(SPORTPATHOLOGIES.COM) (November 2016)
Agony in the Shadows of Victory
John Weston Parry, J.D.
For over thirty-five years (April 1961-January 1998) the most recognized sports slogan in America was “...the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat...,” the signature of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Today sports are a shared cultural phenomenon, which bring joy to billions of people around the globe, and countless billions of dollars to a select group of global business enterprises. The two hour, iconic ABC program has been replaced by 24-7 sports programming called ESPN and its offshoots, which are owned by ABC Inc. (the Disney ABC Television Group.)
Arguably, more than any other Twenty First Century activity, sports unite people from different nations, while providing unmatched excitement and entertainment to fans world wide. Unfortunately, it also has become clear that the agony of sports goes well beyond elite athletes or teams losing games or competitions. Many elite athletes—and the youngsters who try to emulate them—are losing at life as a result of their having been negatively transformed by sports, often beginning at an early age. Communities around the world are losing as well, especially in America where football and other male-dominated sports reign recklessly supreme.
Various leagues, federations, committees, and associations operate our most popular sports as business cartels—largely without substantial government regulation—primarily to generate more revenues and wealth for themselves. Those that do business in America include the NFL, NCAA, MLB, IOC, FIFA, NBA, NHL, MLS, WADA, ITF, and IAAF. These cartels not only frequently allow the athletes and coaches under their domains to engage in bad, dangerous, and unhealthy behaviors, but the individuals who run these cartels often engage in their own schemes, transgressions, and corruption that sully the communities in which they do business.
Typically, nothing is done to address sports pathologies, unless and until bad publicity jeopardizes the economic bottom line of those cartels. Denials, deceptions, and well-orchestrated pretenses of being concerned about the athletes’ welfare, the host communities, and the public interest substitute for meaningful actions to deal with these accumulating problems and dysfunctions. Yet, our major spectator sports are treated by governments as if they deserve legal exemptions or to be public charters, even though typically these cartels operate as businesses with few socially redeeming values. Once in a blue moon, the Department of Justice initiates an investigation, and then only of Russia or an international cartel (FIFA), or Congress issues a report without enacting legislation.
As a result of this neglect and lack of government oversight, a growing number of serious pathologies infect America’s most popular spectator sports:
misuse of drugs and other substances to enhance performances and recovery from pain and injury;
mental and physical impairments, including drug and gambling addictions;
violence, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and bullying;
invidious discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference, and disability status; and
corruption, embezzlement, fraud, bribery, and misuse of public funds to increase profits and wealth generation for owners of teams and other organizers of sporting events.
All of these topics are the focus of a new website and blog, which I will host, devoted to sports pathologies (sportpathologies.com.). These topics will form the content for a proposed series of books as well.
The Athlete’s Dilemma: Sacrificing Health for Wealth and Fame
The first book is entitled The Athlete’s Dilemma: Sacrificing Health for Wealth and Fame, which Rowman & Littlefield is scheduled to publish in June 2017, give or take a month or two. That book will examine health-related issues in our most popular spectator sports, including: football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, Olympic competitions, and tennis. Among the health-related topics are a number of mental health and brain trauma issues, most notably concerning concussions, CTE, misuse of drugs, addictions, stigma, performance anxiety, and accommodations for athletes with mental disorders. The book is being written for a general audience, but it is informed by legal, health, mental health, disability, and diversity perspectives.
Not surprisingly the worst health-related problems tend to be in sports operated, controlled, and influenced by cartels. To a greater or lesser extent, these business enterprises allow, facilitate, or encourage health pathologies in the pursuit of revenues and wealth. What makes those enterprises special is that they are largely beyond the control of governments and the law. As a result, in a variety of different ways, the health of elite athletes—and those who hope to become elite—are placed in jeopardy, often by the athletes themselves.
Football engenders the most health-related controversies and scandals in the United States, partly because it is our most popular spectator sport. In addition, more than any other sport, football promotes a culture of violence and unhealthy attitudes and practices. Yet, all of our major spectator sports, and the leagues and organizations that run them, incubate various unhealthy practices in their athletes, as well as the children who emulate those athletes.
What these health pathologies are, how they have manifested themselves in our most popular sports, and what can be done to address them are the book’s major themes. Below is an annotated table of contents.
Annotated Table of Contents
The author’s love of spectator sports
Popular and psychological notions of love-hate and how they apply to sports, especially as reflected in the different tendencies of males and females.
The Myth of the Olympic Ideal and Other Sports Misperceptions
Sport: The Mirror of American Life
The Post-Modern Era and the Emergence of Sports Cartels
Health-Related Pathologies in Our Most Popular Spectator Sports
Pain, Injuries, Drugs, and Team Doctors
Part I addresses the issues of athletes playing with pain, playing injured, and using drugs to mask pain and injuries. This section examines the ethic behind the value that real men—and increasingly women—should play hurt; and notorious examples of famous players whose careers were elevated, derailed, or diminished by subscribing to that ethic. The unsettling story of quarterback Robert Griffin’s experiences in Washington is covered in detail. Part I also focuses on the medical care, which is responsible for getting athletes ready to play, typically by providing them with powerful drugs. Too often athletes’ reliance on pain killers to mask pain and injury leads to addictions, substance abuse, and life-long physical and mental impairments.
Chapter 1: Real Men Play Hurt
Chapter 2: Teammates, Coaches, Fans, and Other Unhealthy Influences
Chapter 3: RG III’s Painful Stay in Washington
Chapter 4: The Pitfalls of Team-Directed Medical Care
The Perilous Search for the Holy Grail
Part II focuses on performance-enhancing substances (PEDs) and the elite athletes who are looking for any perceived edge over their competition, or the ability to stay on a level playing field with their competitors. This section examines the use of performance-enhancements in sports generally, both legal and illegal. That is followed by chapters on the use of illicit substances by well-known athletes in sports, especially baseball, football, cycling, swimming, track and field, biathlon, and tennis. One chapter is devoted to state-sponsored doping in Russia linked to the Olympic Games. Part II concludes with proposed solutions for dealing with doping from a public health perspective.
Chapter 5: Performance-Enhancing Measures: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly
Chapter 6: Baseball’s Tarnished Legacy
Chapter 7: Football’s Brazen Lack of Compliance
Chapter 8: Cycling, Olympic Sports, and the WADA
Chapter 9: The Laissez-Faire Approach to Doping in Tennis
Chapter 10: The IOC, WADA, IAAF, and State-Sponsored Doping In Russia
Chapter 11: Regulating PED’s To Promote Athletes’ Health
Physical and Mental Impairments
Part III addresses the increasing incidence of physical and mental impairments to athletes, especially in football, but in many other sports as well. The first chapter is an overview of sports-related injuries and conditions, and their social implications, including the cautionary tale of what happened to boxing. That is followed by chapters which focus on concussions, brain traumas and deliberate injuries in football, concussion litigation against the NFL, and calls for tackle football to be banned, particularly when played by children. In addition, there are chapters on concussions and litigation involving the NHL and NCAA football, as on concussions to female athletes, particularly in soccer and ice hockey. The final chapter looks at severe injuries sustained by players and fans in professional baseball.
Chapter 12: A Litany of Sport-Related Impairments
Chapter 13: Football Concussions in the NFL: Myths, Deceptions, Denials, and Lies
Chapter 14: Concussion Lawsuits Filed Against the NFL
Chapter 15: Football’s Unholy Trinity: Brain Traumas, Bounties, and Deliberate Injuries
Chapter 16: Children Playing Football: The NFL’s Achilles Heel
Chapter 17: Following Suit: Concussions in the NHL and NCAA Football
Chapter 18: Concussion Concerns for Female Athletes
Chapter 19: Brain and Other Severe Injuries in Baseball
Why Elite Athletes Sacrifice Their Health
Part IV examines the major factors that influence elite athletes—and those aspiring to be elite—to be unhealthy. It begins with a discussion of how “performance-risk-rewards” and the pursuit of profits and revenues seriously diminish athletes’ overall health. The chapters that follow discuss specific examples of this type of dysfunction: the growing danger of serious arm injuries to elite young baseball pitchers and catchers; the devastating physical and mental injuries to professional football players; the absence of health care and related benefits for collegiate athletes who sustain severe injuries while playing for their teams; and the stigma, stereotypes, and secrecy, which undermine the mental health of elite athletes.
Chapter 20: Performance-Risk Rewards Undermine Health
Chapter 21: Arm Injuries to Elite Young Pitchers in Baseball
Chapter 22: Football Injuries in the NFL and College
Chapter 23: The NCAA Provides Woefully Inadequate Health Care for Its
Chapter 24: Stigma, Stereotypes, and Secrecy Undermine Athletes’ Mental Health
Protecting Athletes’ Health in Cartel-Governed Sports
The conclusion reviews the scope of health-related pathologies in American sports and explains why cartels are largely responsible for allowing them to fester. In order to rectify this situation, the author recommends expanding the existing collective bargaining structures found in our four major professional team sports to cover all professional and intercollegiate sports doing business in America. In addition, governmental standards and guidelines should be promulgated, with independent judicial oversight, to ensure that athletes’ health is protected.