I finally had a chance to see the PBS Frontline documentary "League of Denial". The show dominated sports/talk radio for several days last week with the dire predictions that "no mother will ever let her son play football again" and "this will be the death of tackle football in America".
While I did find the documentary thought-provoking and fairly level-headed (albeit one-sided, due to the NFL's refusal to provide anyone for comment). The stories of former greats like Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers descending into homelessness and deep depression due to brain damage likely caused by repeated blows to the head while playing were very sad. And the details of the NFL's efforts to discredit any medical research into the effects of such repeated blows was infuriating. But in the end, nobody was saying that "If you play football, you will end up with permanent and debilitating brain damage."
What makes me chuckle now, is the "day after" reaction from the talking heads and pundits. "No mother will allow her son to play football after this". Really? Like no mother allows her son to drink before he is 21, have sex before he is 18, never use illegal drugs and view only age-appropriate material on the internet? Good luck with that. And you are telling me that the single mother of an inner city child who can run a 4.2 40 or the family of a 6'4" 280 pound 15-year old with natural strength and good balance are going to pass up a chance to get their son into college and the NFL Draft and the golden egg of a multi-million dollar contract over concerns about his mental condition 40-years from now? Yeah right.
Just three days after Frontline aired, I was in the press box at a high school game seeing those same "concerned parents" cheering big hits that caused fumbles and incomplete passes and sacks--and not a single mother or father ran down onto the field and dragged their son off out of "concern for his safety". The same thing happened at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday--where, ironically enough--Jared Abbredaris of Wautoma had to be removed from the game in the 1st half due to a "head injury". He hopes to play this Saturday night against Illinois.
As I mentioned in a previous My Two Cents, the death of football will not come from millions of moms vetoing Junior's request to play middle school and high school ball. It will not come from thousands of doctors expressing their concerns about repeated head trauma. And it won't come from viewers of PBS Frontline. The people who pose the greatest threat to the future of football are the six or seven or eight people who sit on local School Boards--who after hearing from one or two concerned parents who "saw a show on TV" or who "read a report on the internet" about concussions in football--will vote to end the sport at their schools. And it will be the Faculty Senates--jealous of the money generated (and spent) by big-time college athletic programs--who will demand their universities drop the sport "for the student-athletes' safety".
Let's hope Frontline never does a documentary on the dangers of teen drivers--or kids will never be allowed out of the house again.