Last Thanksgiving, I wrote that I was thankful for:
Jason Kottke's Kottke - Malcolm Gladwell's article about concussions was not the first on the topic, and did not contain a cogent argument of any kind (in fact, it was almost aggressively lacking in sense), but Jason and other bloggers helped bring attention to the issue, and changes are being made. Spoiler alert! This is the Tipping Point's "three rules of epidemics" in action. The hospitals and doctors who made the research possible are mavens - the "information specialists", Gladwell himself is the salesmen - "[salesmen] tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them", and bloggers like Jason are the connectors: - "the people who 'link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together.' They are 'a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances'. [Gladwell] characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people."
And in Part 2 of this morning's conversation with Simmons & Gladwell, we read:
SIMMONS: Let's move to a more uplifting topic: concussions. In October, you published "What the Dog Saw," a collection of New Yorker essays from the past 10 years -- which I loved reading -- but I can't remember any of them having the impact that your October piece about football concussions had. To borrow your phrase, it seemed to become something of a tipping point. The mainstream media became sufficiently riled up. NFL teams started becoming more cautious with recovering players. It seems like we're headed in the right direction, finally, although nobody will ever be able to answer the question, "What the hell took so long?" But the underlying theme of your piece was guilt: These guys damage their bodies and brains to entertain us, and we ignore the collateral damage or look the other way. Your point was that as we learn more and more about the effects of concussions, it was becoming tougher to look the other way. At least for you. Do you still feel that way?
GLADWELL: To be fair, my piece wasn't the tipping point on this issue. I was just piling on after the brilliant work of Alan Schwarz at The New York Times, who has owned and operated this story from the beginning. (If he doesn't win the Pulitzer, I give up.) But in answer to your question: Yes, football has kind of been ruined for me, I'm afraid. Understand that I live for the game. But I'm increasingly of the opinion that it is screwed up -- on a moral level -- in a way that no other professional sport is.
Think about it. The league has a salary cap (which limits players' pay), minimal health insurance for retirees and no guaranteed contracts. In other words, the owners reserve the right to limit the pool of money available to players, to walk away from contracts whenever they please and then hold no long-term responsibility for the health of the players whose contracts they have limited and declined to honor. Coal miners aren't treated this badly. And now we strongly suspect a fourth fact: that some significant percentage of ex-players, as a direct result of playing professional football, will suffer from dementia in their 40s and 50s, in addition to all the known and significant other health risks of the game (severe arthritis, substantially elevated risk of heart disease, etc.).
Over the last half of November the "Gladwell - GOOD or EVIL?" argument was raging in my world. Did Gladwell rip off other people's research? Did he oversimplify the arguments? Was he intellectually dishonest? Angry emails were exchanged, and Adriana even yelled at me in front of my parents about it. (UPDATE: or perhaps just "raised her voice." -ed.)
Gladwell has a special knack for following trends and simplifying complicated issues while still maintaining an intellectual style worthy of publishing under TNY's venerable letterhead. He is also excellent at bringing the spotlight of attention (bloggers and otherwise) to bear on important issues, and part of the reason is that he poses problems in a way that leaves people room to think for themselves. It's fun to recount something you read by Gladwell, whether you couldn't agree more, or if you hate it so much that your eyes are bleeding with rage. Even my Mom grudgingly offered that his articles were responsible for moving the concussions issue from the front page of the health section to the front page of the A section.