League Of Denial

This was tough for me. And not just because I love watching NFL games with my kid and have grown into a bona fide TN Titan homer. My oldest son loves football more than cartoon mice love giant blocks of cheddar. He loves everything about it, the pro game, the college game, Madden, flag, imaginary games in the yard…even paper football.

And some of the most precious memories I’ve enjoyed the last few years were created by sitting with Jesse in our over-stuffed chair, rooting hard for our Titans or just critiquing plays together.

So it was with some trepidation I logged onto the PBS Frontline site and watched the documentary film League Of Denial.

I don’t WANT to think about all those injuries. I don’t even really want to know what the NFL knew…or when they knew it. I want football to somehow not change and yet become exponentially safer for the players. But that’s a ridiculous thing to want.

The film is well done, more pedestrian than anything approaching art. And it’s freighted with a rather obvious agenda. I don’t begrudge the makers’ viewpoint, just pointing it out.

That agenda is something I will try and explain (without infusing any agenda of my own!) when I finally decide to sit down with Jesse and watch the film together.

See…this is his first year of tackle football. And all proud Dad-isms aside…he’s a total stud. Most games this year he played every down–that’s offense, defense, and special teams. In two games he scored 3 touchdowns in the first half alone! He blocks well, has a decent football IQ, and is typically the fastest kid on the field. As a (mostly former) athlete, I understand what it’s like to actually be good at something I love. And more importantly, to be a part of a team.

And yet…

There’s this disease that’s been discovered called CTE. (It stands for something long and complicated and multisyllabic.) Basically, the medical experts have been examining the brains of deceased football players and find this protein called tau. The evidence is mounting that this disease is causing all sorts of difficulties for aging victims. Things like dementia, addictions, violent mood swings, and suicidal tendencies. Junior Seau is the most recent famous victim.

To be clear, there’s not a direct scientific link. But 19 out of the first 20 brains examined were rife with the disease. And in one case it has actually appeared in a high school football player who took his own life.

My plan is NOT to discourage Jesse from playing football. But rather to have a frank discussion and let him make his own decision whether he wants to continue with tackle football or not.

Of course, it will be easy for me if he decides he doesn’t want to play. It keeps me from the potentially brutal dilemma of having to decide for him.

If you have even a casual interest in football, the film is worth watching. And if you have seen it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

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