Last week I watched Public Television’s Frontline documentary based upon the recently released book “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and The Battle for Truth.”
Because ignorance truly is bliss, the vast majority of football fans will pass on the book and film. And you can be damn sure the NFL suits are working overtime to pressure ESPN and other media outlets to suppress the book’s findings. In this drama, the NFL is Big Tobacco in the 1980s. The book was a story immediately after its release, but since then it’s been the proverbial tree in the forest.
Despite knowing much more about the detrimental long term effects of playing football, I still watched a lot of it last week—a little Washington v Oregon, UCLA v Cal, and Seattle v Tennessee. Yes, I’m part of the problem.
Not that anyone should generalize from me, but I think I could kick my forty-five year old football playing and viewing habit if there were substitutes on television on fall weekends. I haven’t learned to eat lunch on Saturdays without some sporting event on television. We used to get a cable station, Universal Sports, that was made for me. It broadcast major marathons, triathlons, and related endurance events around the world.
If the Chicago Marathon and Ironman Hawaii World Championship were on television last weekend, I would have happily watched them instead of my beloved Bruins (especially since they were taking it to the Golden Bears). At first glance, those appear to be poor substitutes because there’s zero physical contact, but upon closer review, they’re excellent ones because they’re physically demanding in their own way, often equally dramatic, and in the end, tremendously compelling.
When I watch cyclists attack in the Alps during the Tour de France, and then the chaos of the shattered peloton, I get just as excited as when a hard hitting safety lights up an unsuspecting receiver on a crossing route. I get similarly fired up when watching a sprint at the end of a long distance run or open water swim. Last summer, after watching a stage of the Tour marked by a steady stream of attacks and counter-attacks, I told the Good Wife, “It was like watching a heavyweight fight.”
Speaking of which, it’s been decades since I watched a professional fight. Truth be told, I think boxing is barbaric and have zero interest in it. Don’t tell my 20-something male students, but I’m even more repulsed by mixed martial arts.
I won’t be surprised if some fall day in the not too distant future I find other things to care about besides whether UCLA beats Stanford and wins the Pac-12 South. And if I end up thinking about football the way I think about boxing and mixed martial arts.
[Postscript—Here’s a really excellent discussion/debate about the substance of the book and film.]