The serious problem of football players suffering brain damage from repeated concussions is becoming a big issue. The National Football League has managed to strike a deal with the players union that temporarily takes it out of the courts and as hard as it may be to imagine in these days when football is so popular, I think it is only a matter of time before we begin to view it that same way we now view gladiatorial contests of the past.
The NFL has gone flat out to try and bury this issue, to the extent of forcing ESPN to back out of a collaboration with PBS’s Frontline to produce a program on the topic.
According to Times writers James Andrew Miller and Ken Belson, ESPN withdrew from this unique investigative project, titled League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, because of pressure from their most profitable broadcast partner, the almighty NFL. As Miller and Belson reported, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sat down for lunch with John Skipper, ESPN’s president; John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president for production; and Steve Bornstein, president of the NFL Network, and cracked the whip. After their luncheon it was quickly announced that there would be no ESPN logos, branding, or promotion for “League of Denial.” This move comes despite the fact that two of their most high-profile journalists, brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, did the lion’s share of work on the project and will even have a book with the same title released in conjunction with the film.
The program will be produced anyway, and there is also a new documentary Head Games that is in the pipeline, produced by the same people who created the much acclaimed Hoop Dreams. Here is the trailer.
The idea of people risking their health and even their lives merely for the entertainment of others will (I hope) soon be seen as monstrous. Boxing already has started to feel the stigma of being seen as barbaric and other high-contact sports may soon go the same way.