Last week’s “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” undeniably portrayed the league in an undeniably negative light.
The “Frontline” documentary didn’t necessarily prevent football fans from watching subsequent games on TV or even prevent them from enjoying every time a collision prompted a player to hear Norwegian folk songs inside his battered head.
But those of us who saw the program have to be concussed ourselves if we weren’t a little less comfortable than normal.
The NFL’s primary priority is player safety. Or so league officials say. And say and say and say until maybe even they believe it.
Yet the Bears and the Giants played a scheduled Thursday game last week — as two or more teams do every week — which means players had three fewer days to recover from the previous week’s slobberknocking.
The NFL would schedule teams to play on consecutive days with the first kickoff at 3 p.m. and the second at 3 a.m. on fields of shattered glass in some third-world country where a dictator with a military rank is willing to ante up his people’s lunch money for the event.
“Welcome, football fans everywhere, to the Kabutzal Classic brought to you from His Loveworthy Col. Kabutzal K. Kabutzal Stadium in Kabutzal City, Kabutzal.”
The Bears played the Giants without ailing cornerback Charles Tillman, who head coach Marc Trestman said probably would have been ready if he had a full week to get healthy.
D.J. Williams was ready, but it turned out Tillman was lucky by comparison. The Bears’ middle linebacker tore a pectoral muscle and is out for the season.
Injuries like Williams’ happen every Sunday, so his might have happened if the Bears hadn’t played before their time. NFL operatives likely would insist anyway that there’s no confirmed link between less recovery time and injuries, which is what they say about football and concussions.
“League of Denial” condemned the NFL, but the league hasn’t been the only party at fault.
During the NFL’s alleged 20-year period of negligence, players had to suspect that football was harmful to their health. So did fans who help fund this game, sponsors who spend millions of dollars for a 30-second commercial on the Super Bowl telecast, TV networks desperate for programming, and journalists like me eager to glorify NFL violence.
However, only the NFL allegedly engaged in a shell game revolving around the risk of players suffering brain damage. Accusations against the league include ignoring scientific data, taking the issue seriously only after denials became embarrassing, and avoiding an admission of wrongdoing under oath by paying $765 million to settle a lawsuit filed by former players.
The “Frontline” documentary was more chilling than Bears weather: players suffering from depression; several committing suicide; shattered marriages; financial freefalls; and proud men generally stripped of their dignity.
For the sake of conversation, let’s say that science eventually provides evidence that not even the NFL can deny.
Mr. NFL commissioner, would you resign from your job as a matter of conscience? Mr. NFL club owner, would you sell your team to not be party to the carnage? Mr. league official, would you prohibit — not just discourage, but prohibit — your sons and grandsons from playing football?
While waiting for answers, we all can go back to savoring the big hits the sport will provide from now through the Super Bowl in February.
Which, by the way, won’t be played in Kabutzal City.
Wait ’til next year.
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