It’s important to note at the start here: Larry Fedora is not dumb, as far as we know. He is being dumb, and that’s a different thing people are for a lot of different reasons. It’s important to note that, and also to figure out precisely what kinds of dumb we might be dealing with in order to counter it. Countering dumb is like working in pest control. The job never ends, it requires specific poisons for specific pests, and in the end everyone has to live with a certain percentage of it because dumb is a pesky and unkillable part of the whole human ecosystem.
It should also be pointed out that Larry Fedora wants football to be safer. He also believes tackle football shouldn’t start before middle school, which is progress? It’s sad that this is progress, but that is where we are.
However, in the taxonomy of dumb, everything Larry Fedora said on Wednesday about football and concussions straddles the line between two distinct classes of dumbness.
The first class of dumbness here: Killing the argument with an unsatisfiable and inactionable skepticism. Eric Adelson of Yahoo came to Fedora’s aid in a post suggesting that Larry Fedora told the “truth” about CTE and football — i.e. that there was no conclusively proven link between the game and the disease. This is, by the rules, technically true at the moment. CTE is not a football-only phenomenon; Its pathologies and causes are still under study.
This is the fun part where we quote a professor of ours at Georgia Tech: There are no facts or truths, only correlations. The correlation between getting hit in the head repeatedly and football? That’s there. That getting hit in the head repeatedly is bad? Let’s test even the most skeptical minds in the room by proposing this: it’s generally better to not get hit in the head a thousand times than to get hit in the head a thousand times. Furthermore, it’s specifically better to not incur those thousand shots to the head while performing unpaid labor in a tax-sheltered entertainment industry.
It’s bad, and the returns on it probably outweigh its benefits. If that’s something you’d disagree with, bail now and head to the nearest online universe of your choosing. Otherwise, keep reading.
The specific brand of dumbness Fedora has cooking here is an overdeveloped degree of skepticism — one so overdeveloped it functions less like rigor, and more like an intellectual autoimmune disease. Nothing can be proven. No standard of proof can be enough in the face of an emotional commitment to the assailed subject. Every challenge to the held belief is attacked like it’s a virus waiting to kill the entire organism, and every tiny bit of support is leaned on like it’s a fifty foot thick support pillar. This dumbness is a very close cousin of the Death of Expertise, and has to be familiar to anyone who has spent more than five seconds on the internet arguing with people who think saying the opposite of something is instantly insightful.
In other words: It might not be enough for Larry Fedora, but it will never be enough for Larry Fedora for a lot of reasons. (His job, mostly.) Everyone else living in real time can’t really wait on the lock-tight, long-term survey study to wonder whether a contact sport with frequent contact between players’ heads might be bad for their kids. They’ll make a choice, and that choice will most likely be to not let their kids play the sport involving the armor and running into each other at high speed.
(Also, probably a good time to ask: If parents who don’t let their kids play football are wrong, what exactly do they lose?)
The secondary dumbness is a classic case of Overselling the Argument. This should be pretty simple to get. Larry Fedora suggested that if football collapsed, then America will collapse shortly afterwards. This is the part that is less willfully dumb or insanely skeptical for strategic purposes, and maybe just plain dumb. America clearly will not collapse without football.
Ten or eleven states in the Southeast might. They’d require assistance from the Federal government be an overall drag on the national budget, and likely react to the collapse and subsequent occupation by the federal government by becoming a violent, reactionary, and regressive collection of near-anarchic, anti-democratic states based on fraud, cruelty, violence, and good-to-outstanding barbecue. Totally different than how things are already, really.