Columnists, Sports

Fish And Chipps: Why ‘Concussion’ won’t hurt the NFL

Will Smith stars in Columbia Pictures’ “Concussion.” PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC.
Will Smith stars in Columbia Pictures’ “Concussion.” PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC.

Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?

We see what we want to see. We know what we want to know. And we ignore the truth when it doesn’t affect us.

You probably know something about the concussion epidemic and the stories of hundreds of former NFL players who are suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or have died from the effects of the horrible brain disease.

You may remember Jovan Belcher, the former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who killed his girlfriend and then himself at the Chiefs’ training facility in 2012.

You may have heard of Pittsburgh Steelers legend Mike Webster, who was the first known former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE after forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu did research on Webster following his death in 2002. Webster’s brain looked more like a boxer’s with Alzheimer’s disease than that of a 50-year-old middle aged man.

You may have seen some of the dogged reporting by HBO’s “Real Sports” correspondents who have documented the gut-wrenching stories of former football players who have succumbed to this deadly disease.

You probably know something about all of this, but has any of it stopped you from watching or associating with football in any way?

Nope. And that’s what I thought.

The new movie “Concussion” will be hitting theaters this Christmas and it’s already stirring up a lot of heat about how it could impact the NFL.

Although the trailer looks compelling, and hopefully will be equally as thrilling when it comes to the big screen, I still have one basic question: what will this movie tell us that we don’t already know?

The facts have been out there for years: repeated trauma to the head can cause CTE, and football players are at a higher risk of developing brain trauma and early onset dementia caused by CTE.

The stories of Webster and former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters have been told countless times through multiple media outlets.

Just a few weeks ago, the family of Frank Gifford announced that the former Monday Night Football host and Hall-of-Famer was a victim to CTE and had been struggling with the effects of the disease before he died earlier this year.

There have been countless investigations and reports conducted by award-winning journalists and news organizations that have detailed how Roger Goodell and the NFL have tried to cover up the concussion crisis and other huge scandals that every other organization would suffer from financially.

PBS’ 2013 documentary, “League of Denial” detailed how the NFL actively worked to discredit Omalu’s findings and the discoveries of Ann McKee and Chris Nowinski, who are a part of Boston University’s CTE Center and are the world leaders in brain trauma research.

Earlier this year, McKee’s research team at the Department of Veterans Affairs and BU published a study which found that 87 of the 91 brains of former NFL players tested had some form of CTE. A wider sample from players at all levels of football — high school, college, semi-professional and professional — found CTE in the brain tissue of 131 out of 165 brains tested. That’s a whopping 96 percent of NFL brains and 79 percent of total brains tested.

Not only is football destroying players’ brains, it’s killing our young people too. This year alone, seven high school football players have died from football-related injuries.

These aren’t hypothetical theorems or complex issues that can be debated in congressional hearings. These are cold stone facts: seven young boys died playing American football, and we move on as if, “It’s just part of the game.”

Amid all of the negative publicity and terrible truths discovered about the damages that football and head trauma have caused, the NFL has not only managed to stave off most of the negative publicity, but in that same time it’s managed to flourish and make more money.

The NFL is more popular now than ever before. Last year’s Super Bowl was viewed by 114.4 million people — the most watched show in U.S. television history.

The NFL is the only organization I’ve ever seen that can survive amid all of the damning evidence against itself.

The NFL recently settled a $1 billion lawsuit with the NFL Player’s Association, and over the past two years the league has been at the forefront of two national domestic violence cases.

Don Van Natta Jr., an alumnus of BU and The Daily Free Press, along with Kevin Van Valkenburg, wrote a scathing report for ESPN last year on how the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens knew about the Ray Rice elevator video and tried to cover it up.

Deadspin recently published a lengthy report on the Dallas Cowboys Greg Hardy and his domestic violence case, in which it released the pictures of Hardy’s ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, after he assaulted her.

All of this information has been out there for football fans to digest and comprehend, and how much of it has truly changed your perception of the NFL and the game of football? Has any of this compelled you to actively stop watching football or advocate for better player safety and stricter personal conduct policies?

Nope. And that’s what I thought.

What’s to suggest that a movie with Will Smith as its star will finally be the tool that hurts the NFL?

Everything you need to know about the NFL, its lack of transparency and the way it has tried to hide behind the concussion crisis and other major scandals has been staring us in the face for years.

And sadly, as the film so rightfully puts it, the NFL still owns a day of the week.

I hope “Concussion” does change Americans’ perceptions of the NFL — it’s never too late, I guess.

But the death toll and the lives that have been taken by CTE and concussions hasn’t stopped the machine that is the NFL from continuing to build a multi-billion dollar empire.

The league will face some critical backlash for a few weeks as the film makes its rounds around the country, but I guarantee that by the time Super Bowl 50 kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 7, it’ll be just another public relations nightmare the NFL has successfully escaped.

Whether or not we want to admit it, the truth about “America’s sport” has been readily available to all of us for quite some time — we’ve just chosen to look the other way, because ignorance is bliss.

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