Dog Fighting, Football Share Brutal Similarities

We despise one and love the other. But willful injury is inherent to both
By Caroline Miller,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 13, 2009 5:12 PM CDT
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's helmet pops free after being hit by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington, left, and linebacker Ray Lewis.   (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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(Newser) – Malcolm Gladwell is serious when he asks the question, in the New Yorker, whether football is really any different from dog fighting. He doesn't just mean that both inflict grievous injury to combatants—though the brain damage sustained by football linemen takes considerably longer to kill them—but that there are troubling similarities between the "gameness" the dogs are prized for, "the desire to please an owner at any expense to themselves," and the gameness that sends players back onto the field despite concussions and other injuries.

Gladwell reviews the science of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the progressive neurological disorder that looks like Alzheimer's but is caused by the constant trauma to football players' brains—repetitive blows comparable to a head-on collision a thousand times a season. Football is unlike other sports—except dog fighting—he notes, in that injury is inherent to the sport, not an occasional accident or abuse of the rules, but part of play itself. "What football must confront, in the end, is not just the problem of injuries," he writes. "It is the fact that there is something profoundly awry in the relationship between the players and the game."