Dear Friend and Reader:
In our society, we’re often faced with the question of what to do when something wildly popular and profitable turns out to be toxic, dangerous or unethical. In many ways it’s the story of our culture — the wonder drug that causes birth defects, the allegedly healthy new food additive that causes heart attacks, the all-purpose chemical that turns into dioxin.
The dangerous effects of many things we take for granted are simultaneously known and denied for decades. One current example is the denial of the well-known effects of radiation from cell phones and cell towers. How many people know, much less wonder, why the iPhone’s instructions warn you to keep the thing eight centimeters away from your head?
This is also the story of American football, now the most lucrative sport in the United States. College and professional games are the most popular spectator sport, and it’s often played as a contact sport by children in full gear. For many people, football is inseparable from their experience of high school.
Football is at the center of a $9 billion per year industry, the largest sports franchise in the United States. The NFL, the largest remaining professional league in the U.S., has an annual operating budget of about a quarter-billon dollars. Though I don’t think anyone can explain why, it’s registered as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit association exempt from federal income taxes.
Association with the NFL is big business for everyone involved. Pepsi alone spends $228 million every year marketing and promoting NFL deals. Today, according to Forbes, the average player salary is $2 million a year, and football clubs are worth well more than $1 billion each.
And, as it turns out, the game causes serious brain trauma in many players, and to some degree in all players. More than 4,000 NFL alumni are involved in a class-action lawsuit focused on the connection between repeated concussions sustained during the game and long-term degenerative brain injury. The results of these brain injuries are dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions, depression and a disturbing frequency of suicide among ex-players.
The issue first rose to public awareness in 2002 after Mike Webster, long-time center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, died of a heart attack at age 50 after deteriorating from years of mental illness. After his death he was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that can only be identified by studying brain tissue in an autopsy.
Through his career, Webster endured an estimated 25,000 violent collisions, each the equivalent of a car accident or a sledgehammer to the head. “Despite this, Webster was never treated by team doctors for a concussion, according to medical records submitted in the case,” ESPN reported.
The First Brain Trauma Lawsuit
Webster’s wife Pamela sued the NFL and was awarded $1.6 million in disability payments by a federal court. As the cases have multiplied, so too has the game’s profitability, and with that, denials of the dangers. This has been documented copiously by ESPN writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru in their 2013 book League of Denial.
“The game is more popular and safer than ever,” said Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner, who earns more than $30 million a year. “I don’t walk in here thinking we’re in a crisis by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t say that in an arrogant way.”
In late 2013, the NFL and ex-players reached a settlement agreement that called for the NFL to pay $765 million into a medical fund that would cover exams, concussion-related compensation, medical research and litigation expenses.
But in January, a federal judge refused to approve the settlement, saying she didn’t think it was enough money to cover all the necessary expenses, which can exceed $150,000 per year in the case of a serious brain injury or neurodegenerative disease. Such settlements must include funds set aside for members of the affected class who have not yet come forward.
In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Pres. Obama said that he believed NFL players “know what they’re doing” and understood the impact that concussions could have on their long-term health. He said he would not allow his son to play football, if he had one.
“At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor,” Obama said. “These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
But every lawyer knows the notion of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is obviated by fraud. Whether the NFL is liable for players’ injuries has a lot to do with what they told those players, or how they reassured them not to trust information that was in public circulation.
So just how long has the secret about brain trauma been out? Practically since the dawn of time. In 1933, the NCAA (the National Collegiate Athletic Association) distributed a medical handbook to its member schools, according to Deadspin.com, a football website owned by Gawker.
The handbook warned that concussions are treated too lightly, recommended that concussed players receive rest and constant supervision, and not be allowed to play or practice until symptoms have been gone for 48 hours.
For symptoms lasting longer than 48 hours, it recommended that players “not be permitted to compete for 21 days or longer, if at all.”
In October 1952, a doctor named Augustus Thorndike published in The New England Journal of Medicine the results of a study that urged players who suffer three concussions to leave football permanently, for their own protection. Around the same time, more information was coming out about repeated head trauma suffered by boxers.
Then in 1973, something called Second Impact Syndrome (SIS) was identified. That’s what happens when someone receives a concussion while still suffering the effects of a previous one. SIS has a 90 percent mortality rate, according to Dr. Michael Turner, whose study of a dead high school student was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery.
Running Interference: The Mild Trauma Committee
The NFL, aware of all of this, did not respond until 1994, when it created the now-infamous Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. This was the first time that the NFL admitted there was an issue with players and brain injury, though the committee’s role seemed to be running interference on those raising the issue.
MTBIC, like many official committees supposedly designed to investigate things, spent a decade denying the connection between concussions and long-term brain injury. All of the lawsuits say that the NFL engaged in a disinformation campaign intended to convince players that the game was safe.
Deadspin.com reported that the committee was co-chaired by Elliot Pellman, a rheumatologist who claimed to have a degree from SUNY Stony Brook, a respected medical school. (He didn’t, Deadspin notes. He attended medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico.) Pellman was the New York Jets’ team doctor. Coincidentally, he was also commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s personal doctor.
The league is still in denial, a fact that has been covered in numerous books, articles and documentaries. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, recently described the league as a “leader in addressing the issue of head injuries in a serious way,” adding, “by any standard, the NFL has made a profound commitment to the health and safety of its players that can be seen in every aspect of the game, and the results have been both meaningful and measurable.”
An article published this week by the professional medical journal MedPage Today pointed out the conflict of interest between team doctors who evaluate injured players, and the players who need an objective evaluation of their situation.
“Today a player with a suspected concussion not only can’t go back in the game, but he has to be evaluated according to a concussion protocol by the team’s medical staff and also by an independent medical consultant,” the journal wrote.
“But that isn’t enough, said Tanzid Shams, MD, director of sports neurology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. ‘In an ideal setting, the clinicians on the field should have no financial relationship with the teams. Instead, they should function as independent observers similar to referees. This model would take out the conflict of interest’.”
Mars and Aries: The Astrology of Football
Ok, so much for the historical background. We now know enough to appreciate the astrology. It turns out that the timeline of football has been recorded back to the first football game ever played, between two college teams — Princeton University and Rutgers University.
I’ve also looked at the charts for the founding of the NFL, the first Super Bowl and this coming Sunday’s Super Bowl, plus a few other charts of people and events along the way.
The common theme these charts have is a prominent Mars, and in nearly every case, prominent expression of the sign Aries. Football is a martialsport, meaning that it has a violent and militarist quality (that word being derived from Mars, the Roman god of war). These placements are also significant in that both Mars and Aries are associated with the head, as well as with injuries to the head.
For example, the first football game was played with Mars conjunct Saturn. Both are conjunct a galactic point called the Great Attractor, implying that something controversial and polarizing is happening. It’s interesting that all of these points are in Sagittarius, the sign of higher education.
Another example is in the chart for the founding of the NFL. This chart is one of the most interesting corporate charts I’ve ever seen (it rivals that of the NRA, which I promise to write about soon).
The NFL chart has Chiron conjunct Nessus in Aries. Chiron often indicates where there is an injury, or a persistent point of re-injury. In the chart of an individual, it can also show a point of growth and awareness, though that seems not to be the case with the NFL — they are working on the shadow side of Chiron.
Nessus can also indicate an injury — with the added theme of a breach of trust or some kind of subversive activity. Nessus often points to sexual injuries and traumas; it’s within reason to describe all of football as the acting-out of repressed male homosexuality. What Nessus almost always indicates is that there will be consequences involved. Nessus can point to who is responsible or who will end up taking responsibility.
In the chart for the first Super Bowl, Mars makes aspects to 10 different planets, including the Sun, Mercury and centaur Pholus.
“Football is a dangerous sport, and based on the charts for the founding of the NFL, and for the first Super Bowl, it is precisely that danger which has added to the league’s success. This is exactly what these charts proclaim,” said Lee Lehman, a leader in the field of classical astrology, and a pioneer in the development of asteroids as astrological tools.
Based on the position of Mars in these charts, she said, “We have literally the story of the gladiators, who are just as compelling crumpled up on a heap on the playing field as making a spectacular catch. That is what the arena is for: the winners triumph, and the losers are carried out on a stretcher.”
Let’s look more closely at the two richest charts — the founding of the NFL and the first Super Bowl.
The NFL Founding Chart
The NFL was founded as the American Professional Football Conference on Aug. 20, 1920. The meeting, held at a car showroom in Canton, Ohio, was intended to “raise the standard of professional football in every way possible, to eliminate bidding for players between rival clubs and to secure cooperation in the formation of schedules,” according to a local newspaper article published at the time.
The chart is made of numerous two-planet conjunctions, many of which talk to one another. Conjunctions concentrate power and get unusual or dissimilar energies working in cooperation. The Scorpio Moon is conjunct Mars, for example, again highlighting that planet and revealing the underlying anger and sexual tension inherent in the game.
Venus is conjunct Saturn in Virgo, suppressing feminine energy, subordinating it to a corporate structure.
As I mentioned before, we have Chiron conjunct Nessus in Aries. That is trine Mercury conjunct Neptune in Leo — which can be read several ways: delusional pride, denial, or water on the brain. It also hints at the steroid use that seems essential to being a successful player. Through these charts, there are clear hints at how steroid use has ramped up the number and the intensity of injuries. One is that centaur Pholus (which can represent substance abuse) in Sagittarius is trine both conjunctions, making a grand trine.
Then we have the Sun conjunct Jupiter in Leo. Can you say big, big, big (men, egos, money, scale)? Or rather, big and getting bigger. The size of the players, the weight of the gear and the urgency of competition have made this an increasingly violent sport, to the point where it could be described as a blood sport.
Sun-Jupiter in Leo, high in the chart at midday, illustrates how the game became so big so fast. Sun-Jupiter in Leo also looks a little like that $9 billion industry, which the current NFL leadership says it is intent on tripling in the coming 15 years or so.
This fantastically macho aspect masks over the delusions inherent in the Chiron-Nessus conjunction (the head injuries and their consequences) exactly trine the central delusion in the chart, Mercury conjunct Neptune. This is one of those trines that says “if you lie, I will swear to it.” (Not all trines say that, but it’s worth checking all of them for that factor, especially when something evil manifests.)
One last note on this chart: the Mercury-Neptune conjunction is square the lunar nodes. That is the karmic test; the factor on which the chart hinges. I’ve called this the central delusion — if the parties involved can wake up to that, they can get their bearings. It is, however, powerful anesthesia.
The First Super Bowl
This is another chart in the “too rich for words” category. The first Super Bowl happened at the peak of the 1960s astrology — the Uranus-Pluto conjunction is a prominent feature in the chart. Now that we are at the Uranus-Pluto square 48 years later, it’s logical enough that the issues inherent in the game are coming to the surface.
There were many breakthroughs in this time of history — indeed, nearly anything that succeeded made some lasting impact on society.
You can see the Uranus-Pluto conjunction at the bottom of the chart. That aspect can represent a clash of cultures, an upheaval in society or — in the 5th house — it represents a really rough game. That led Lee Lehman to comment, “Despite many denials, this player destruction truly is part of the entertainment. Let the carnage begin — but we’ll applaud when they are carried off the field.”
One of the most prominent features in the chart involves the rising sign, Taurus, and the placement of Venus, the ruling planet of Taurus, at the top of the chart. That is called accidental dignity.
Venus has no special dignity in Aquarius, but it gets props for being both the ascendant ruler and the most elevated planet. It illustrates the crowd-pleasing nature of the game (Aquarius), the corporate involvement (10th house) and the fantastic image and monetary value that the game somehow still has.
Jupiter is back in Leo, where it was when the NFL was founded. So for the NFL’s Jupiter return it got the Super Bowl.
But the most interesting structure in the chart can be read from left to right. Start with the triple conjunction in Pisces, on the top left. That is the Moon, squished between Chiron and Saturn. It would be a challenge to find an aspect that more eloquently said “emotional pain” than this one. The Moon represents the public, caught between a centaur and a hard place. It looks like the crowd is trying to work out its emotional pain by watching this game. One of my colleagues aptly described it as a blind spot, something that should be obvious but which is invisible.
Next, look at Mercury conjunct the Sun — in the 9th house of religion, in Capricorn, the sign of corporations. This looks like a megachurch or a cult.
Mercury is exactly sextile the Moon, and in a close sextile to Chiron and Saturn. It’s the image of something that works very well. Then there is Neptune late in the 6th on the cusp of the 7th — there is your drug/delusion/denial factor — and in Scorpio, another image of sexual fantasy.
Mars gets into the picture, taking squares from the Sun and Mercury (this combination of Mars and the squares having the potential for anger or rage). Mars makes aspects to all of the planets in the low 20-degree range. Which brings me to the Uranus-Pluto conjunction in the 5th house. This chart represents a revolution, a sign of the times, happening a few months before the release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.
It was also the height of the Vietnam War. So we have an image of the opposite of the peace and love concept of the Sixties — the return of the gladiators.
This whole aspect structure is all the more powerful because the Moon is directly involved. One of the co-rulers of the Taurus ascendant (the Moon is exalted in Taurus) and in deeply sensitive Pisces, the public is caught in a huge drama the like of which it does not understand. This scenario is far from benign, and beyond the medical implications for the players, there are ethical implications for everyone.
The Cult of Steroids, Violence, Advertising and Brain Trauma
Throughout the football charts, there are recurring images of sex, steroids and violence. Described by Neptune, we have images of television and denial. Super Bowl advertising is the most expensive in existence. All of this funds a game in which the players are getting their brains crushed. Looking at Neptune and other factors, it’s clear that steroids play a role in the injuries — ever larger players, on drugs that make them oblivious to pain, crashing into one another as a way of life.
This is distributed with high glamour into a society that has issues around violence and sex, taking the form of a mass religion. This is co-mingled into a multibillion dollar industry that is a backbone of the advertising business — the central cult of capitalism.
And now we know that among other things, this is the cult of brain damage and degenerative neurological diseases that have destroyed the lives of many great athletes.
As Pam Webster, the widow of football legend Mike Webster put it in a Frontline interview, “He was incredibly smart. And to see his brain declining years later was such a sad thing, because he was incredibly smart, and what I’ve said — the boys have this gift that they see detail that no one else picks up on, and Mike had that gift.”
She described their motive to bring a lawsuit against the NFL, which was filed after his death: ” I don’t think it was a battle just to, like a lawsuit or a disability lawsuit to just win money. It was to get the NFL to admit that they had something to do with it, that whether it be a cover-up or the knowledge or the fault, he wanted to speak for thousands like him.”
“I think on some level he knew things were wrong,” she added. “He couldn’t hold a sentence. One thing he wrote was getting thoughts across were like trying to talk — he compared it to tangled fishing wire. When fishing wire gets tangled you can’t untangle it — not even like a necklace, but fishing wire. It’s clear and it’s all tangled up. And that’s how his thought process was.”
That’s a good description of the whole problem, as things stand today.
Weekly Horoscope for Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, #985 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — Count on a friend or partner who is ready to step up to the challenge. You can be sure that a recent close call in this person’s life reminded them what really matters; it was truly a lesson learned. Meanwhile, this situation or one related to it taught you that you must refine your political skills. This is not just a matter of being able to play the game, though that counts for a lot — or rather, doing so without losing your soul. It’s also important to say thank you and please, to leave no email unanswered, let people know where you stand on commitments to them, and be honest about your values. It’s important to treat allies like allies. Put on hold — for good — any impulse to be aloof, a bitch or needlessly cocky. Success is a human skill, always fostered by the good graces of your fellow humans.
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — This may be one of the great moments in many years for knowing and understanding who you are. This has not been an easy aspect of life for you, though suddenly you are making actual progress — and you feel it. You may have discovered that where self-knowledge is concerned, the answers you get are only as helpful as the questions you ask are meaningful. To ask meaningful questions requires some knowledge. At the very least, you’ve come this far. In this, you seem to have discovered the secret to having faith in yourself. That’s the one about how much better it is to make a significant discovery by yourself, on your own terms. That will come in handy when someone you care about embarks on their own inner journey. Those close to you have learned something from your inner quest, and you have a feel for the appropriate space to hold when someone else is there.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — You are getting some clues about a career move, which is more like a re-envisioning of your life. This is not the kind of thing you do all at once, though there are indeed flashes of brilliance and illumination that can happen. Be aware that you don’t need to be in a place of love and light for that to be true, though you will feel better if you are. Either way, this is a moment when you can actually feel that your potential is real. Work with that. Get your idea into some tangible form, not just merely an inner picture or notion. Sketch it, put it on paper, write it down, come back to it the next day, revise, invent, reinvent. Keep all your notes. Keep going. Try one version where you describe what you would do in a perfect world with any opportunity. If you notice yourself declaring anything impossible, don’t believe it.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Were I writing this horoscope in 1930, I would look at your solar chart and say, “Expect a letter from overseas.” But it’s 2014 and you’ve probably already had 20 pieces of spam from Kazakhstan today. However, you can still expect a meaningful communication from a friend in another country — and before that happens, use your astrology consciously and reach out across the water. For those whose work involves any form of writing and publishing, this is a glorious moment. Notice your own thoughts going by. You seem aligned to receive the idea of a lifetime. Remember that the best ideas are not merely concepts; they are like archetypes that you develop a relationship to over time. Some of the most beautiful encounters begin in a subtle way, and develop in an individual way. Therefore, set aside your prejudices and look at the world through your wide-angle lens.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — The recent New Moon in your relationship house opens up the potential for a previously closed or strained connection to be re-opened. Check whether people close to you are suddenly more in the mood to negotiate and exchange — though never underestimate the value of your own willingness to have a real conversation. Use that resolve wisely; many others do not possess it in the abundance that you do. Start the conversation. When in doubt, listen for a while. Let the ideas that people express turn over in your mind until you have a grasp of where they’re coming from. That is likely to feel like a breakthrough. The more taboo the subject, the better. This is the time to say what was impossible before. Yes, this involves a risk and yes, these exchanges will change you and shape you and also your relationship. That’s the whole idea; that is what it means to relate in an open way.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — You currently have some of the most interesting sex transits I’ve seen in a while. Here’s how it looks to me: The hot-spot is self-focus — that of you or whomever you’re interested in. Many experience this but few will say much about it. Part of our culture’s obsession with relationship is a way of making narcissism acceptable and cool. It’s culturally acceptable to express it through another person. In reality we are all in relationship to one another’s self-love (or less savory feelings directed toward oneself). How the partners feel about themselves, rather than about one another, sets the tone of the relationship more than anything, in my view. And this is what you are free to explore, in an unusually delightful way. This would go from the dark to the light, not just the feelings you say are ‘good’. Another way to read this chart is as the bold message to indulge in guilty pleasures. And I’m not talking about Fettuccine Alfredo.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — You’re not a child anymore — be glad of that. You are also larger than the maze of feelings that have dominated you for so long. It would be worth asking why you had to make the mistakes so often, so that you don’t have to make them again. Yet there really was only one error in judgment, which was doubting your right to exist as the person you are — not who anyone else would have you be. There is always another opportunity to make that mistake — or to choose differently. The new form it could take is reluctance to do what is right for you; or as reluctance to act on your feelings. You might assign that to an emotional obligation, however if you feel any sense of obligation or guilt, you are probably dealing with a hangover from someone who was determined to teach you that you were not really free. Any such teaching would be false, because such a thing cannot be determined by anyone but you.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — A loved one or close partner may influence you to change your mind about something you have believed — or misbelieved — for a long time. Don’t worry if it feels strange that you’re being influenced by someone else; if there is trust, that is the bottom line. Coming around on an issue or giving up an old position is a necessary skill. The world has a lot of this that it needs to do, in order to get out of its current circumstances, which specifically come down to being stuck in the past. Yet there is a deeper lesson about you needing, and wanting, to be more mentally flexible, and more open to new ideas. Nothing has validity merely on the basis of “that’s how it was done before.” Value must re-affirm itself in every moment. It’s often said that there is nothing like an idea whose time has come — I would add there’s nothing like an idea whose time is done.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You are reaching the point where, if you don’t make a conscious move, you know something is going to come ‘out of nowhere’ and make the move for you. This is a way of life for some — wait long enough, something happens, a decision is made for them. In their minds, they are ‘saved’ from the responsibility of having to choose. That however subverts the single most important power we possess — the power of decision. I suggest you remove the elements of chance and self-coercion from your decision-making process. Stay as far as you can from that zone where you feel like you will be forced to choose. You don’t need to experience life on this level. The pleasure of the moment is about acting in a way that is wholly voluntary and in full accord with what you know, what you want and how you feel.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — Venus is about to return to direct motion in your sign after a six-week retrograde. Whatever has happened to you in these weeks, I suggest you make a conscious choice to remember what you learned, and put it to work on a daily basis. Remember what you discovered about yourself, and don’t forget that it’s really about you, here and now, not some alternate version of yourself somewhere else. You may be wondering why it was necessary to put up so much resistance to something so obvious. You don’t owe anything your emotional loyalty, and the sensation of owing is what would render any affection worthless anyway. That you still may struggle with guilt is the product of what was done to you — not what you did to others. You can heal almost any relationship with your sincerity. What you may appreciate is that’s exactly how you heal yourself.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — This is the year when you’re going to figure out money. Yes, money. The great mystery. The endless source of worry. The eternally useful. The font of evil. The ever-elusive. You may be discovering that you have to be more realistic about this topic. You like to take a spiritual approach — which you always will — but I would propose that it’s more about practicality than it is about purity or idealism. In your particular case, there is a deep element of healing, which bears a strong resemblance to acting on what you know to be true. Any overly-idealistic notions you have about money are likely to obscure this fact. Any purity-based approach is likely to obscure this fact, such as the desire not to seem materialistic or to have ‘clean hands’. Practical starts with honoring your values. If you don’t like gambling, you don’t go to the track. If you feel any activity for which you are paid is out of accord with your values, choose what is in accord. There is little or no gray area here.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Continue to take an organizational approach to your life and your work. Whatever you’re doing, you’re not in it alone. You are accompanied by those who have similar values as you do, and those who have similar respect for existence. You know that you’re alive in a moment of profound change, and you’re very likely to be feeling a calling to contribute. That is the theme on which to relate to others around you. Refuse to honor apathy or incompetence as values. Take the lead on focusing the mission of your community. Do this through constant communication with others, and with the determination to gently build consensus. You’re likely to feel like there is some missing element, lack of contact or a blind spot that you have to deal with; don’t take that so seriously. You’re on precisely the right path to get to the destination you want. Developments over the next week or so may not prove that point, though within a month or so I think you’ll be absolutely confident. Till then, have faith.