The End of Meat. And Driving. And Football.
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several hundred thousand dollars. And the end product doesn’t look too appetizing: the BBC compared it to calamari. But if the process can be scaled up, growing meat in labs might eventually be cheaper and more efficient than raising animals for slaughter. And once that happens, eating real animals might become the province of the rich—or might even be banned as unnecessarily cruel and wasteful.
Football In Sudden Death Overtime
As long as I’m listing cherished American institutions that deserve to be swept away on a mounting tide of scientific evidence, I might as well mention football.
The most arresting magazine article I’ve read in months is J.R. Moehringer’s “Football is Dead. Long Live Football,” which appears in the September 3 issue of ESPN The Magazine. It’s a poetic, sad, clear-eyed look at a sport that Moehringer obviously loves. His status as a passionate yet worried believer makes the article far more damning than recent, more clinical critiques from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Buzz Bissinger.
Moehringer is convinced that the nation needs football at some primal level—in his mind it has something to do with post-industrialism, the wounds left by the Civil War, how men prove their masculinity, and our taste for gladiatorial spectacles. But try as he might to find reasons to stay hopeful about the game’s survival, Moehringer keeps coming back to the unavoidable physiological facts.
And the facts are these: The human brain is basically made of jelly. Modern football is played in a way that guarantees players will be regularly concussed. It’s not possible to invent a helmet that will prevent the jelly from sloshing around inside a player’s skull when this happens. In short, if you wanted to create a way to inflict insidious, cumulative, irreversible brain injuries on athletes, you could not come up with a better system than American football. (Well, maybe boxing.)
Through modern brain imaging and autopsies (yes, there is a growing collection of brains from deceased football players; Boston University has 60 of them), it’s becoming clear that repeated “subconcussive” injuries like those that occur when players head-bang each other can lead to a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Signs of the syndrome include confusion, memory loss, depression, aggression, and dementia. Six former NFL players have committed suicide in the past two years, and all six were reported to be suffering from some combination of these symptoms.
To be fair, the condition isn’t limited to football players—it’s also common among boxers, wrestlers, hockey players, and military personnel exposed to explosive blasts. But a group of 3,000 former professional players thinks the NFL knows all about the link between concussions and CTE, and it’s suing the league for allegedly ignoring and hiding the evidence.
Moehringer thinks the litigation will eventually be settled—there’s too much money at stake, mostly in the form of TV broadcast contracts, for the NFL to let the issue balloon out of control. But he’s more worried about kids. He notes that 175,000 children wind up in emergency rooms each year for sports-related brain injuries, many of them from football. (I guess there is something riskier than driving after all.)
Moehringer thinks this toll, combined with a drumbeat of stories about suffering ex-NFL players, may already be causing parents to steer their kids into less violent sports. And the exodus, he writes, “might soon become a stampede as the latest bad news becomes more widely known—concussions are far, far more dangerous for children than adults.”
If you take young people out of high school and college football programs (which both Bissinger and Taylor Branch have excoriated for undermining the academic mission of American universities), football will gradually die. Or at least, it will be forced to turn elsewhere for recruits.
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So there you have it. If I were campaigning for office this fall, I’d promise to take away your SUV, your steak, and your Sunday pastime. (And your gun, but I’ll save my opportunity to offend that group for another day.) It wouldn’t mean the death of the tailgate party, but in my proposed future we’d be partying from the back of the robot car, with soy protein on the grill, before the soccer game.