Controlling the #concussion conversation

Woo hoo! More money to be made!
Woo hoo! More money to be made!

Oh, Lordy — it’s all breaking loose. Now that Will Smith and his controversial accent have shed light on the dangers of concussion in pro football, the discussion about concussion is becoming very, very LOUD.

While I’m glad that there’s more information getting out, a huge problem is that now — apparently — there is money to be made from concussion. Not only in terms of Hollywood, but in terms of all those panicked parents, coaches, school districts, athletic associations who will rush out and spend any amount of money on any product or service that promises to A) protect athletes from concussion, B) help them recover faster (so presumably they can get back in the game), or C) alleviate the long-term effects of post-concussive symptoms.

Oh, and let’s not forget — D) keep them from getting sued.

Sigh. Concussion / mild TBI has been around for eons — probably since the beginning of time. As long as there have been heads with brains… and gravity… and heavy objects overhead… and places to fall off… and people / animals / objects taking shots at your head, there has been mild traumatic brain injury. Concussion.

But nobody’s paid much attention, over the years. At least, not till recently. And since the American public really gets its “most trusted” information from commercial sources, only now that there are products and services being hawked as “solutions” to this “epidemic”, only now are they starting to pay attention. Somehow, Americans don’t trust sources which are not profitable — with profit being our litmus test for validity — if it’s not profitable, it must not be any good, because people aren’t willing to pay money for it.

And so, our society is plunged into yet another permutation of confusion and disinformation, spread by those who know exactly how to position their marketing and advertising “messages” to a frightened public.

Step One: Make People Afraid

Step Two: Tell Them You Have A Solution

Step  Three: Convince Them That Yours Is The Only Viable Solution

Step Four: Collect Their Money

I don’t want to sound embittered or cynical, but maybe I am. I just can’t stand the way people are jumping all over this concussion issue and promising things they cannot possibly promise. Like football helmets that prevent concussions. Like mouthguards that prevent concussions. Like body armor that protects from concussion. Meanwhile, the folks who are getting hurt are just so much collateral damage. I’m sure all these new products have disclaimers that exempt them from legal liability if they fail to deliver on their promises.

Nobody seems to get that concussion happens inside the skull, not on the outside, and if you are moving forward with incredible force, no amount of cushioning is going to halt the impact of a soft brain against the hard, bony, rough-edged inside of a skull. You just can’t protect the inside 100% with something on the outside. It’s common sense —  IF you understand how concussion works, in the first place.

But people don’t. They don’t want to think for themselves. They want an expert to tell them what to do. Because experts have convoluted the discussion so terribly, that everyone is just confused. Confused and scared and desperate, holding their credit cards at the ready. And the experts are often really just marketers who know how to present themselves as experts. Even “physicians” who pose as concussion experts are suspect — witness the Steelers’ “team concussion expert” who was a rheumatologist, not a neurologist.


The saddest thing of all, to me, is how the concussion conversation has been so controlled and manipulated by the people who already have economic ties to concussion-producing activities. The NFL, NHL, and other leagues are culpable — and they’ve gotten away with all kinds of sh*t for many, many decades. But they’re serving a need, so those of us who want what they’re selling, will buy their version of the story. Gladly.

It’s really, really easy to market things like football, boxing, and MMA to people who are stressed out from the demands of their daily lives, who are looking for a way to unwind, and who want to see someone else get beat up, for once. I know — I’m one of those people who loves to watch football… boxing… and MMA. I know what it does to people, but to my tired mind, they’re not getting beaten down any more than I am — and they stand a chance to make a whole lot more money than I do. So, I figure they’re taking their own lives in their hands. They’re adults. They can make up their own minds.

But then again, if someone is brain-injured — as so many of these athletes are — is that even true? CAN they make up their own minds? That’s what we’re being told, and that’s what we want to believe. But again, that’s part of the conversation that’s being controlled by the people who make the money — and who stand to make even more … or lose a lot … depending on how the conversation goes.

Officially, football is a way to make men out of boys. It teaches them teamwork, it teaches them to be part of a common goal. It teaches them to get knocked down and get up to keep fighting. It toughens them up, and it’s an integral part of becoming an American Man. As for boxing, we have the Rocky movies (including the last Creed movie), where the heroes bond and prove themselves in battle, becoming men (or better versions of the men they were) through taking a beating and coming back stronger. As for MMA, all I can tell you is, I find it very gratifying to see people just going after each other — like gladiators of old. Only now, the gladiators are killing each other a lot more slowly — which in the end is easier on the promoters of the sport. It’s expensive to keep finding new fighters. Keep recycling the old ones, and you can build a story-line around their ongoing battle to get to the top.

Like so many things in this country, it’s really all about the money. It’s what drives us, it’s what sustains our systems, it’s what gives us motivation. I know there have been studies about how money is not the #1 motivator for people, but the people they surveyed weren’t at the very bottom or the very top of the economic food chain, so I don’t think much of those studies. It’s comfortable in the middle, where you never have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. For those without that safety, money is a big deal.

And it’s a big deal for the people who have a lot of it. Because it’s awfully easy to lose it all, and end up cast out of your place in the world.

It’s on either end of the spectrum, where the money matters most.

But those in the middle — well, it seems all too often like they’re happy to not even think about the issues. They’d rather have someone else think it all through and provide them with a solution to problems they don’t want to try to understand.

After all, that’s what they pay good money for.

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