatorism — exercise by proxy. Why not get off the couch, put down the deep fried banana ice cream puff and take up hiking, biking, golf (walking), exercising the dog (and yourself). How many football games can the average person watch without noticing that their own health is deteriorating?

  • fixkid

    “Up to 45% of youth participating in football are overweight or obese. ” ….Chicken or egg? As a pediatrician, football was typically the only sport where my obese patients could make the team. Most became at least a bit more fit because of it as they otherwise didn’t exercise at all. I do agree with the other 6 points though.

  • Faxon

    Thank you for this beautifully written piece.

  • Jeffrey Martin

    Might I suggest watching the other Football, then? Take 2 hours and watch an English Premier League Soccer match, or an MLS one here at home. Athletic skill, stamina, grace, and yes, some crunching now and then, but not the degree of required physical contact of American football.

    What I do object to is calling it violence. Violence is two guys jumping a third and mugging him. Violence is a murder in a back alley or a school shooting, or the gang rape of a woman like in India.

    Or the the brutal oppression of a people, like in Syria.

    (American) Football players, of every age, know the risks of an OPTIONAL sport, and frankly love it or quick pretty fast. The rules are scaled up from limited physical contact at the entry youth level, escalating with age / body development.

    I get where you are coming from, Dr Charles, but seriously, try and keep some perspective. I find it more likely you just don’t like football, and have an axe to grind. If kids aren’t out playing football, the only sport some of them can be good at, do YOU, Dr. Charles, want them sitting at home playing video games and stuffing their faces? LET THEM LIVE, and for some, football teaches them great teamwork, leadership, and work ethic. For some, it the impetus to keep their grades up, For others, its just <> fun! Lest you think otherwise, I never played, but the value is clear for anyone who looks at the whole picture.

    As for me, I’ll watch Machester City v. Liverpool tomorrow morning and the Super Bowl tomorrow afternoon along with 2 miles on the treadmill, 1 mile walking the dog, and 30 minutes on the bowflex.

    Dr. Jeffrey Martin, Tucson, AZ

  • http://www.facebook.com/judith.gill.54 Judith Gill

    Superbowl parties -an excuse to gorge on fatty foods washed down with plenty of alcohol.

  • tjeptalley

    Lets start a discussion of head injuries suffered by soccer players of all ages, brain damage even without concussions.

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