A new, hard-hitting PBS documentary sheds light on the decades-old concussion problem that has plagued the nation's top sports organization: the NFL. But don't expect the documentary to rival Monday Night Football on the ratings scale.
The last time the documentary League of Denial was in the news it was because sports giant ESPN had left the documentary citing a lack of editorial control. It appeared ESPN had a conflict of interest in the piece from the get-go, considering they rake in $1.9 billion a year hosting Monday Night Football on their network. Now while the mounting evidence of the damage concussions cause can be seen in tragic events like the Junior Seau suicide, fans want the big hits that make them jump off their couches. This documentary will assure those who have already made up their minds on the concussion crisis and will be ignored by those who groan every time a flag leaves an official's hand following a big hit over the middle.
One of the central stories of the film is Mike Webster's, the Hall of Fame center that anchored the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s. Webster would develop dementia, a series of body aches, and pill addictions that would destroy his mind. He's pieced together thoughts confusing the audience and himself. It is truly a sad sight to see, reminiscent of the Jim McMahon interview that ESPN Outside the Lines showed last year where McMahon stated he had short-term memory issues. These stories are decades old, from times when the science may not have been readily available to showcase the long-term damage of this lifestyle. I'm sure the football fan today would feel that these old-timers who built the league with grit are due their money, and shouldn't be forced to live their lives in perpetual darkness.
Today's players have no excuse.
There is no reason that with all of this information so readily available that a grown man in a division one NCAA football program choosing to play professional football can claim that he did not know the risks. The reality is that football is a dangerous and violent game and everyone knows it. The problem of the past is disconnected from the growing view that defense is dead in the NFL and that the league is a hop, skip, and a jump away from it becoming flag football. That's where viewership will suffer.
I imagine many NFL fans share that same sentiment: that those who play in this era have no excuse to ignore the dangers of football. When big hits end in flags you can hear the groans in the stands. The possession receiver getting blown-up over the middle is part of the game, no different than cleats and shoulder pads. Those who played in a forgone era where players made six figures and had part-time jobs in the off-season should get the help they need.
Now science has caught up. Stop changing the league for past mistakes. The players are on contracts and make the decision to play football. Either play or don't play.
This documentary, which by all appearances will prove to be very well crafted, will change few minds. When it comes to football hits and concussion settlement packages, America has already chosen sides.