Frontline tweeted this report less than an hour ago. From the article: “…New data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined.”
I feel it is only a matter of time for the links between brain damage and violent behavior to become clearer. However, I don’t believe any of this matters. We Americans will continue to purchase the NFL and support its sponsors and the businesses affiliated with the sport, no matter what investigations or scandals reveal about the culture, or what studies quantify about the actual brutality of the game.
I’ll come clean: concussions really don’t bother me, not by themselves. If grown men want to slam their heads into one another, or enter a ring and attempt to knock each other out with heavy blows, that’s their very entertaining business. It requires naiveté or delusion to see what football players do and to conclude that this sport is healthy on the head. The “concussion scandal,” if you can call it that, is minor compared to the reality of a league whose brass and governing bodies see domestic violence and child abuse as tertiary, even annoying issues when compared to their profits, sport or overall camaraderie.
But what if brain damage is intimately linked to violent behavior? I don’t believe Adrian Peterson whipped his son’s testicles because he has brain damage; I believe he was raised in a culture that equated child abuse with sound rearing, as some idiotic percentage of American parents think hitting children has benefits. (Those same people feel hitting a dog in public is a crime.) It might be true, given what we’re learning, that the act of slamming one’s plastic-encased head into another plastic-encased head is the act of creating violent people, men who will take our their aggression on strangers, lovers and children.
It’s one thing to love a sport, as the Romans did (and I am not among those who fetishize the comparison of Rome and America, but it’s convenient in this case), that leaves men dead in the sand. It’s brutal, but there’s no illusion. In contrast to them, we’re engaged in conversations about safety and discipline procedures. We’re so attached to this game, so invested in the love of our teams, that it’s clouding our vision, and we’re spewing a bullshit narrative.
What would it take for America to turn away from this game? What would it take for us to seek out a different form of community on Sundays? A child’s beaten testicles, a knocked out wife and a league office that says, “Who cares”? Now a study that confirms over 96% of studied brains were damaged?
Nope. Not enough.