Posted by Medill Reports
on November 2nd, 2010
Bill James, the original baseball statistical analyst, published his first Baseball Abstract in 1977. VisiCalc, the first computer spreadsheet, appeared in 1979. Few could have imagined 30 years ago the collision course that sports, data and computation would be on.
But collide they have. It’s a list too long to describe in full, from fantasy sports to moneyball sports management to tv-magic yellow lines on a football field. Sports, in the big broad sense, as great as it is now, is poised to get better still; the goldenest of sports’ golden ages is almost here.
Better how? Athletes are getting more athletic. Coaches are more innovative. Equipment is lighter, stronger, and safer. Sports television productions are bigger and in higher definition. Online sports journalism has evolved far beyond its print origins.
All of these examples have benefited from data analysis and advanced computation. All of them will continue getting better. And there’s a multiplier effect. Advances that lead to better athletes, for example, will foster new coaching innovations and in turn lead to production insights for sports media-makers.
The sustained continuous improvement raises questions in my mind about longer-term sustainability. Even though all signs point to better sports products – great players, great teams, great games, great journalism, great television – the path to the goldenest age of sports could get sidetracked. (Read more…)
We are all guilty of a behavior our parents have long accused: ignoring the facts we don’t like and “hearing what we want to hear.” This pattern appears not only in dealing with the facts of everyday life, but sometimes when we are confronted with scientific proof of an unsettling situation.
This tendency has surfaced in the recently reignited debate over the danger of concussions in the NFL. Even when faced with numerous studies documenting a correlation between football-related concussions and long-term brain damage, some experts like Dr. Ira Casson as well as some members of the general public continue to doubt the validity of the scientific proof.
In an insightful article on the subject, Deborah Blum points out that history challenges this opinion. Studies dating back to 1928 forcefully claim that athletes who experience blows to the head are in danger of developing more serious brain injury. This idea is thus not new.
While skepticism is necessary when dealing with scientific proof (after all, you could say that the whole field is built on skepticism), sometimes you can be too skeptical. In the case of brain damage and the NFL, there is a large body of evidence. It is hard to find a legitimate reason to deny it, other than to say that we would rather not acknowledge the danger. We don’t want to hear the proof not because there is not enough of it, but because it will change how we view football.
- blog authored by Alex Gast
Posted by Beth Herbert
on December 16th, 2009
I went to a very cool event last night here at Northwestern, sponsored by a number of groups including the Medical Humanties and Bioethics program. They brought New York Times editor Jason Stallman to speak about series of articles the NYT published (written by Alan Schwarz) about football players and the long-term effects of concussions they sustained while playing.
In addition to Jason, the program also featured commentaries by physicians who work directly with players both on collegiate and professional teams, and a group discussion with many participants who are also neurosurgeons/neurologists.
The end result was a fascinating conversation that made me think a lot about being an NFL fan. I know that concussions have been front and center lately, both with the congressional hearing and high-profile players like Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner missing games (to the chagrin of some of their teammates) after suffering concussions.
What I didn’t know was just how many former players are suffering from the after-effects of brain injury, such as depression, dementia, and even suicide. In fact, a recent study commissioned by the NFL and conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that, in men ages 30-49, Alzheimer’s Disease and other memory-related problems have been diagnosed in 19 times more NFL players than members of the general population. The study isn’t perfect (it was not peer-reviewed and it was conducted over the phone- more on that here) but other, independent studies suggest similar links.
Thankfully, while denying the connection in the past, the NFL has finally stepped up and instated a new policy that prohibits players who suffer concussions from returning to the field during the same game. However, this is just one, very small step toward fixing a big problem. (Read more…)