Like football, like life

football player being tackled and landing on his headI just read about the WBUR Poll: For Head Injuries, Football Fans Support Regulation, But Haven’t Changed Viewing Habits, and it got me thinking. I’m a big football fan. Even though I don’t watch every single game, I still love the sport. I also love to watch boxing and MMA.

Even though I know what it’s doing to the contestants — potentially causing brain injuries that will screw them up, sooner or later — I still love to watch the sports.

There’s something about seeing people wade into a fight and then come out on the other side (victorious or not) that’s very cathartic for me.

I think that’s because it reminds me of my life. I feel, on any given day, like I’m wading into a fracas of some kind. Either it’s work, or it’s just the everyday occurrences, or it’s dealing with the slings and arrows of the world. But whatever the nature of it, I feel like I’m getting beaten up… like another “team” is gunning for me… and like the players and fighters I love to watch, I have to keep my act together and keep going, till the end of “regulation play”.

I think that I’m not alone in this. A lot of people I know feel constantly attacked by life. We know we’re gonna get roughed up. That’s a given. We know it’s gonna hurt. We know we’re going to get pushed and pulled and trampled in the process, but we have to keep going.

Like the players on the field.

And like those players, we take a calculated risk, every time we engage with life. We know the odds may be stacked against us, but we still keep at it. We stay in the game. And like so many of those players and fighters, even when we should probably sit out to let our brains recover, we head right back in there, as soon as we can. Because that’s the only way we know how to be, how to act, how to get along in life.

Personally, I cringe, when I think what’s being done to the “heroes” on the field and in the ring. I know what’s being done to their brains. But life is rough. It’s tough. It beats you down and knocks the stuffing out of you, time and time again. Football players and fighters are like our proxies. We fight to live, they live to fight.

And just about everybody can relate to that.

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Got a fill-in-the-blank Hangover?

This is a great little read from The Paris Review.

Toledo Street Scandal, 1895. Twitter feels like this, some days – though it’s not just the women piling on…

A few weeks ago, I woke up one day feeling awful. I inventoried my symptoms. I didn’t seem to be getting sick. I hadn’t had too much to drink. Was it food poisoning? No—the slight ache in my stomach wasn’t, exactly, physical. And then it all came crashing back over me, and I realized the truth: I had a gossip hangover.

Click here to read the rest…

You know, it’s funny, how humans can be. We genuinely want to be happy, and it makes us happy to see others happy. And yet, we go to great lengths to make others miserable. As though hurting someone else is really going to make us feel better.

In a way, I suppose it does. I mean, consider the popularity of combat sports (which, based on the recent head-hunting fouls by some players, may sometimes include football). MMA, classical martial arts, boxing, rugby… and more… Not to mention Twitter. Everywhere you look, you can find evidence that people seek to relieve their own pain by visiting it on others.

I’m also included in the ranks of fans of the combat sports listed above. I’ll happily sit down to watch an MMA bout, a martial arts contest, a whole night’s worth of boxing, or a afternoon and evening full of overly combative football (e.g. Steelers / Bengals). I’m less “into” rugby (which probably sits on the cusp of not being a combat sport, depending how you play), mostly because I don’t know all the rules and I never acquired a taste for it.

And when players get hit hard enough to get knocked out, yes, I cringe. But I also get a secret enjoyment from it.

Because I’m not the only person feeling battered, these days. And when the players get up and get back in the game, it tells me that I can, too.

Now, if we can find a way to provide this same sort of community and commiseration, without causing brain damage to the players we admire and support, and tossing their futures aside for the sake of the immediate moment…

And another loss. Ronda Rousey got her ass handed to her.

rousey-fightingThis is a different kind of loss than the Paris attacks. It’s miniscule, compared to what happened in France — or Lebanon , or Syria, or any of the other places on earth where the enormity of human cruelty and misery staggers the mind.

But it’s still a loss.

Ronda Rousey got her ass kicked last night. And Holly Holm handed it to her on a platter. I watched the fight — even paid the 50 bucks and stayed up till after midnight to watch the whole thing.

It was not at all what I was expecting. I’ve been following Ronda Rousey for a relatively short time — mostly over the past 6 months. A buddy of mine on FB is a martial arts instructor, and they have been posting videos of Ronda Rousey fighting for years. But it wasn’t until her victory over Bethe Correia, that I really took notice.

I have to say, the press and media around Ronda has been phenomenal. She’s the kind of lady who’s “relatable”, who’s an amazing athlete and an “everyperson” kind of hero. Working her way up from tough living circumstances, reaching out to fans, being very real with the press. And being ferocious in the ring. I’ve been impressed — the more I have seen her, the moreso.

I wasn’t expecting things to go the way they did last night, with Ronda going down in a knockout in the 2nd round. I don’t think many of us were. But at the end of the first round, I saw her wobbly on her feet and disoriented, and I suspected she was hurt. In her corner, she seemed dazed, almost mentally stung, as though she believed nothing could touch her… and when it did, she wasn’t mentally prepared for it.

Plus, she was hurt. Her brain was hurt by a couple of hard hits right off the bat. And when your brain is injured, there’s not much you can do to overcome it in that moment. Ronda’s a fighter, and she took it to the only conclusion she could — getting knocked out. Because that’s the only thing that would ever stop her from keeping moving towards her target.

I must admit, it’s a strange juxtaposition for me. I know what repeat head trauma can do to a person, and I hate what it does to the lives of everyone affected. Yet I love MMA and boxing. A good match-up, like the one between the two ladies prior to Rousey and Holm, is pretty fascinating for me — getting hit, keeping your head together, and being able to prevail in the long run, is something that I can relate to. Lots of other people can, too. Good fighters are phenomenal to watch, even with all the blood that sometimes comes with MMA and the knowledge of what getting knocked out does to a person — especially if they keep getting knocked out. (I suspected Silva was not going to last against Hall, because he’s been knocked out three times in recent history, and that sort of injury is cumulative. Sure enough, he got knocked out again. It didn’t seem to take much.)

The other thing is that Rousey had three title fights in the past year (I believe), and even if you do get plenty of rest in between, the effects of getting hit hard, repeatedly, are going to be cumulative, so that’s going to work against you. It’s going to work against your brain — which works against your body — which works against your chances of winning… or getting out of the second round in one piece.

Anyway, it was deeply disappointing to see Rousey go down like that. In the midst of it all, it became clear to me that Holm was the better prepared athlete, the better conditioned one, perhaps even the better of the two, overall. It’s a credit to Rousey that it took someone like Holm to take her down, but I was expecting Rousey to be more aggressive and put up more of a fight. But she got hit a few times early on, and to me, that was the beginning of the end.

In the end, I hope Ronda gets some good rest and takes care of her brain. At the end, when she got hit (and Holly kept pounding her head, even after she was knocked out on the ground), I could have sworn I saw a “fencing response” when Ronda was on her back and Holly was beating at her head.

According the The Concussion Blog

The fencing response is an unnatural position of the arms following a concussion. Immediately after moderate forces have been applied to the brainstem, the forearms are held flexed or extended (typically into the air) for a period lasting up to several seconds after the impact. The Fencing Response is often observed during athletic competition involving contact, such as football, hockey, rugby, boxing and martial arts. It is used as an overt indicator of injury force magnitude and midbrain localization to aid in injury identification and classification for events including, but not limited to, on-field and/or bystander observations of sports-related head injuries.

It looked like Ronda was holding her arms up to defend herself, but I think it was that kick to her neck that caused her arms to raise. Unfortunately, everybody seemed to think it meant the former, so Holly took it as an indication that she needed to finish her opponent — when her opponent was already more than done.

Ideally, it would be great to educate MMA folks about this, so the same thing doesn’t keep happening. Arms raised, while you’re clearly not conscious does not mean you pose a threat. It means your brainstem has been injured, and you’re unable to properly defend yourself.

In a perfect world, the refs would keep an eye out for this and be more aggressive about stopping fighters. When Rousey went down from the kick and her arms went up, that should have settled it for both the fighters.

But when your arms go up, it can signal that you’re still fighting… so your opponent continues to wale on you, long past the point where you’re defenseless. And that’s the thing that concerns me the most – that Holm beat on Rousey past the point where Ronda could defend herself… and now the UFC folks are pressing for an immediate rematch. I hope Ronda tells them to go f*ck themselves. She needs to rest up and give her brain and brainstem a much-needed healing. She’s got enough money that she can afford some pretty advanced treatments, so she should take advantage of that.

And rest.

Anyway, for now, that’s a loss. I hope Rousey and her team are smart about what comes next. She absorbed enough head trauma in that fight to last her for a good, long time. Maybe for all time. She has a lot of light in her, and she has helped a lot of people by her example. It would be a shame to see that light go out, because she doesn’t know when to tap out for good.

I wish her all the best. At this point, I think her split lip is the least of her worries.

Ooops – lost the comment

Bummer – a former boxer wrote some comments to me about being glad to find TBI information, and I inadvertently deleted it permanently. Now I can’t get it back. Oh, well. I hope they come back again sometime and write something again.

So it goes…

A different kind of brain injury

The medial temporal lobe

During my morning exercise bike ride, I checked out The Concussion Blog on my PDA (thankfully, there’s a mobile version of the blog, so I don’t have to scroll through all kinds of formatting stuff), and I came across a few interesting threads that might have some bearing on each other.

The first was a comment at the post about how Nowinski is leaning towards the “more rest” position of Omalu, and concussion — while widely attributed to the brain being shaken inside the skull — can also be attributed to jaw impacts

where the brain hits off the side of the inner skull like a piece of jello, here the medial temporal lobe is traumatized when the end of the jawbone pierces the temporal bone. The end of the jawbone rests on the skull base, cushioned by a dime sized piece of cartilage, once this cushioning element is displaced, it becomes dangerous. Its been documented in boxers with a “glass jaw”, when this cartilage disk slips out of place, it creates a bone on bone condition allowing hard bone to hammer the area of the medial temporal lobe where CTE manifest. This is diagnosable and documented in research with boxers and now NFL and NHL players.

Hmm. I had heard some discussion about how mouthguards supposedly guard against concussion. I’ve heard a number of people dismiss mouthguards, saying that they can’t protect against the brain banging againt the inside of the skull, and I myself have been skeptical. But seeing it explained — and taking a look at the location of the jaw in relation to the medial temporal lobe — I’m more convinced. Especially after reading that CTE manifests in that exact area.

This is getting my attention.

What’s also getting my attention is another post over at The Concussion Blog where fighting in the NFL is discussed. And after watching some hockey over the past week and seeing all the fights that are not stopped by the refs (and are egged on and celebrated by cheering fans), I wonder how much these fights — with more than a few hits to the jaw — contribute to the cumulative risk of concussion.

Let’s be clear about something — concussions/head injuries/TBIs all add up. Their effect is cumulative. And I can’t see how encouraging and allowing all the fistfights to escalate and play themselves out until someone goes down on the ice can help matters. Concussion awareness, I think, needs to reach beyond the “head hitting against the bony insides of the skull” and expand into the effects of the jaw hitting against the medial temporal lobe. And I’d also like to see/hear more consideration of not only the dangers of sports, when it comes to concussion, but the dangers of fights and getting clocked in the jaw, time after time.

I watched the March 5th ‘The Hotstove’ where Mike Milbury suggests hockey take a look at the level of violence, and how opposed the rest of the panelists were against it. Fighting seems to be endemic to hockey, but I heard once that hockey didn’t become a violent sport until it migrated south to areas where people couldn’t understand the game, and the league turned to fistfights to attract crowds. Apparently, the strategy worked. Now, can the NFL survive its own success? I wonder.

I think it would be quite interesting to do some data analysis on logged concussions and the frequency and types of fights that hockey players get into. I’d also like to see data on the coincidence of recorded fights and concussion in contact/collision sports athletes. It might shed some light on this, and also help us see other contributing factors, such as behavior choices in everyday life, which can jeopardize the safety and future of student athletes — not because of what injuries they cause, but because of the injuries that they may contribute to.