The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

A Cautionary Tale from the Wife of a Football Player

Feb 5, 2018

Emily Kelly, the wife of retired pro football player Rob Kelly, wrote an article for the New York Times describing her husband’s deteriorating health, which resulted from years of playing the sport. Her husband had played tackle football for two decades, including five years in the NFL.

She tells of how her husband went from being a devoted husband and father, to experiencing tremendous mood swings, forgetfulness, loss of appetite lasting for days, sleep problems, and increasing depression and paranoia in a span of roughly six years.

A clinician concluded her husband’s neuropsychological dysfunction was a result of repeated concussions, which Kelly indicates never occurred outside of football. The doctor also pointed to a period in which her husband abused alcohol as a possible contributor to his condition, but Kelly points out her husband hadn’t had a drink in eight years, yet his condition continued to worsen.

When she went on Facebook, Kelly found she was not alone. She found a group of more than 2,400 women, all connected to former NFL players, who described similar experiences with their loved ones.

Kelly discusses the league’s decades-long denial of a link between football and degenerative brain diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. As Kelly states, CTE can only be definitively diagnosed after its victims have died, because it requires dissection of the brain. Yet her experience and those of thousands of others close to some who’ve played the game provides all the evidence needed to prove the deadliness of repeated hits to the head that are common in the sport.

This is all lost in the annual hoopla that comes with the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Sunday is celebrated as if it’s a national holiday.

The dangers inherent in the sport are becoming more and more recognized even by fans of the sport. Yet many rationalize it by saying that the players know the sport is dangerous and still choose to play.

Nonsense! For years the league hid the extent of the dangers. Even now that the risks are better known, for many of the players the possibility of a career in pro football represents the best of a bunch of bad choices.

Players, a disproportionate number of whom are black, often come from conditions of poverty, often with little access to quality education and jobs. Football offers the possibility for some to go to college, and lucrative salaries for the rare few who make it to the pros. It’s not unlike when young people “choose” to get involved in gangs and the drug trade, because it’s one of the few options available to them.

Any rational society would look at the kinds of health risks associated with a sport like football and either outlaw it completely or require serious changes to how it is played. Under capitalism, the owners, the league, and its commercial sponsors are making too much money to allow those changes to happen.