I’ve been especially remiss here in recent weeks. Life has been too busy, but I will be resuming in January.
Looking forward to seeing both “Creed” and “Concussion” over the holidays and will try to provide a review of each when I’m back.
Before I go, I wanted to flag the tweet by Danny Kanell that has gotten so much attention – the one in which he said: “The war on football is real. Not sure source but concussion alarmists are loving it. Liberal media loves it. Doesn’t matter. It’s real.”
Dave Zirin responds here. (Zirin’s got a great line, describing this war-on-football nonsense – a staple of right wing discourse – as the “war on Christmas with jock itch.”
Jason Whitlock backed up Kanell, natch. He started by asserting: “There isn’t an inaccurate word, syllable or character” in Kanell’s tweet. There are three assertions in the tweet that we could try to make sense of. The first is that there is a war on football. The second is that concussion alarmists “love it.” The third is that “Liberal media” loves it. Whitlock acknowledges later in the piece that the “Liberal Media” piece doesn’t really compute. So, the 100% accurate tweet not-withstanding, there’s one claim out of three that not even Whitlock wants to defend. And we might ask – who is the “Liberal media” in this case? Is it Kanell’s employer, ESPN? ESPN has certainly been a significant (though conflicted) source of concussion coverage. But it’s also football’s No. 1 promotional vehicle. And the most serious newsman at the network, Bob Ley, who has devoted serious attention to the issue is a Republican, according to the authoritative history of the network. Is it any of the other four major networks – CBS, NBC, ABC/Disney (ESPN’s owner) or FOX – each of whom has a massive television contract with the NFL (and college football)?
Not that I’d expect this sort of dopiness to actually add up, but couldn’t Kanell at least *try* to make a coherent argument here?
As for the second argument. Who are the “concussion alarmists?” Kanell was responding specifically to a New York Times op-ed by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neurologist who first characterized CTE (and is the subject of Concussion, played by Will Smith). Omalu said kids under 18 shouldn’t play football at all because of the potential long-lasting damage resulting from repeated head trauma. Kanell, in subsequent tweets, mocked the idea of listening to one doctor. But Omalu isn’t the only doctor who takes CTE seriously, or believes there is a close link between it and football. Indeed, even Omalu’s mentor, Dr. Julian Bailes, who is regarded as a football ‘defender’ and thinks it’s OK for kids to play football, told Mike and Mike this morning that football is particularly liable to leave players particularly susceptible to brain trauma not because of concussions, but because of repeated head blows – perhaps not amounting to concussions – that players are likely to sustain over time, in practice and in games.
That’s hardly a devastating attack on Omalu. And it is not at all consistent with the lone gunman theory Kanell wants to propound. There is disagreement and uncertainty about CTE, its prevalence and the risks of developing it from playing football. But Kanell’s simple-minded claim that one agenda-driven doctor is behind the “alarmism” about concussions shows that he’s not paying careful attention to the debate. And neither is Whitlock, who deployed the usual defense that athletes in other sports suffer concussions, too, as if playing soccer is likely to result in the kind of repeated head trauma that an offensive or defensive lineman will (Kevin Guskiewicz, a UNC colleague and one of the foremost researchers in this field, has expressed growing caution in recent years about CTE claims getting ahead of the evidence. But Guskiewicz’s own research has shown that college football players sustain head trauma consistent with the equivalent of slow speed car accidents on a regular basis, in practice, as well as in games. Sorry, that’s just not typical of most other sports).
The third claim is that the war on football is real.
I won’t rehash all of Whitlock’s support for Kanell’s claim that there is a war on football. But note – he insists it’s in significant part a function of “old media,” which he says loves baseball and wants to see it return to the throne as No. 1 sport and, consequently (or something) has it in for football. And that this “old media” drives the media-agenda more generally. And that it’s a bunch of nerdy guys who, I don’t know, have some kind of complex that makes them love baseball and resent football. Read it for yourself and tell me whether I’m misrepresenting the argument.
So, since Whitlock apparently lived on Jupiter without media access during the first decade of this century, let me provide a helpful reminder. Sports media went to *town* on baseball over its PED problems, making that a major part of the narrative of the sport for years. They targeted many of its top stars for relentless character attacks, denied a significant number of them entry into the Hall of Fame (including some on no evidence at all) and repeatedly called into question almost everything about the integrity of the sport and its future. And at the very same moment, their collective response to the obvious and significant presence of PEDs in the NFL was to sing, as one: “we could not possibly give less of a shit.”
Yep, it’s *that* media that Whitlock insists would do *anything* to kill football on behalf of baseball.
Somewhere in there, there’s an interesting article to write about media bandwagons and how those relate to the current focus on football’s health woes. But Kanell and Whitlock just sound foolish.