Chat with Jane Leavy
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, Grantland's Jane Leavy will stop by to take questions on her recent story about Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist leading the charge in research about brain trauma in athletes.
McKee spends much of her time documenting the rise of concussions in the NFL which has drawn both praise and criticism. As Leavy states in her story, ''War-painted denizens of the upper deck may view [McKee] as The Woman Trying To Destroy Football. In fact, she is The Woman Trying To Save Football From Itself.''
Leavy, a devout Green Bay Packers fan, has written two New York Times bestsellers - The Last Boy and Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy - and a comic novel entitled Squeeze Play, which Entertainment Weekly called ''the best novel ever written about baseball.''
Send your questions now and join Leavy on Friday at 1 p.m. ET.
Buzzmaster (1:04 PM)
Jane is joining us shortly!
Jane Leavy (1:07 PM)
Hello everyone! I'm ready for your questions!
Mark Richardson (Boston)
Do you get the sense the NFL is starting to come around to really dealing with the issue or is it still mostly posturing and hoping this will all go away?
Jane Leavy (1:11 PM)
I don't think they are under the allusion this will all go away, not with a minimum of 113 lawsuits now involving more than 3,000 players. The question is how much more of the game can they change? How many rules can be modified? How much equipment can be designed to lessen the violent nature of the game? It is unclear right now if the problem is inherent in how the game is played or whether there is a way it can really be made safer. I would argue the level at which safety regulations can be imposed is at youth football. Pop Warner made changes limiting contact in June. Chris Nowinksi and the Sports Legacy Institue have been arguing for that for decades. Why should kids whose brains have not fully developed be allowed to go full contact as much or more than adults? You never know when the next shoe will drop. We haven't heard the end of the lawsuits or touched how many people may have this problem. When McKee's next study comes out it will be a really big deal.
Do you believe 20 years from now football will still be the most popular sport in the country, or will concussions derail it?
Jane Leavy (1:13 PM)
Terry Bradshaw told Jay Leno a couple weeks ago that he wouldn't allow a kid to play and that the sport wouldn't be the same in the future. How inherent is this level of voilence in the game? The game will evolve. People used to object to pitching inside, etc. We have learned to live with changes in sports. The game has evolved some already with rules changes. I don't think it will be the same game in 20 years, but how much it changes depends on deaths, docmented cases of CTE and what parents decide to do in response to this.
Juan (Amarillo, TX)
Does Dr. McKee have confidence that we will be able to start detecting CTE before it's too late?
Jane Leavy (1:15 PM)
I think she and other researches including Robert Cantu all think the technology for detecting it in living people is maybe just a year or two away. What do you do if you don't have treatment? What is your diagnose it in Stage 2 at age 29? What good is that if there is nothing to do to reverse it? McKee said he would like to focus on the treatment so we can do something about it when we diagnose it early.
Chris D (Wisconsin)
I vividly recall seeing pictures in magazines in the 70s of the black cancer-ridden lungs of smokers compared to the healthy lungs of non-smokers. I think it would do the public good to see similar pictures in regard to CTE. How come those were left out of the article, and is there a place these can be viewed?
Jane Leavy (1:19 PM)
The images are very available in the public domain. Just google Ann McKee and CTE and you will see many images she has produced widley to Congress and on 60 Minutes and elsewhere. I might add she does it with the permission of the family members. The analogy has been made that the NFL is like the tobacco industry before people latche onto the dangers of lung cancer. It is a big institution ... a $1.9 billion industury ... so they have a lot riding on people continuing to watch the games. Ann's images are so graphic, but beautiful in an odd way. She understands the power of the image to change people's opinions. It's why she has shown them as widely as she has. I tried to describe them in as much depth as I can. Her said she watches Mad Men and understands the importance of the image and the message. She wants people to be able to say "Aha!" and see whta this disease is doing. That is part of her genius.
Do you have any other books in the works?
Jane Leavy (1:19 PM)
Do you have a good idea for me?
Phil Kosta (Philly PA)
I really enjoy your work. Are you going to do more on this topic or are you off to something new?
Jane Leavy (1:22 PM)
I would like to write more about this topic. The breakthrough reporting was done by Allen Schwartz at the NY Times but he is no longer on the beat. I went to him and asked him what he wished he had written and he said a profile of Ann McKee. She has become very public through her testimony. He wanted to know about her experience and her findings and how her painting all added up to showing the disease in a way noboby had seen before. I want to follow what happens on Kevin Turner (read the story) and find two guys who went up against each other in the trenches who are dealing with this.
Tim (New Mexico)
Why do we only seem to hear about football and not boxing or other sports that would seem to be just as dangerous?
Jane Leavy (1:24 PM)
If you think back, you have heard about it in other sports. Chris Benoit the wrestler was diagnosed very early. Partly it is a question of privacy rights. Not every family wants the results public and that has to be respected. She looks equally at the brains of veterans who were in combat. Blasts on battlefields compared to athletes who have been hit in the head repeatedly. You are going to hear more and more about that. You will hear about young soccer players and the impact of headers. Dr. Cantu has been very public about saying girls at as much risk if not more because their necks are not as developed. He has also advocated that no kids under the age of 14 play any collision sports of any kind.
Your book on Sandy Koufax was truly a labor of love. Do any modern athletes inspire you in the same way?
Jane Leavy (1:25 PM)
Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.
Zach Tellup (Dallas, TX)
Did you ever get the sense that Dr. McKee was straddling that line of impartiality and activism a little to closely? Is she in danger of losing her crediblity?
Jane Leavy (1:28 PM)
It's a good question. It's one that Chris Nowinski addressed. There is a collaboration between the research team and his advocacy position. There is information that needs to get out that can save lives. Scientific protocal is doing research, sending it to peer-reviewed journals, the publishing of the results, etc. It's a very tough line for her to straddle. She has been criticized by some and it's not my place to take a position, but yes, it is a very touch position to be in. The hardest thing is sleeping at night, having to see all those diseased and damaged brains. She gets up in the middle of the night and starts working because she can't sleep or when she does she sees it in her dreams. She says "I can't put this to bed."
Jane Leavy (1:30 PM)
Thanks for the questions! You should google the research that Dr. Ann McKee is doing and get up to speed on the risks that some of your favorite players are taking out there. Take care.
Buzzmaster (1:31 PM)
Thanks, Jane! Folks, head over to www.janeleavy.com for more from Jane.