Football has been THE number one sport in my family since I was a wee little girl in Upstate New York. Buffalo Bills football to be specific. Yes, I’m a Bills fan. Zip it.
So, the first time I ever saw a traumatic head injury, besides seeing one brother smack another over the head with a hair brush, was in 1989 when speedy Bill, Don Beebe, got his leg swept by Cleveland Brown player, Felix Wright in the playoffs. He literally flipped in the air and bounced off of his head like a pogo-stick and landed lifeless on the ground. My mom shrieked and my brothers and I stared at the TV mouth agape.
Beebe was ok. He had to wear a giant Marvin-the-Martian-esque padded helmet after that, which I believe is the same size the Manning brothers currently use. Man those guys have big domes, geez. Anyway, that’s the way the game goes. It’s football! You get paid big money to take big hits and that’s that. Right?
In an attempt to raise safety awareness in the NFL the documentary, The United States of Football, explores the effects of repeated brain trauma and the terrifying aftermath. The doc touched on many football players and subjects but Junior Seau and the late Chicago Bear, Dave Deurson were, I think, the most prevalent.
Both men suffered from depression and dementia from their many years on the field. Both men also committed suicide using a gunshot to the heart so their brain could be used for science. It was discovered that both men had CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which occurs from repeated blows to the brain. Coincidentally, two of the biggest symptoms in CTE are depression and dementia. Go figure. Can this crisis be averted in our nation’s obsession with this high-contact sport?
According to director Sean Pamphilon’s research and interviews, no. Not at the moment. The most shocking part of the doc was when they confirmed that there is no safe helmet. The brain still rocks back and forth. The imagery was pretty jarring. Players get fined for dirty hits, yes, but the amount of their fine is probably the equivalent of the average person’s trip to Target. Not exactly a deterrent. The film suggests these hits remain prevalent due to the conditioning of players at a young age, which brings us to Pee Wee football.
Watching terrible coaches, aka someone’s dad or creepy cousin, teach children to hit HARD and not clean is causing parents to consider soccer instead. The fact that taking a guy out is embedded in their skulls at such a young age is a main factor as to why the game is played the way it is. Detroit Lion, Ndamukong “Kicky” Suh, comes to mind. Scary stuff.
Pamphilon's doc probably won't drastically change the way the game is played, but awareness is half the battle I guess. After all there was just that multi-million dollar settlement for former NFL players with head injuries. That's something!
I would suggest giving this movie a watch, for sure. I attended a special screening on Tuesday, not sure when it'll be back in the city but keep your ears to the ground.
Why was my screening so special? I got to sit in a room with former Chicago Bears, Gale Sayers, Dennis McKinnon, Emery Moorehead and Chicago native and legendary Bills coach, Marv Levy. Boom!
The audience got to do a Q & A afterwards and the four football greats were unanimous in the thought that the game was going to be way different in ten years in terms of safety. I’m still skeptical. The NFL is a business and there is no way they’re going to make it as safe as it should be without losing viewers. Also, the male ego is a powerful and ridiculous thing…just saying.
I’m so very happy it’s September.
“Play hard! Play clean! But — win or lose — honor the game.” –Marv Levy