Hollywood: “Football Is Bad For Your Health.”

Now that Will Smith is playing Dr. Bennet Omalu in the new film Concussion, all of the sudden we’re all freaking out about the dangers of playing American Football. It’s way too easy to get cynical about every single aspect of this situation. There’s layers to this: 1). the NFL is more evil than Big Tobacco  and the Galactic Empire combined, 2). the information that has been brought fourth by recent studies on concussions and the affect of multiple concussions on the human brain have showed some terrifying results and a direct connection to playing football, 3). nobody has really cared about the dangers of multiple concussions and the increased risk of suffering from severe brain damage and playing football until now because Hollywood has made a fictionalized explainer version of it to spoon feed us information, 4). the American public seems to be more consumed by this issue than all other more pressing matters that we probably should address before we get around to the number one sport in this country. There is a lot to get butthurt over here. As a football fan myself, it’s really not a huge deal to me. If anything, I’m finding the positive in it.

The positives about the American public being interested in the connection between playing football and increased risk of severe brain damage are many. It’s too easy to be negative. I feel that I do have the luxury to look on the bright side more often than most people. (This is how I would describe the social phenomenon of “privilege”; to me, I describe it as more of a luxury because it is easier for me to be optimistic when I receive the the unwarranted benefit of the doubt from society). The good in this situation is that the public at large is not thinking about mental health. Sports are a cultural currency that connect all of us and give strangers from opposite ends of the humanity something to talk about. Sports are a common ground upon which we can build relationships. Sports are a way that we can more easily discuss social, political, and economical issues. From the Civil Rights Movement heroes like Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947 to Curt Flood becoming a champion for the rights of the worker by fighting Major League Baseball’s reserve clause in the late 1960’s. Sports give us all access and insight and a voice when it comes to important issues that affect us as a nation.

Mental health is a big issue in America and it’s a problem that we are not addressing properly. I don’t want to get too much into it because I do talk about it a lot but this is best way that I can explain mental health as a public health crisis in America by using myself as an example here real quick: I’ve been to hospitalized once for a nervous breakdown, hospitalized a second time to detox for alcohol abuse, and then spent two months in rehab and with all of that, I can still buy as many guns and as much ammunition as I want to without anybody stopping me or asking questions. My mental health sucks and it’s not like I’ve kept it a secret and not sought help. However, I can still buy a gun. It makes me very uncomfortable that, of all people, I can buy a gun. I should not be able to buy a gun. Just another real quick side note: how is it that nobody realizes this scam that is America? We can buy tons of guns but health care isn’t free? If I ran an insurance company, I would invest heavily in firearms and bank on Americans shooting each other up so I could make as much money as possible when they all get sent to the hospital. That’s really fucked up but that’s what’s going on over here. My point is that taking care of all of the issues regarding mental health in America is not as high of a priority as it should be.

If it takes a Hollywood version of reality to get us talking about mental health, then that’s what it takes. Don’t be a negative dick about it. My take on this is that it doesn’t matter what it takes to get the public’s attention. Anything that gets the public’s attention and gets the national conversation started is a good thing. I don’t care if it takes a Will Smith movie for us to all get informed about concussions and brain damage. Remove the pine cone from your rectum and shut the fuck up. Americans are now actually interested in the science behind brain damage. Who cares why?

This is a step in the right direction. The public has been stimulated by the health crisis that is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). That’s actually kind of cool if you think about it. The public is discussing brain science. Tau protein. Multiple concussion syndrome. Depression. Suicide. Early onset Alzheimer’s. How could this be a bad thing?

The National Football League is going to war with Big Medicine and Hollywood. These three entities, at times, are more powerful than our government. It’s one thing for the CDC to tell you that concussions are bad for you. It’s another thing when one of your favorite football players from childhood kills himself because he’s suffering from CTE. I used to love Junior Seau. His suicide was even more disturbing because he shot himself in the chest and left a note asking that his brain be examined by neuroscientists. He knew that something was very wrong. This is important. Is one man’s life more important than another’s? No, of course not. But the difference is that Junior Seau was a very well known public figure and millions of people were shocked an upset by his suicide.

ESPN may be owned by Disney, but it’s the NFL’s bitch. Football is the life force that drives ESPN. Now that the movie Concussion is coming out, ESPN is dedicating more air time to discussing the concussion crisis that’s got the Ginger Hammer (malevolent dickhead and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell), the owners, and the entire league by the balls up against the wall. Reports by the league office have indicated that if little league football participation (kids who play in organized leagues who are under college-aged) drop off by even as little as 10% then football will take a serious blow. Lower little league participation won’t kill off the NFL but it will devastate the sport in the way that the absence of heavy weight fighters has all but killed boxing. Sony is the company that is releasing the film Concussion. Columbia Pictures, under Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., is the studio that is releasing the film. Now, The Walt Disney Co. is mass media conglomerate that owns ESPN. Following the money trail is usually a good way to understand the motivations behind both individual people and entire companies. I can’t help but wonder how much attention Disney would be giving to the concussion crisis if they did not own ESPN.

Disney has made the smart move and bought the rights to Star Wars. There’s no controversy surrounding Star Wars that could hurt the company. It’s a really good investment because it’s the next best thing to failure-proof. Think about this, the prequel trilogy sucked wicked bad but it still made bajillions of dollars. It’s not even possible to make a movie that’s worse than Episode I or makes more people angry. Conversely, football looks like it is heading in the direction of boxing. Most people don’t know this or don’t believe it even if they grew up in this era (because they’re stupid or just don’t pay attention to sports or culture) but there was a time that professional boxing was the biggest sport in America.

My grandfathers left work early and let their whole offices out of work early to go listen to the big boxing match on the radio back in the day. And that was back in Mad Men America. It’s hard to imagine but boxing was number one in this country for a long time. And then it got too dangerous, heavy weights left the game because the money was better in other sports (like football) and boxing is pretty much godawful now unless it’s Olympic Boxing, which is kind of dope. If you leave work early to watch a boxing match, you’re a weirdo. Call out of work to watch footbaw? No need to even call in because your office is probably closed anyway! But nothing lasts forever, especially cultural movements. It’s not impossible to imagine that my grandchildren will think of Tom Brady as a distant figure of greatness from yesteryear in much the same way as I think of Muhammad Ali. In fifty years, when I’m 72 years old, it’s a safer bet to say that football as we know it will either be dead or virtually unrecognizable than it is to say that it’ll be exactly the same and still be the number one sport in America. That’d be so stupid. There is no way that football will still be number one fifty years from now.

Fifty years ago (which would have been 1965), it was all but completely illegal to be black or anything other than white, boxing was the number one sport in America, there were only like 38 countries in the world, Spain was still a fascist country under Fransisco Franco (bff of Adolf Hitler), TV was still a new thing, and everybody smoked 5 packs of Lucky Strikes a day because they thought that smoking was good for your health. And fifty years before that? One hundred fuck years ago? In 1915, Europe was a shit hole, the Red Sox were winning World Series all the time and still had Babe Ruth, there were only like 10 countries in the world, America and France were the only countries without kings or queens, we pretty much had an empire and controlled the entire Caribbean and Central America, everybody was insanely racist and eugenics were the new and cool popular science topic, one of the richest and most powerful men in America was completely fucking illiterate (Henry fucking Ford…Jesus Christ…), the Ottoman Empire was still a thing, radio was new, the number one movie in the country was D.W. Griffith’s KKK origin story action-thriller Birth of a Nation, and our president was racist idiot Woodrow Wilson, and there were only two countries in Africa (Ethiopia and Liberia; I’m not counting 1915 South Africa). My point is that things change a lot in fifty years.

As far as this whole concussion crisis and the NFL is concerned, I think that it’s at the point (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) where it is not the beginning of the end but rather the end of the beginning. Those of us who follow football have known this for years. Head Games,  the documentary released in 2012, along with the PBS Frontline special that came out around the same time on concussions gave a lot of good insight into what has been going on behind the scenes for the past few decades. The NFL is now caught in a big cover up job having known about these issues regarding player safety and decided not to do anything about it, obscure the facts, and take a stance on the side of denial. With the release of Concussion, the conversation has opened up to the public at large. Concussions, CTE, and player safety are not just topics discussed by NFL fans and parents of football players. Now everybody is aware of the situation in the NFL and a whole new dimension is added to the issue because of the now increased outside pressure from previously unaware or otherwise unconcerned Americans. The proverbial cat is out of the bag and the nation’s attention is on the NFL. It’s now on everybody’s radar and I think that that alone qualifies this as the end of the beginning.

Are the more important things that we ought to be worried about? Gun control? Gay rights? Civil rights? Healthcare? ISIS? Women’s rights and gender equality? The insane wealth gap and the death of the middle class? The shittiness and incompetence of our government? Hunger and poverty? The face that federal minimum wage is less now ($7.25 per hour) than is was in 1969 ($10 per hour) even before you adjust for inflation? The Fifth Crusade that we have going on now in the Middle East? Police brutality? Mass shootings? Our embarrassingly underfunded and under-supported public school system? The scam of the century that is the price tag on a college education? All of these things are problems that must be fixed and will be fixed. We know these things. We know that these problems must be solved. They affect our daily lives. It’s important to not make the mistake of thinking that just because the topic of concussions and the NFL is now on the table and has captured the public’s attention that it has entirely consumed our society’s collective focus and efforts. It’s not like we’re fucking dropping everything and marching on the NFL’s league office and demanding change. The problems that I mentioned above are the things that we are all working on every second of our lives and with every step we take just going about our day as Americans. It just so happens that we’re also talking about concussions now too. And that’s not a bad thing either.

There’s no sense in negativity and cynicism. That’s not helpful. Calling people in general “stupid” and “hating everybody” is dumb. The only stupid person is you for trying to be an edgy misanthropist. Stop it. If you don’t like the conversation then change the fucking channel. If you don’t like football, don’t watch football. If you don’t like sports, don’t watch sports. If you like concussions, then don’t read about the negative side effects of concussions. If you think that by talking about football and concussion that we’re somehow ignoring all other issues, then you’re a fucking idiot. Life is way too short to be butthurt over stupid things. If it makes you mad that people watch sports and care about sports, you suck and you probably have much deeper seeded issues that make you hate things that make other people happy. You’re just a dick. This is my round about way to make the point that there is a lot of positive to take away from this NFL concussion crisis and the increased media coverage now that Hollywood has stepped into the conversation. This is a 2,500 word essay that could be summed up by saying, “inb4 butthurt about sportsball movie”. So don’t be that “edgy” guy bitching about people talking about football. You’re not “edgy” or interesting or adding anything to the conversation by commenting on how you feel about the conversation. By saying that the national conversation is dumb, you’re basically just admitting that you’re an uninformed moron who has absolutely nothing to say. Go take your rustled jimmies elsewhere.

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