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Malcolm Gladwell Compares Dog-Fighting to the NFL

All sports, to a certain extent, are about submission. But of the four major professional sports, football is all about this concept. The winner of most games is almost without fail the team that succeeds in physically dominating and forcing its will on the other.

It makes for compelling viewing, no doubt. But the brute physicality of football also shares some similarities with the components of a violent crime: namely, someone forces someone else to do something against their will.

Writing in the New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell brings up dog-fighting, and compares it to the NFL, namely the injuries that occur to the participants:

The other major researcher looking at athletes and C.T.E. (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is the neuropathologist Bennet Omalu. He diagnosed the first known case of C.T.E. in an ex-N.F.L. player back in September of 2002, when he autopsied the former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. He also found C.T.E. in the former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters, and in the former Steelers linemen Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk, the latter of whom was killed when he drove the wrong way down a freeway and crashed his car, at ninety miles per hour, into a tank truck. Omalu has only once failed to find C.T.E. in a professional football player, and that was a twenty-four-year-old running back who had played in the N.F.L. for only two years.

What’s the connection to dog fighting? Gladwell says:

Part of what makes dogfighting so repulsive is the understanding that violence and injury cannot be removed from the sport. It’s a feature of the sport that dogs almost always get hurt. Something like stock-car racing, by contrast, is dangerous, but not unavoidably so.

So basically, is football so dangerous that athletes who play will long-term, unavoidably, always be damaged? It’s an interesting question, and it seems the N.F.L. has more than its share of former athletes who die young or suffer from more traumatic conditions after playing than athletes in other sports.


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