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Offensive Play_Gladwell

Offensive Play_Gladwell - ANNALS OF MEDECINE OFFENSIVE PLAY...

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Unformatted text preview: ANNALS OF MEDECINE OFFENSIVE PLAY How dg‘fimnf are dogfighting and 1%;li .9 BY MALCOLM GLADWELL ne evening in August, Kyie Turley was at a bar in Nashviile with his wife and some friends. It was one of the countless little places in the city that play live music. He’d ordered sheer, but was just sipping it, because he was driv— ing home. He had eaten an hour and a hslfeatlier. Suddenly, he felt a sensation of heat. He was Eight—headed, and began to sweat. He had been having episodes like that with increasing frequency dur- ing the past year—headaches, nausea. One month, he had vertigo every day, bouts in which he felt as ifhe were stuck to a wail. But this was worse. He asked his wife if he could sit on her stool for a moment. The warmup band was stiEl playing, and he remembers saying, “I’m just going to take a nap right here nntil the next band comes on.” Then he was iying on the floor, and someone was standing over him. “The guy was freak» ing out,” Turiey recalied. “He was say— ing, ‘Darnn, man, I couldn’t find a pulse,’ and my wife said, ‘No, no. You were 50 ‘fHE NEW YORKEEL OCTOBfiR I9, 200‘) breathing.’ I’m, like, What? What?’ ” They picked him up. “We went out in the parking lot, and i just lost it," Turley went on. “I started puking every where. I couldn’t stop. I got in the car, stiil puking. My wife, she was really scared, because I had never passed out iike that before, and I started becoming really garanoid. I went into a panic. We get to the emergency room. I started to iose controi. My limbs were shaking, and I couldn’t speak. I was conscious, butI couidn’t speak the words I wanted to say.” Turley is six feet five. He is thirtyufour years old, with a square jaw and blue eyes. For nine years, before he retired, in 2007, he was an offensive lineman in the National Football League. He knew all the stories shout former footbail players. Mike Webster, the longtime Pittsburgh Steeier and one of the greatest piayers in N.F.L. history, ended his iife a re“ cluse, sieepéng on the floor of the Pitts— burgh Amtrak station. Another former An offensive lineman can’t do 29231395 tL 0&0 ”Emfi‘xawdxmwwfig mEOmmxmmzsz gm z‘w‘auma—relaz‘ed degeneration z'ng #56 hair?! ofex-NFL. player; 5am f and 2?? 2'5 thud, ” am wimzrz says, 5w neuropaz‘boiagistj exam 5 Hang : n Pittsburgh Steeler, Terry Long, drified into chaos and killed himself four years ago by drinking antifreeze. Andre Wa— ters, a former defensive back for the Phil— adelphia Eagles, sank into depression and pleaded with his girlfriendm“l need help, somebody help me”—«-before shoot— ing hirnselfin the head. There were men with aching knees and backs and hands, from all those years of playing football. But their real problem was with their heads, the one part of their body that got hit over and over again. “Lately, I’ve tried to break it down,” Turley said. “I remember, every season, multiple occasions where I’d hit someone so hard that my eyes went cross~eyed, and they wouldn’t come uncrossed for a full series of plays. You are just out there, trying to hit the guy in the middle, bow cause there are three of them. You don’t remember much. There are the cases where you hit a guy and you’d get into a collision where everything goes of? You’re dazed. And there are the others Where you are involved in a big, long drive. You start on your own fivewyard line, and drive all the way down the fieldwfifteen, eighteen plays in a row sometimes. Every play: collision, coili— sion, collision. By the time you get to the other end of the field, you're seeing spots. You feel like you are going to black out. Literally, these white explosionsw 500m, boom, boom—fights getting dim— mer and brighter, dimmer and brighter. “Then, there was the time when I got knocked unconscious. That was in St. Louis, in 2003. My wife said that l was out a minute or two on the field. But I was gone for about four hours after that. It was the last play of the third quarter. We were playing the Packers. I got hit in the back of the head. I saw it on film a little while afterward. I was running downfield, made a block on a guy. We fell to the ground. A guy was chasing the play, a little guy, a defensive back, and he jumped over me'as l was coming up, and he kneed me right in the back of the head. Boom! “They sat me down on the bench. I remember Marshall Faulk coming up and joking with me, because he knew that l was messed up. That’s what hap~ pens in the NFL: ‘Oooh. You got effed up. Oooh.’ The trainer came up to me and said, ‘Kyle, let’s take you to the locker room.’ l remember looking up at a clock, 52 THE NEW YORKER. OCTOBER P9, 200‘) and there was only a minute and a half left in the gamer—and I had no idea that much time had elapsed. l showered and took all my gear off. i was sitting at my locker. i don’t remember anything. When I came back, after being hospital- ized, the guys were joking with me because Georgia Frontiere”———then the team’s owner-“carrte in the locker room, and they said I was butt—ass naked and I gave her a big hug. They were dying laughing, and I was, like, ‘Are you seri~ cos? I did that?’ “They cleared me for practice that Thursday. I probably shouldn’t have. I don’t know what damage I did from that, because my head was really hurting. But when. you’re coming off an injury you’re fiush‘ated. lwanted to play the oer-rt game. 1 was just so mad that this happened to me that I’m overdoing it. I “as just going after guys in practice. lwas really trying to use my head more, because i was so frustrated, and the coaches on the side— lines are, like, ‘Yeah. We’re going to win this game. He’s going to lead the team.’ That’s football. You’re told either that you're hurt or that you’re injured. There is no middle ground. If you are hurt, you can play. if you are iniured, you can’t, and the line is whether you can walk and if you can put on a helmet and pads.” Turley said that he loved playing football so much that he would do it all again. Then he began talking about what he had gone through in the past year. The thing that scared him most about that night at the bar was that it felt ex— actly like the time he was knocked un— conscious. “It was identical,” he said. “It was my worst episode ever.” In August of2007, one of the highest- paid players in professional football, the quarterback Michael Vick, pleaded guilty to involvement in a dogfighting ring. The police raided one ofhis prop— erties, a farm outside Richmond, Virw ginia, and found the bodies of dead dogs buried on the premises, along with evi- dence that some of the animals there had been tortured and electrocuted. Vick was suspended from football. He was sentenced to twentywthrce months in prison. The dogs on his farm were seized by the court, and the most darn— aged were sent to an animal sanctuary in Utah for rehabilitation. When Vick ap- plied for reinstatement to the National Football League, this summer, he was asked to undergo psychiatric resting. He then met with the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodeil, for four and a half hours, so that Goodell could be sure that he was genuinely remorsefijl. “I probably considered every alter» native that I could think of,” Goodeli told reporters, when he finally allowed Vick back into the league. “I reached out to an awful lot of people to get their views—not only on what was right for the young man but also what was right for our society and the NFL.” Goodeil’s gob entails dealing with players who have used drugs, driven drunk and killed people, fired handguns in night clubs, and consorted with thugs and accused murderers. But he clearly felt what many Americans felt as well—— that dogfighting was a moral offense of a different order. Here is a description of a dogfight given by the sociologists Rhonda Evans and Craig Forsyfli in “The Social lVlilieu of Dogmen and Dogfights,” an article they published some years ago in the journal DeoiantBebaoien The fight took place in Louisiana between a local dog, Black, owned by a man named L.G., and Snow, whose owner, Rick, had come from Arizona: The handlers release their dogs and Snow and Black hinge at one another. Snow rears up and overpowcrs Black, but Black manages to come back with a quick locking of the laws or: Snow’s neck. The crowd is cheering wildly and yelling out bets. Once a dog gets a lock on the other, they will hold on with all their might. The dogs tlaii back and forth and all the while Black maintains her bold. In a dogfight, whenever one of the dogs “turns”——makes a submissive ges- ture with its headmthe two animals are separated and taken back to their corners. Each dog, in alternation, then “scratches”——is released to charge at its . opponent. After that first break, it is _' Snow’ s turn to scratch. She races toward Black: Snow goes straight for the throat and ,f grabs hold with her razor—sharp teeth. Almost _; immediately, blood flows from Black’s throat. f Despite a serious injury to the throat, Black '- manages to continue fighting back. They a relentless, each battling the other and neith wiiling to accept defeat.This fighting conti ues tor an hour. (Finally, the referee] gives t third and final pit call. It is Black’s turn scratch and she is severely wounded. B manages to crawl across the pit to meet h , Opponent. Snow attacks Biack and she is r- '5 V9 «as».s.M.Mwineimmwvwmmmmvnvm-wwmmi w... n . - . weak to fight back. LG. realizes that this is it for Black and calls the fight. Snow is declared the winner. Aftenvard, Snow’s owner coliects his “findings; LG. carries Biacic from the ring. “Her back legs are broken and blood is gushing from her throat,” Evans and Forsyth write. “A shot rings oot barely heard over the noise in the barn. Black’s body is wrapped up and carried by her owner to his vehicie.” it’s the shot ringing out that seals the case ageless dogfighting. LG. willingly submitted his dog to a contest that cul— minated in her sofferiog and destruction. And why? For the entertainment of an audience and the chance of a payday. in the nineteenth century, dogfighting was widely accepted by the American public. But we no longer find that kind oftrans~ action morally acceptable in a sport. “l was not aware ofdogfighfing and the ter— rible thingstbat happen around dog— fighting,” Goodeil said, explaining why he responded so stemly in the Vick case. One wonders whether, had he spent as much time talking to Kyle Turley as he did to Michael Vick, he’d start to have simiiar doubts about his own sport. In 2003, a sevenqrwtwo‘yeaooid pa~ tient at the Veterans Hospital in Bed- ford, Massachusetts, died, fifteen years after receiving a diagnosis of dementia. Patients in the hospital’s dementia ward are routinely autopsied, as part of the V.A.’s research efforts, so the man's brain was removed and “fixed” in a formaldew hyde solution. A laboratory technician placed a large slab of the man’s cerebral tissue on a microtomo—essentially, a so- phisticated meat sheer—wand, working aiong the coronal plane, cut off dozens of fifty—micron shavings, less than a hair breadth thick. The shavings were then immunostained—bathed in a special re— agent that would mark the presence of abnormai proteins with a bright, telltale red or brown stain on the surface of the tissue. Afterward, each siice was smoothed out and placed on a slide. The stained tissue ofAlzheimer’s pa- tients typically shows the two trademarks of the disease—distinctive patterns of the proteins betaeamyloid and tau. Beta-v amyloid is thought to lay the ground— work for dementia. Tau marks the criti- cal second stage of the disease: it’s the protein that steadily buiids up in brain cells, shutting them down and ultimately killing there. An immunostain of an Alzheimer’s patient looks, under the sni~ croscope, as if the tissue had been hit with a shotgun blast: the red and brown merits, corresponding to amyloid-snd tau, dot the entire surface. Bot this pa— tient’s brain was difierent. There was damage oniy to specific surface regions of his brain, and the stains for amyloid came back. negative. “This was all tau,” Ann McKee, who runs the hospital’s neuropa-thology laboratory, said. ‘There was not even a whiff ofamyioid. And it was the roost exo'aordiaary damage. It was one of those cases that really took you aback.” The patient may have been in an Alzheimer’s facility, and may have looked and acted as if he had Alzheimm er’s. Bot McKee realized that he had a different condition, cailed chronic nau— matic encephalopathy (GTE), which is a progressive neurological disorder found in people who have suffered some kind of brain trauma. GTE. has many of the same manifestations as Alzheimer’s: it begins with behavioral and personality changes, followed by disinhibition and irritability, before moving on to demen— tia. And GTE. appears iater in fife as well, because it takes a long time for the initial traoma to give rise to nervewceli breakdown aod death. But GTE. isn’t the result of an endogenous disease. It’s the result ofinjury. The patient, it turned out, had been a boxer in his youth. He had suffered from dementia for fifteen years because, decades earlier, he’d been hit too many times in the head. McKee’s laboratory does the neuro~ pathology work for both the giant Framingham heart study, which has been running since 1948, and Boston University’s New Engiand Centenarian Study, which analyzes the brains ofpeo- pie who are unusually long—lived. “I’m Eoohi-og at brains constantly,” McKee said. “Then I ran across another one. 1 saw it and said, rV'i/"ow, it looks just like the last case.’ This time, there was no knowu history of boxing. But then I called the fanfily, and heard that the guy “. . . merit to sleep. find when 314?. Donéey dreams wry gate: anddmwry and he went to sleep. And then M is: Mouse heroine very quiet and drowsy andi‘be went to sleep. 14nd than Mfrs. Bear daytime «very quiet anddrowry and size toth to sleep. find they: . . _ ” had been a boxer in his twenties.” You can’t see tau except in an autopsy, and you can’t see it in an autopsy unless you do a very particular hind of screen, So now that i‘v'chee had seen two cases, in short order, she began to wonder: how many people who we assume have 333le heimer’sw condition of mysterious or— iginwmare actually victims of preventable brain trauma? McKee linked up with an activist named Chris Nowinski, a former college football glayer and professional wrestler who runs a group called the Sports Leg- acy Institute, in Boston- In his football and wrestling careers, Nouénski suffered six concussions (that he can remember), the last of which had such severe side effects that he has become a full-time crusader against brain injuries in sports. Nowinski told McKee that he would help he: track down more brains of ex— athletes, Whenever he read an obituaiy of someone who had played in a Contact sport, he’d call up the family and try to persuade them to send the player’s brain to Bedford. Usually, they said no. Some— times they said yes. The first brain McKee received was from a man in his mid-for— ties who had played as a linebacker in the NFL. for ten years. He accidentally shot himselfwhile cleaning a gun. He had at least three concussions in college, and eight in the pros. In the years before his death, he'd had memory lapses, and had become more volatile. McKee immund stained samples of his brain tissue, and saw big splotches of tau all over the fron— tal and temporal iobes. If he hadn’t had the accident, he would almost certainly have ended up in a dementia ward. Nowinski found her another ex~foot— ball player. McKee saw the same thing. She has now examined the brains ofsix— teen cit—athletes, most of them tax—football players. Some had iong careers and some played only in college. Some died ofde— mentia. Some died of unrelated causes. Some were old. Some were young. Most were linemen or linebackers, although there was one wide receiver. in one case, a man who had been a linebacker for six— teen years, you could see, without the aid of magnification, that there was troubie: there was a shiny tan layer ofscar tissue, right on the surface of the frontal lobe, where the brain had repeatediy slammed into the skuil. It was the kind of scar you’d get oniy if you used your head as a 54 THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER I9, 2009 battering ram. You could also see that some of the openings in the brain were larger than you’d expect, as if the sur— rounding tissue had died and shrunk away. In other cases, everything seemed entirely normal until you looked under the microscope and saw the brown rib- bons of tau. But all sixteen of the cit—ath— lete brains that McKee had examined—- those of the two boxers, plus the ones that Nowinski had found for her—“had something in common: every one had abnormal tau. The other major researcher looking at athletes and C.T.E. is the neuro— pathologist Bonnet Omaha. He diag— nosed the first known case of CTR. in an eX-N.F.L. piayer hack in September of 2002, when he autopsied the former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike VVeb~ ster. He also found CTR. in the for- Dogfigbtm [its M'z'rbas! rat exploit their animais’eagowerr replease a master. so mer Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters, and in the former Steelers linemen Terry Long and justin Strzeh czylc, the latter ofwhorn was killed when he drove the wrong way down a freeway and crashed his car, at ninety miles per hour, into a tank mick. Omaiu has only once failed to find GTE. in a professional football player, and that was a Menty— four—year—old running back who had played in the NFL. for only two years. “There is something wrong with this group as a cohort,” Ornalu says. “They forget things. They have slurred speech. I have had an NFL. player come up to me at a fiinerai and tell me he can’t find his way home. I have wives who call me and say, ‘My husband was a very good man. Now he drinks all the time. I don’t know why his behavior changed.’ I have wives cail me and say, ‘lV’ly husband was g. m {D \x G '3‘! < a: +— S l. :1. {/3 5?. O a. m a, m 9.4 E .3: 3' )4: :4 2. 3.4, 3:; a nice guy. Now he’s getting abusive.’ I had someone call me and say, ‘My hus- band went back to law school after foot“ ball and became a lawyer. Now he can’t do his job. People are suing hirn.’ ” hchee and Omalu are trying to make sense of the cases they've seen so far. At least some of the players are thought to have used steroids, which has led to the suggestion that brain iniury might in some way be enhanced by drug use. hilany of the players also share a ge- netic risk factor for nentodegenerative diseases, so perhaps deposits of tau are the result ofbrain trauma coupled with the weakened ability of the brain to re- pair itself. McKee says that she will need to see at least fifty cases before she can draw any firm conclusions. In the mean— time, late last month the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research released the findings of an NFLmfiinded phone survey ol‘jnst over a thousand randomly selected retired NFL. play— ersWall of whorn had played in the league for at least three seasons. Self— reported studies are notoriously unreli- able instruments, but, even so, the re" suits were alarming. Of those players who were older than fifty, 6.1 per cent reported that they had received a diag— nosis of “dementia, Alzheimer’ s disease, or other memorywrelated disease.” That’s five times higher than the national aver— age for that age group. For players be“ tween the ages of thirty and forty—nine, the reported rate was nineteen times the national average. (The NFL. has dis— tributed five million dollars to former players with dementia.) “A long time ago, someone sug— gested that the [GTE rate] in boxers was twenty per cent,” Nchee told me. “1 think it’s probably higher than that among boxers, andl also suspect that it’s going to end up being higher than that among football players as well. Why? Because every brain I’ve seen has this. To get this number in a sample this small is really unusual...
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