Oxymoron of the Year: Safer Football


Talk about covering all the bases. A story came out on TIME magazine this week following the suicide of another college football player, Kosta Karageorge, following some depression and strange behavior as reported by his family. The article cites a new study that points out how many brain injuries and concussions go undetected with no visible indications or signs of any problems. But halfway through the article, they also quote Dr. Christopher Whitlow, who led the research team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (Winston-Salem, N.C.), stating that even with what emerges as brain damage among his study group after just one season of high school football:

Not that Dr. Whitlow wants people to pull their kids from the peewee leagues or ban high school football just yet. “The high school athletes weren’t experiencing any of the classic symptoms of concussion—dizziness, nausea or double vision,” he says. “While the changes in the brains are concerning, because there were no symptoms of concussions, we don’t yet know how important these changes are.”

TIME logo

Football Head Impacts Can Cause Brain Changes Even Without Concussion

Melissa Locker Dec. 1, 2014

New study looks at high school athletes

As the world mourns the loss of Ohio State University football player Kosta Karageorge, who was found dead in an apparent suicide on Nov. 30, concerns about the long term effects of head injuries sustained by footballers continue to mount. A day after Karageorge’s death, a study has been released that suggests sports-related head impacts can cause changes in the brain even when there are no outward signs of a concussion.

You can read the rest of the TIME article by clicking HERE.

I sent the article out separately to our list and also posted to LinkedIn looking to start a discussion. Is there is a moral dilemma for a doctor – any doctor – to take such an ambiguous position when the facts indicate that something is clearly damaging your patients?

Just to clarify things, Dr. Don Brady sent in some definitions today:


and clearly the deaths are not improbable nor “flukes.”

“Safer football” is an example of contradictory or incongruous words.

If one defines the term “safer” as defined below, the term “safer football” becomes an oxymoron… and thus an impossibility. 

As the term “safer football”  is composed of contradictory or incongruous words. 

An examination of the definition of safe and safer and corresponding antonyms of “safe and safer” reflects the reality and probability of the outcome of football participation. 

Definition of safe / safer:

Safe, safer

1. Secure from danger, harm, or evil.

2. Free from danger or injury; unhurt: safe and sound.

3. Free from risk; sure: a safe bet.

4. Affording protection: a safe place.

Antonyms of safe, safer – from Merriam Webster:

‘endangered, exposed, imperiled (or  imperiled), insecure, liable, open, subject (to), susceptible, threatened, unsafe, violable, vulnerable’

Definition of OXYMORON – also from Merriam Webster:

‘a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness); broadly : something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements’

Athletes are endangered, exposed and susceptible to injury yet these injuries are being ‘minimized, normalized and sanitized’ and thus accepted as “part of the game.” And often without a critical examination of the financial, physical, emotional and social costs of sports-related injuries.

1 – Football, by the nature of the contact/collision game, is a violent and aggressively played ‘sport’ that creates a wide spectrum of injuries – and at times death – for its participants.  

Numerous pro football players openly acknowledge the violence that occurs in the sport.

  • We crash into other players.
  • It is a violent sport. Period!

Historically, the NFL has promoted the aggressiveness of the sport — highlighting the “big hits” of the week and the corresponding violent “play.”

e.g. – 1960 CBS TV broadcast – Walter Cronkite: The Violent World of Sam Huff.

2 –  Along the same thoughts, perhaps there is a more ‘global’ sport injury issue emerging that has been under addressed? 

The global issue follows: That the SPORTS CULTURE in the U.S. often idealizes sport participation and therefore uncritically accepts various types of sport injuries as part of the game, whether the injury be a sprained ankle, broken leg or a damaged brain and ignores all the inherent risks of participation.

Some football advocates argue the sport creates physical health. May I suggest they honestly examine the immediate and long-term financial, physical, social and emotional costs of a sport-related injury to the participant, family members and significant others.

Although proponents of sports in recent decades asserted that participation in sports enhances physical fitness and health, sports critics have argued to the contrary (Edwards, 1973; Guttman, 1988; McGregor, 1995; Nack 2001; Nixon, 1984).

Guttman (1988) challenged the irony of the commonly accepted belief that participation in sports enhances physical development. He argued that closer examination of sports-related injury statistics had revealed the vast number of these injuries clearly reflected and documented the physical destruction of the athlete’s body for participation in sports. In addition, athletic participation for some persons would exacerbate a presenting medical problem or cause death (Moeller 1996, Nack 2001) contributed the following insights pertaining to the life-long adverse effects of football-related injuries:

Retired NFL players] are wincing, hobbling wounded; the men who played  professional football, the notoriously joint-shearing, disk-popping, nerve- numbing exercise that is grown only more dangerous…

3 –  An examination of the history of sport reveals individuals and organizations that have reportedly emerged and intervened to ‘minimize injury risks’ for participants in various sports.

Terms such as Safer vs Less Dangerous and Violent have been used. For example, ‘Safer Football’ has been a recurring mantra in football since President Teddy Roosevelt era. The NCAA emerged from concern for “Safer Football.”

Along the same lines, perhaps rather than asking ” How can football be made safer?” a more precise question to raise is an extension of Robeson and King’s (2014) perspectives.

The real question:

” Can a dangerous and violent game be made less dangerous or violent?”

I know all too many former NFL Players who also share the following similar conclusion:

” Football can’t be made less dangerous or violent.”

Newspaper headlines mistakenly project the terms ‘FLUKE football injuries and deaths.’

WHEN THESE INJURIES AND DEATHS ARE STATISTICALLY PREDICTABLE every year and clearly are not improbable nor “flukes.”

The 3rd death of a youth participating in football within the past week was labeled “a fluke” during the national news broadcast reporting of this tragic death.

Our children and their developing bodies – including their brains – are being placed in harm’s way when they walk onto on the football fields.

For some youngsters their fields become their ‘sports brain graveyard” and for what logical reasons?

It is becoming more apparent that we are playing Russian Roulette with children’s brains, emotions and other parts of their bodies.

Perhaps parents should read this following mantra to their child:

Today as you enter onto the football… it may be the last time that I know you as my son/daughter. Statistics state you have a chance of becoming brain-damaged or dying as a result of participating in football.

Though a so-called small statistical percentage of children may die each year…each death is clinically, humanly and spiritually significant! 


P.S. – Hmm… Perhaps Ralph Nader’s perspectives RE: automobiles might apply to football?   

Football: Unsafe at any speed. Or age level.


Don Brady, PhD, PsyD, NCSP is a licensed clinical and school psychologist. He has presented papers on subtle brain injury for over 20 years and has personal experience with concussion.
© Copyright Don Brady 2014


Oxymoron of the Year: Safer Football — 2 Comments

  1. Xavier Figueroa

    We must fully understand what can and does affect our children. Too many times we ignore something because it has become common place and accepted.

    It doesn’t make it safe or right or acceptable.

    The price to a family, community, county, state and nation is too much to bear.


  2. George Visger brain scans

    Let’s not jump to conclusions, guys.

    Just because 76 of 79 brains of deceased NFL players studied at Boston University all tested positive for the neuro degenerative disease, Chronic Traumatic Enecephalopathy, doesn’t mean banging your head is bad for you.

    I’m sure you can ask the familiies of these former players who committed suicide and they’ll tell you the same.

    NFL Suicides 18 in 25 years, 9 in just the last 4 years.

    1. Paul Oliver 9/2013 Former San Diego Charger;
    2. Jovan Belcher 12/2012 Killed girlfriend drove to Kansas City Chiefs facility and shot self in front of coaches;
    3. OJ Murdock 7/2012;
    4. Jr Seau 5/12/12 – Shot self in chest to save brain to be studied (2 wks after NFL suicide);
    5. Ray Easterling 4/19/12 – filed concussion case against the NFL in 2011;
    6. Kurt Crain 4/2012;
    7. Mike Current 1/16/2012;
    8. Dave Duerson 2/17/11 – Shot self in chest to save brain to be studied at SLI – had CTE;
    9. Kendrick L McKinley 9/20/10;
    10. Shane Dronett 1/21/09 – Chased wife w/ gun. Shot self. Brain tested, had CTE;
    11. Andre Waters 11/20/06 – Brain tested had CTE (1st brain Nowinski asked for);
    12. Terry Long 6/7/05 – drank antifreeze – brain studied, Drs believed football damaged led to his suicide;
    13. Justin Strzelczyk 9/30/04 Drove into tanker at 90 mph during a cop chase;
    14. Larry Kelley 6/27/00 (85 yrs old);
    15. Thorton Stonebreaker 3/28/95 CO2 poisoning 60 yrs old;
    16. Jeff Alm 12/14/93 Shot self at scene of car accident he was driving in where his friend died;
    17. Mike Wise 8/21/92;
    18. Larry Bethea 4/24/87.

    NON-NFL Suicide with CTE
    1. Owen Thomas – 21 yr old at University of Penn;
    2. Joseph Chernach – 25. Only played in high school. Hung himself at age 25. Stage 2-3 CTE.
    (I am working very closely with Debra Pyka, Joseph Chernach’s mother.);
    3. Kosta Karageorge 11/27/14 – age 20. Ohio State player. Shoots self in a dumpster after complaining of problems from concussions to his mother and apologizing to her before killing himself.

    Channel 19 Action News in Cleveland called yesterday for my take on the latest, heart wrenching, senseless loss of life due to playing a “game.”

    Former NFL player weighs in on OSU player suicide and concussions
    Watch now on YouTube.

    And Debra Pyka interview on Traumatic Brain Injury Radio.


    Mom Who Lost her Son to Sports Brain Injury on Recovery Now With Kim Justus

    Check Out Health Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Brain Injury Radio on BlogTalkRadio

    George Visger
    The Visger Group – Traumatic Brain Injury Consulting

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