homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tags

kottke.org posts about football

A deeper metaphor

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2016

Former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch on approaching problems head on:

That might be the best answer to any interview question ever. (via digg)

We Work Remotely

Magical chocolate milk erases concussion effects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

This is America in a nutshell. Instead of banning kids from playing football, as the world’s leading expert on the football-related head injuries urges, a school district is having their football players drink a brand of chocolate milk that has been shown in a preliminary study to “improve their cognitive and motor function over the course of a season, even after experiencing concussions”.

Experimental groups drank Fifth Quarter Fresh after each practice and game, sometimes six days a week, while control groups did not consume the chocolate milk. Analysis was performed on two separate groups: athletes who experienced concussions during the season and those who did not. Both non-concussed and concussed groups showed positive effects from the chocolate milk.

Non-concussed athletes who drank Maryland-produced Fifth Quarter Fresh showed better cognitive and motor scores over nine test measures after the season as compared to the control group.

Concussed athletes drinking the milk improved cognitive and motor scores in four measures after the season as compared to those who did not.

Vice Sports has a quick look at what’s wrong with this study.

See also these new helmets designed to “prevent” concussions. The problem is not poorly designed helmets or lack of magic chocolate milk. Those things only make matters worse by implicitly condoning poor behavior, e.g. if helmets prevent concussions, it’ll gradually result in harder hitting, which will result in more injuries.

Don’t Let Kids Play Football

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2015

Today, the NY Times is running an editorial by Dr. Bennet Omalu called Don’t Let Kids Play Football. Omalu was the first to publish research on CTE in football players.

If a child who plays football is subjected to advanced radiological and neurocognitive studies during the season and several months after the season, there can be evidence of brain damage at the cellular level of brain functioning, even if there were no documented concussions or reported symptoms. If that child continues to play over many seasons, these cellular injuries accumulate to cause irreversible brain damage, which we know now by the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a disease that I first diagnosed in 2002.

Depending on the severity of the condition, the child now has a risk of manifesting symptoms of C.T.E. like major depression, memory loss, suicidal thought and actions, loss of intelligence as well as dementia later in life. C.T.E. has also been linked to drug and alcohol abuse as the child enters his 20s, 30s and 40s.

The story of Omalu, his research, and its suppression by the NFL is the subject of Concussion, a movie starring Will Smith that comes out on Christmas Day, as well as a book version written by Jeanne Marie Laskas.

The manifest glory of JJ Watt

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 09, 2015

I’m increasingly ambivalent about football (see here, here, here), but HBO’s Hard Knocks, the recurring documentary miniseries inside an NFL training camp, is still the best TV show I’ve seen all year.

The show’s stars included coaches, families, undrafted rookies and journeyman free agents, all in orbit around the Houston Texans. A huge part of the draw, though, is all-pro defensive lineman JJ Watt, maybe the NFL’s best player at any position. Watt does freakish things, like flipping half-ton tires end over end, or box-jumping sixty-one inches (kind of like jumping onto the roof of a car from a standstill).

Earlier this summer, Grantland’s Shea Serrano got to run through drills with Watt:

Watt is the best defensive football player on the planet — probably the best football player full stop. His body looks like what Superman would draw if someone asked him to draw what he wanted to look like. My body looks like if someone asked Superman to draw a pile of mashed potatoes wearing shorts.

Sports business may be evil, its fundamental practices barbaric, its media representations distorted and misleading, and its role in American life exaggerated beyond all reason. But god, it’s compelling to watch human beings who are better at what they do than anyone else on the planet, who do things that don’t completely seem possible.

College football is rigged

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 09, 2015

Sports and education are the two parts of American life where our meritocratic fantasies crash hardest into exploitative reality.

In “BROKE,” SBNation’s Spencer Hall has a powerful argument for paying student-athletes, specifically college football players.

When and if [student-athletes] do receive their degree, it might mean even less in terms of real future dollars than those received by their peers. The networking they might have done with others on campus is restricted by their class schedules and practice; the networking with wealthy alumni that might benefit them in business is explicitly forbidden in many instances, something Princeton’s own Michael Lewis points out in The Blind Side. The athlete receives no dividend or funds kept in trust for their well-above-average financial contributions to the university on graduation.

By rule they are separated from the income they make, and by system they are separated from the university education they were promised. They are neither amateurs nor professionals, and effectively moved as undeclared contraband through the United States tax system.

Hall’s argument is intercut with a personal essay about growing up with his own family precariously in and out of poverty. The two halves don’t quite join up, but it helps break some of the abstractions around the amateur ideal and gives the whole thing an added urgency.

Concussion

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

Concussion, starring Will Smith, is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered the link between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and will be out in December.

The movie is based on the 2009 GQ article, Game Brain.

Let’s say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let’s say the scientific community — starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country — comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?

Saw someone on Twitter saying that maybe this will be football’s The Insider. Let’s hope it moves the needle.

Update: From the NY Times, Sony Altered ‘Concussion’ Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests, Emails Show.

In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.

“Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge,” Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote in an email on Aug. 6, 2014, to three top studio executives about how to position the movie. “We’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”

(via @masterofn0ne)

Fire? What fire? Football!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2015

Mt Hermon Fire

Ok, this is one of the strangest photos I’ve ever seen. In the background, there’s a building on fire and in the foreground, there’s a football game going on like there’s not a building on fire right there. From their photographic recap of 1965, In Focus has the story:

Spectators divide their attention as the Mount Hermon High School football team in Massachusetts hosts Deerfield Academy during a structure fire in the Mount Hermon science building on November 24, 1965. The science building was destroyed, and Mount Hermon lost the football game, ending a two-year-long winning streak.

Update: The photo above reminded some readers of this photo, taken by Joel Sternfeld in 1978.

Joel Sternfeld Fire

You’ll notice the fireman buying a pumpkin while the house behind him burns, although there’s a bit more to the story than that.

In 1996, a building burned outside the stadium during the LSU/Auburn game:

(via @slowernet & @davisseal)

Update: Sarah Lyall of the NY Times goes long on the Mount Hermon photo, which was very much real and celebrated when it was initially published.

Even at the time, when the photograph was reprinted around the world, people thought it was too weird to be real. “My colleagues maintain it is a real picture, but I believe it is of the April fool type,” wrote Phil F. Brogan, an editor at The Bulletin newspaper in Bend, Ore. (“I can assure you that the picture was not faked,” replied Arthur H. Kiendl Jr., the headmaster of Mount Hermon, the Massachusetts prep school where the game took place.)

In fact, the photograph, of Mount Hermon’s game against Deerfield Academy on Nov. 20, 1965, was an instant classic. Though the photographer, Robert Van Fleet, never received much in the way of money for it, it was named the Associated Press sports photograph of the year. It was featured on the back page of Life magazine. It was reproduced in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the United States, including The New York Times, often accompanied by supposedly amusing captions about Rome burning, the teams’ “red-hot rivalry” and the like.

The allure of the NFL

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2015

Back in September at the beginning of the NFL season, I wrote a post called I’m quitting football.

I’ve been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I’d catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league’s nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It’s overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won’t be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can’t see each other anymore. And it’s definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

So how did I do? I ended up watching four games this season: a random Sunday night game in week 15 or 16, the Pats/Ravens playoff, the Pats/Colts playoff, and the Super Bowl. I’ve been watching and rooting for the Patriots for the past, what, 14 or 15 years now. And more to the point, I’ve been following the Brady/Belichick storyline for almost that long and once it became clear the Pats had a great shot at winning it all, not watching the final acts was just not going to happen, NFL bullshit or not. It would be like putting down one of the best 1200-page books you’ve ever read with two chapters to go and just saying, yeah, I’m not going to read the end of that. And that game last night…I felt *incredible* when Butler intercepted that pass. Life is full of many greater, more fulfilling, and more genuine moments, but there’s no feeling quite like the one when you realize your team has won, especially when that victory has been snatched, semi-literally, from the jaws of near-certain defeat.

But that’s ultimately weak sauce. I don’t feel justified about watching just because I really enjoyed it. I made a commitment to myself and didn’t honor it. I believe the NFL is still a terrible organization and isn’t worth supporting with my attention. For whatever it’s worth, I’m going back to not watching next year, and I hope I fare better.

Update: Bill Simmons, in an epic recap of the final 12 minutes of the Super Bowl, echoes what I was getting at above.

When you’ve been rooting for the same people for 15 years, at some point the stakes become greater. You want that last exclamation-point title. (Just ask Spurs fans.) You want to feel like you rooted for a dynasty, or something close to it, instead of just “a team that won a couple of times.” You want to say that you rooted for the best coach ever and the best quarterback ever, and you want to be constantly amazed that they showed up to save your sad-sack franchise at the exact same time.

Preparation and the greatest NFL catch ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2014

I know, I know, no football.1 But I could not help seeing this catch last night by NY Giants receiver Odell Beckham. Many are calling it the best catch anyone has ever made in the history of the NFL.

As a player, how do you prepare yourself for making the greatest catch in history? It would be easy to dismiss this catch as a lucky fluke…one-handed, fighting off a defender, just gets it by his fingertips. But here’s the thing: Beckham practices exactly this catch:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Preparation, kids. Preparation.

  1. Aside from the occasional highlight, I still have not watched a single minute of NFL football this year. It’s not been easy, particularly on Sunday nights, where all I want to do most of the time is flip on the game and veg out with a Collinsworth/Michaels soundtrack.

What the ball boy saw

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2014

When he was 17, Eric Kester was a ball boy for the Chicago Bears and saw all the stuff you don’t hear about on TV or even on blogs.

I lay awake at night wondering how many lives were irreparably damaged by my most handy ball boy tool: smelling salts. On game days my pockets were always full of these tiny ammonia stimulants that, when sniffed, can trick a brain into a state of alertness. After almost every crowd-pleasing hit, a player would stagger off the field, steady himself the best he could, sometimes vomit a little, and tilt his head to the sky. Then, with eyes squeezed shut in pain, he’d scream “Eric!” and I’d dash over and say, “It’s O.K., I’m right here, got just what you need.”

And from Vice, the story of former NFL running back Gerald Willhite:

Memory loss is just one of the problems that plague Gerald Willhite, 55. Frustration, depression, headaches, body pain, swollen joints, and a disassociative identity disorder are other reminders of his seven-season (1982-88) career with the Denver Broncos, during which he said he sustained at least eight concussions.

“I think we were misled,” Willhite said from Sacramento. “We knew what we signed up for, but we didn’t know the magnitude of what was waiting for us later.”

When Willhite read about the symptoms of some former players who were taking legal action against the NFL, he thought “Crap, I got the same issues.” He decided to join the lawsuit that claimed the league had withheld information about brain injuries and concussions. He feels that the $765 million settlement, announced last summer and earmarked for the more than 4,000 players in the lawsuit, is like a “Band-Aid put on a gash.”

Still haven’t watched any NFL this year. (via @arainert)

I’m quitting football.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2014

Life-long NFL football fan Steve Almond recently wrote a book called Against Football in which he details why he is no longer watching the game he loves. Ian Crouch talked with Almond for the New Yorker.

Any other year, Steve Almond would have seen the play. But, after forty years of fandom, he’s quit the N.F.L. In his new book, “Against Football,” Almond is plain about what he considers the various moral hazards of the game: “I happen to believe that our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia.”

This part resonated most with me:

Even a casual N.F.L. fan can recognize that this is a particularly opportune time for a Raiders fan to stop watching football. The team is terrible. I asked Almond about that. “If the Raiders were really good, I might not have written the book,” he said. “How fucked up is that? It’s true, I love them. I see those colors, and it’s me.” For Almond, his struggle to confront his own hypocrisy is exactly the point: proof of football’s insidiousness, of its ominous power.

“Football somehow hits that Doritos bliss point,” he told me. “It’s got the intellectual allure of all these contingencies and all this strategy, but at the same time it is so powerfully connecting us to the intuitive joys of childhood, that elemental stuff: Can you make a miracle? Can you see the stuff that nobody else sees? And most of us can’t, but we love to see it. And I don’t blame people for wanting to see it. I love it, and I’m going to miss it.”

I’ve been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I’d catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league’s nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It’s overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won’t be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can’t see each other anymore. And it’s definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

Update: Chuck Klosterman recently tackled (*groan*) this issue in the NY Times Magazine: Is It Wrong to Watch Football?

My (admittedly unoriginal) suspicion is that the reason we keep having this discussion over the ethics of football is almost entirely a product of the sport’s sheer popularity. The issue of concussions in football is debated exhaustively, despite the fact that boxing — where the goal is to hit your opponent in the face as hard as possible — still exists. But people care less about boxing, so they worry less about the ethics of boxing. Football is the most popular game in the United States and generates the most revenue, so we feel obligated to worry about what it means to love it. Well, here’s what it means: We love something that’s dangerous. And I can live with that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates quit watching back in 2012 after Junior Seau died.

I’m not here to dictate other people’s morality. I’m certainly not here to call for banning of the risky activities of consenting adults. And my moral calculus is my own. Surely it is a man’s right to endanger his body, and just as it is my right to decline to watch. The actions of everyone in between are not my consideration.

Same here. I don’t feel any sense of judgment or righteousness about this. Just the personal loss of a hobby I *really* enjoyed. (via @campbellmiller & @Godzilla07)

Tom Brady is the loneliest quarterback on the planet

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 01, 2014

Yesterday, I was looking for a GIF of two people missing a high-five (as one does) and the top hits I got back were all of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

I thought, “the three-time Super Bowl winner and one of his wide receivers trying to high-five and missing each other’s hands? That’s pretty funny!” Oh no. What is funnier still is Brady trying to high-five one or more of his teammates and the other players totally ignoring him. What’s even funnier than that? This has happened over and over again.

Against the Ravens:

BradyWhiff.gif

Against the Saints:

original

And against the Steelers. (These are all just from last season, and all Patriots wins, by the way):

Brady Whiff

Nobody likes a pity five.

NFL Films even made a “Give Brady a high-five” video, which led to this spoof PSA:

If Glenn Burke and the 1977 Dodgers show us the original spirit of the high-five, Tom Brady and the 2013 Patriots show us that the high-five evangelist’s work is never done.

(via Boston.com and SB Nation)

Richard Sherman and the value of preparation

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2014

Richard Sherman is a football player for the Seatt…hey, HEY!, you nerds that were about to wander off because I’m talking about sportsball, come on back here. Like I was saying, Sherman plays cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl last year. The thing is, whatever it is you do, Richard Sherman is way better at his job than you are at yours. And he’s able to explain how he does what he does, which, if you’ve ever been to a technology conference or read more than a thing or two linked from Hacker News, you know is even more rare.

Sherman is, by his own admission, not particularly athletically gifted in comparison to some others in the NFL, but he’s one of the top 5 cornerbacks in the game because he studies and prepares like a mofo. In this video, he explains how he approaches preparing for games and shares some of the techniques he uses to gain an advantage over opposing quarterbacks and receivers.

Sherman is obviously really intelligent, but his experience demonstrates once again the value of preparation, hard work, and the diligent application of deliberate practice.

Barry Sanders, GOAT

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2014

A nice appreciation of Barry Sanders by Andrew Sharp at Grantland.

“Barry Sanders is my new idol,” Bo Jackson said after a Raiders-Lions game in 1990. “I love the way the guy runs. When I grow up, I want to be just like him.”

The Raiders won that game, and the Lions were 4-9 at the time, but it didn’t even matter.

All anyone could talk about afterward was the “little water bug” who “might rewrite history.”

This wasn’t necessarily a metaphor for Barry’s entire Lions career — he was on more playoff teams than people remember — but it definitely covers about half the years he spent in Detroit. Even when the Lions were awful, Barry would still have a few plays every game that would keep people gawking afterward.

Bo Jackson had a similar effect on people, which is part of what makes that old quote so cool. The Bo Jackson combination of speed and power is something we’d never seen before and haven’t seen since. He was a cult hero then, and the legend has only grown over the years.

I’ve always been an atypical sports fan. I grew up in Wisconsin rooting for the Packers & Brewers but switched to being a Vikings & Cubs fan sometime in high school. But despite following the Vikings at the time, my favorite player in the NFL was Barry Sanders. For my money, Sanders was pure symphonic excellence in motion, the best running back (and perhaps player) the NFL had ever seen and maybe will ever see. I wonder if one of the reasons why I like Lionel Messi so much is because he reminds me of Sanders; in stature, in strength, in quickness, in skill. Compare and contrast some of their finest runs:

Running from the knowledge

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2014

Every year, a bunch of folks play a game called Last Man, in which the participants attempt to be the last person to find out the result of the Super Bowl. TLDR did an entertaining podcast on this year’s contestants.

Update: The New Yorker recently ran a piece on the Last Man game.

Most of the runners, however, found themselves waking up each day in a cold sweat. “I feel like I’m being sequestered for the stupidest jury trial in modern history,” one competitor said. “It’s gotten to the point where three things may end me: recklessness, homesickness, or sheer boredom.”

Breaking Madden

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2014

Jon Bois attempted to create the most lopsided game ever in Madden NFL on his Xbox. He beefed up the players on one team (7’0”, 440 lbs, good at everything) and put a bunch of scrubs on the other team (5’0”, 160 lbs, bad at everything). He started playing and was on pace to score more than 1500 points when…

With just under two minutes left in the first quarter, I was winning 366 to zero. I realized that I was on pace to score 1,500 points in a single game. I had never conceived of such a high score. I’d never even heard anyone talk idly about such a thing. There was absolutely nothing the Broncos could do to slow down my pace. I could score just as surely as someone can point and click. It was great. I wanted to ruin Madden in a way I never had before, and I was doing it.

And then it happened. Before I tell you what happened next, I want to lay out a couple of things: first, I made no actual hacks to this game. I didn’t have some special jailbroken Xbox, nor a special copy of Madden, nor anything like that. I bought my Xbox at Target and bought my copy of Madden off Amazon, and that’s that. Second, I stake whatever journalistic integrity I have upon the statement that I didn’t Photoshop any of this, and that it happened just as I say it did.

This is LOL funny in several places…particularly the GIFs. (via @delfuego)

The 2013 NFL season in 160 seconds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2014

If you haven’t been watching the NFL at all this season but are planning on tuning into the Super Bowl, this video by ESPN will prepare you by recapping the entire season in under three minutes.

If you want something more specific, try Wikipedia or SB Nation. (via devour)

More hilarious bad lip reading of NFL players

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2014

The first installment was a classic, but this second video of NFL players and coaches overdubbed with alternate dialogue is pretty great as well.

(via devour)

Bad British NFL commentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2014

From the clueless British announcer who brought you this bad baseball commentary (“No! Caught by the chap in the pajamas with the glove that makes everything easier. And they all scuttle off for a nap.”) comes some hilariously misinformed NFL game commentary.

Alabama’s fullback has a handkerchief in his back pocket. He must have a cold but he’s pressing on regardless. That’s stoicism for you.

On the intelligence of football players

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2014

Michael Lewis made the case in The Blind Side that football players are the smartest in sports because the game is complex and moves fast. For the New Yorker, Nicholas Dawidoff takes a look at what makes a football player smart.

The Redskins’ London Fletcher is undersized and thirty-eight years old, but he’s been able to play for so long because he is a defensive Peyton Manning: seeing the game so lucidly, yelling out the offensive play about to unfold, changing alignments before the snap, organizing the field in real time. Similarly, Lavonte David, who has been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two years, is just two hundred and thirty-four pounds — ten to fifteen pounds lighter than most at his position — the Wonderlic scores out on the Internet for him are not especially high, and, like all players, he makes the occasional boneheaded play. But he possesses dedicated study habits and a football clairvoyance that, come Sunday, finds him ignoring the blocking flow only at the one moment during a game when the offense runs the ball away from it.

The Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Alan Page weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds, the dimension of a modern fullback. Even so, Page was terrifying. His forty-yard-dash time wasn’t anything special, either, but he says that he could run down faster opponents because he always had sense where he was in relation to the blur of bodies around him-he could “understand the situation.” Page is now an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. “Being a football player requires you to take your emotional self to places that most people shouldn’t go,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to get to know the person who was in my head on a football field. I likely see some of these people in my current job — those who can’t control that person — and they do not very nice things.”

I asked him, “You could control that person on a field?”

“Most of the time,” Page said.

The safety, standing at the rear of the defense, must compensate for the mistakes of others; football intelligence matters more at this position than any other on the defense. At five-eight, a hundred and eighty-eight pounds, the Bills safety Jim Leonhard, a nine-year veteran, is among the smallest and also the slowest starting defensive backs in the game. And yet, watching him on film, he appears to teleport to the ball. Leonhard’s name seems to enter any conversation about football intelligence; he knows every teammate’s responsibilities in every call, and understands the game as twenty-two intersecting vectors. “He’d walk off the bus and you’d think he was the equipment manager,” Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “He’s still in the league because he’s the quarterback of the defense.”

The best and worst NFL announcers

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2013

Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.

In general, there are three types of announcer comments: good, neutral and bad. Good statements offer some type of insight into the game. This is inherently subjective, since different people know different things. Neutral statements constitute the bulk of their utterances: neither offensive nor insightful. As a result, I decided to measure the bad statements.

I divided announcers’ verbal infractions into six categories that are not simply pet peeves, but likely to be annoyances for a majority of NFL viewers.

Happy to see Chris Collinsworth near the top of the heap…he’s my favorite and, while a bit goofy sometimes, offers the best post-Madden analysis in the game. Siragusa and Gruden are like nails on the chalkboard, surprised they didn’t rank much worse.

Football as Football

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2013

Football as Football is a collection of American football team logos in the style of European football club badges. Here are badges for the Detroit Lions (in the Italian style) and New England Patriots (in the Spanish style).

 
Football As Football 01

 
Football As Football 02

The coach who never punts

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2013

Kevin Kelley is the head football coach at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. In games, he instructs his team to never punt, to never receive punts, and almost always onside kick.

The numbers Kelley cites are that eye-popping. And he isn’t cooking the books: Cal professor David Romer concluded that teams should not punt when facing fourth-and-4 or less; NFL stats analyst Brian Burke has detailed the need to rethink fourth-down decision-making; Football Outsiders has conflated punts with turnovers. You’ve even read about it on this site. Most fans and analysts who are willing to accept that change is a fundamental part of life have embraced the idea that automatically punting on fourth down doesn’t make sense.

Since Kelley took over, Pulaski is 124-22 and has won three state titles.

More former NFL stars have head troubles

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2013

Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett is among a growing group of former NFL players who have been diagnosed with diseases caused by years of head trauma and other injuries.

The former Cowboys running back, now 59, said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.

Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games.

“I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there,” he said.

The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and eighth all-time leading NFL rusher said he has trouble controlling his emotions and is prone to outbursts at his wife and daughters.

“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me.” After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, “It’s painful.”

And I missed this last year, but former Bears QB Jim McMahon is suffering from early-stage dementia.

In an interview with Fox affiliate WFLD-TV, aired Wednesday, the 53-year-old McMahon says he knows where he’s going when in an airport. But when he meets people, “I’m asking two minutes later, ‘Who was that?’

“When my friends call and leave me a message … I’ll read it and delete it before I respond and then I forget who called and left me a message.”

McMahon says he is not worried about his mind withering away. He says he still reads a lot and is doing other things to keep his mind active. However, he said he doesn’t know whether he is getting worse.

These stories are just going to keep coming. Perhaps a true tipping point will come when one of the league’s past megastars is dianosed with CTE…if Brett Favre or Dan Marino or John Elway or Troy Aikman or Ray Lewis or any of the other former players that appear regularly on NFL game broadcasts announces he has CTE or dementia, maybe then the league will take real action? Or not? (via df)

League of Denial

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2013

League of Denial, the Frontline documentary on the NFL and concussions, is available online for anyone to watch for free.

NFL deliberately campaigned against science regarding head injuries

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2013

According to an upcoming book by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the NFL “conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage”.

Excerpts published Wednesday by ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated from the book, “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” report that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league’s own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.

Excerpts of the book are available from ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. An episode of Frontline based in part on the book airs next week. Interestingly, ESPN was collaborating with Frontline on this program, but they pulled out of it in August.

Meet the players in the East/West College Bowl

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2013

Saw this awhile ago and was reminded of it b/c of a clip on Monday Night Football last night: comedy duo Key & Peele poke fun at the increasingly creative names and alma maters of football players in this sketch.

Nyquillus Dillwad, D’Pez Poopsie, Fartrell Cluggins, Ladennifer Jadaniston, and Benedict Cumberbatch are all on my fantasy team this year. See also last year’s video. (Davoin Shower-Handel!)

How the NFL fleeces taxpayers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2013

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the NFL is a highly profitable business. But it might come as a shock that the league enjoys nonprofit status. From Gregg Easterbrook: How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers.

Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn’t apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It’s time to stop the public giveaways to America’s richest sports league — and to the feudal lords who own its teams.

NFL TV maps for 2013

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2013

It’s NFL season again and it’s time to tune into the NFL TV maps site to find out when your favorite team isn’t on TV because the network is contractually obligated to show the pathetic Jets.

Standing between harm and others

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 29, 2013

I played football in high school, specifically offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. So did my older and younger brothers, and my older brother coaches linemen and defense at a high school in Michigan. I started out first in middle school and high school as a defensive specialist, which makes sense given John Madden’s theory of linemen.

Madden used to say that offensive linemen were overwhelmingly big kids who grew up to be big men, who’d always been told not to pick on but to protect kids smaller than them. Defensive linemen, on the other hand, were little kids who grew up fighting with other little kids (and often bigger kids) but who grew up to be big men. That’s what I was: a skinny kid who became a fat adolescent who became a big, strong teenager. (Now I’m a strong, fat writer, so that’s how that turned out.)

Madden said the problem is that offensive linemen still need to be as tough and aggressive as defensive linemen, but they always hold something back. Some of this is part of the rules of football: offensive linemen literally can’t do everything a defensive lineman can do to them. So what Madden would do is take a tackling dummy and let his offensive linemen beat the hell out of it. Punch it, tear it, throw it across the room, it doesn’t matter. Help them get to a point where they’re no longer worried about being over-aggressive.

College football reporter Spencer Hall writes:

You should know this about offensive line coaches: they are large, demanding men with Falstaffian appetites, jutting jaws, and no governors on their speech engines. They eat titanic portions. They cram their lips full of dip in film study like they are loading a mortar. They drink bottled water like parched camels, and in their leisure time would consider a suitcase of beer to be a personal carry-on item for them, and them alone. They are terrifyingly disciplined in the moment, and nap like large breed dogs when allowed.

Now, even if Madden’s amateur psychobiography of linemen were true when he was coaching, it’s not true any more. In the 1990s, coaches got really good at taking tall but relatively slender athletes from every position, bulking them up, and sticking them at offensive line.

In high school, we played this guy named Jon Jansen, who ended up becoming a star offensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, then coming home to Detroit and playing one year for the Lions before becoming an announcer. In high school, he weighed almost 100 pounds less than he did as a pro. He was listed then at 6’8”, 230 lbs, and played tight end and middle linebacker. He was FAST. They moved him all over the field, catching touchdowns and uprooting people. It was chaos.

He went to Michigan, they redshirted him for his freshman year, and came back weighing 300 lbs and playing offensive line. Jansen told Bob Costas that he thought between 15 to 20 percent of NFL players were using illegal performance enhancing drugs, noting that the NFL didn’t then test for human growth hormone. I remember when I was still in high school reading a long profile of the University of Nebraska’s offensive linemen that attributed their huge gains in mass and strength to weightlifting and creatine. Draw your own conclusions about what was happening in pro and college football at the time.

This is all to say that what offensive linemen do in football is not well understood. When the NFL finally started to act on widespread concussions and the resultant uptick in chronic traumatic encephalopathy — if you never have, please read about the life and death of Dave Duerson — they focused on open-field helmet-to-helmet hits and defensive players targeting quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers (so-called “skill positions”). They ignored the constant battering that offensive linemen take, how repeated brain injury poses the greatest risk for long-term problems, how linemen are rewarded for staying on the field and playing through pain, and the ways in which they’re encouraged to both be more aggressive and prioritize someone else’s safety over their own.

Kurt Vonnegut said that his chief objection to life in general was that it was “too easy, when alive, to make horrible mistakes.” This is what offensive line coaches live with: the notion that for every five simple circles drawn on a board, there are a nearly infinite number of possible threats looming out in the theoretical white space. Offensive plays give skill players arrows. Those arrows point down the field toward an endzone, a stopping point, a celebration. Those five simple circles stay on the board in the same place, and are on duty forever.

They are rough men in the business of protection.

Today, Hall has one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, human pieces on offensive linemen I’ve ever read, and which I’ve been quoting here throughout. It’s called “The Business Of Protection,” and subtitled “It Is Never, Ever About You.” It’s a story about Vanderbilt University’s offensive line coach Herb Hand, who suffered a sudden and life-threatening brain hemorrhage waiting in line at a hotel breakfast bar on a recruiting trip. But Hand’s story manages to become equally about football, fatherhood, the brain, the heart, how we defend ourselves from what’s horrible in the things we love, and how we defend the people closest to us from ourselves.

When Hand had to have the impossible conversation — the one where you, with cellphone, stuck in a hospital far away from home, might have to say the last words you ever say to your children — he did what he was trained to do. He told them that he loved them, and that everything would be okay. The second part of that might not have been true at the time. The emergency room doctor certainly didn’t think so, and neither did Hand. But standing between harm and others is what linemen do, even if there’s little hope to be had in the face of numbers, size, and speed. There is a dot on the board, and a shield held against whatever slings and arrows lurk in the ether. It stands against harm until it cannot any longer.

Update: While I was writing this post, the NFL and 4500 former players (about one-third of the 12000 still living) reached a mediation agreement to settle a number of lawsuits over concussions for $765 million.

This figure includes legal fees, medical exams, the cost of noticing former players, and $10 million for research and education on the long-term effect of brain injuries, leaving $675 million to compensate former players who’ve suffered cognitive injuries (or, if dead, their families). The settlement applies only to players who’ve retired by the time court approves its terms. Current players will need a separate agreement to be compensated for existing and future injuries, and the NFL admits no liability.

As Buzzfeed sportswriter Erik Malinowski notes on Twitter: “Holy crap, what a bargainESPN pays $1.9 billion *every year* for Monday Night Football. 4,500 ex-players will get 40% of that (once) for decades of head trauma.”