The Fate of Modern Day Gladiators

October 12th, 2009 by Nick Jacobs Leave a reply »
The warrior in the picture is my buddy and grandson, Jude. He is about to go to war for candy. It’s his Halloween costume, but a fitting example of a warrior, and one that works well for the topic of this blog post.

Jude

When I first saw this picture, it reminded me of my peers who are out there in the day to day fight trying to work their way through the current financial crisis. Then the picture reminded me of a much bigger and more threatening challenge. Last week’s New Yorker ran an article entitled “The Catastrophist” by Elizabeth Kolbert. It was about another type of warrior, James Hensen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He is fighting for our children and their children’s future. He is the top scientist for NASA who successfully made early recommendations about chlorofluorocarbons creating holes in the Ozone, and was instrumental in getting the world to ban them and stop the holes in the atmosphere from progressing.

For the last several years, he has been fighting a personal war to get the world to take the steps necessary to stop global warming before it is too late. At a recent rally in New Hampshire, he described our situation as a one in which, “climate history is being run in reverse and at high speed, like a cassette tape on rewind. Carbon dioxide is being pumped into the air some ten thousand times faster than natural weathering processes can remove it.”

The world has not yet responded to his and the majority of scientists discoveries, but he fights on for his grandchildren while the pundits say it is all hype and without substance. “The world goes through cycles,” they say, “and this is just another cycle.”

Then, I read a comprehensive article by Malcolm Gladwell in this week’s New Yorker magazine (I know, I know – It’s New York) …entitled “Offensive Play.” Mr. Gladwell examined the realities of professional football, boxing, NASCAR, and the world of fighting dogs that can only be described as painfully chilling. In this treatise, he examined the frequency and degree of damage that professional football players endure from multiple head injuries. In fact, it was not limited to professional football players, but players of all levels.

Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with Dr. Joseph Maroon, being taken away after sustaining a concussion.
Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback  Ben Roethlisberger after sustaining a concussion – Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press

He met with scientists who have studied the autopsied brains of these men, men who have made their living as modern day gladiators and warriors. Men who, as he described it, “had game.” No matter the degree of injury, they were ready and driven to get back in and play. He likened this attitude to Marines and young doctors and asked the question “If you have people who are willing to march over a cliff for you, you cannot march them close to the edge of the cliff?’

In this analysis, he gave the example of a veteran football player who might be exposed to 18,000 head hits during a ten year period. He also provided example after example of famous NFL players who had tragic endings to their lives because of these injuries. These were often times great player who became abusive toward loved ones or lost their personal direction in life and committed suicide.

These “modern day gladiators,” not unlike boxers, have some degree of information regarding the potential risks that they face. But, also like boxers, about 22%  of whom end up with dementia, they will most likely continue to do this work as long as we are willing to pay them millions in order to observe their physical prowess.

NASCAR, on the other hand, has worked year after year to improve survivability of their drivers from even horriffic accidents. NASCAR can make their sport relatively safe, but football has a much greater challenge because helmets don’t really stop the impact of hitting your head at 80 miles or more an hour, the equivalent of going through an automobile windshield at that speed. Yet a NASCAR driver escaped injury in a head on collision of 180 miles an hour last year.

NJ_cover_comp2Maybe the idea of having “game” is not limited to football, or soldiering, or medicine. If you look at the level of stress that many executives endure with the blessing and even pressure to do so from their bosses, their stakeholders, and their stockholders, the same type of moral question seems to surface. Kevlar gas tanks keep Grand Prix automobiles from exploding. What keeps modern day gladiators from exploding? Clearly, it is not more Yang.

I’m just the reporter, and this reporter is going to borrow my grandson’s battle gear as I fight on through the economic downturn. By the way, my new book,  You Hold Em. I’ll Bite Em. should be out next month. Talk about the result of a head injury. We played without pads or helmets!

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