National Commentary

Football & the Decline Of America, Part 2

nfbentonpicSadly but not surprisingly, the Washington Post, an unrelenting cheerleader for the Washington Redskins and the National Football League, completely blacked out any reference to the monumental ruling by Judge Anita Brody, first reported Tuesday, to reject the terms of the settlement between the NFL and attorneys representing 4,000 former players.

The settlement, harshly criticized by many when announced last August, stipulated that the NFL will provide $760 million to the players over the next 65 years to assist in their coping with the lasting impact of on-field head injuries suffered during their playing days. Most observers felt the settlement sum was woefully inadequate, mere pocket change from the NFL’s point of view. Judge Brody’s ruling spoke to just that point.

The judge found that there was not sufficient evidence that the $760 million sum was adequate to cover the actual costs of care of what, over 65 years, is expected to be over 20,000 players. According to a Sports Illustrated report, the terms involve providing $1.5 million for a Level 1 Neurocognitive Impairment, $3 million for a Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment, $3.5 millon for Alzheimer’s Disease, $3.5 million for Parkinson’s Disease, $5 million for ALS, and $4 million for death with “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE).

While it is highly problematic that the attorneys representing the players who brought the suit were willing to agree to the terms of the settlement, the question raised by the judge begs the bigger question of what the heck is going on here, anyway.

The judge wrote, “Even if only 10 percent of retired NFL football players eventually receive a qualifying diagnosis, it is difficult to see how the monetary award fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels.”

The real news is this: The judge is postulating that perhaps more than 10 percent of all NFL players will come away from their playing days with debilitating and permanent brain damage.

How is this tolerated? What kind of a culture blithely stands by, and cheers on by the tens of millions, a macabre scenario of the acknowledged and intentional infliction of such terrible human damage?

A study conducted by the Associated Press last month confirmed that “almost once a game, an NFL player absorbs an illegal blow to the head or neck that could put his career – or worse – at risk.” The conclusion was based on a review of penalties through the first 11 weeks of the current season.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru co-authored a book last year entitled League of Denial: the NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth. It became the basis for a two-hour “Frontline” special aired on the Public Broadcasting System last fall.

The evidence they presented is remarkably damning, showing the depths to which the NFL has gone to obfuscate and cover up this issue.

Beyond the perceptible concussion is the deeper and more insidious issue of repeated blows to the head of a sub-concussive nature, the kind that a player can expect to suffer numerous times during any practice session or game, to which players even at very young ages are subject.

These are the kinds of blows that can readily induce dreaded CTE, a condition of bruising of the brain that progresses over a lifetime to result in dementia and premature death. The brain, after all, is a soft tissue mass that floats inside an exceptionally hard cranium. With every “hit,” the brain slams against the inside of the cranium.

Exceptionally hard hits result in immediate symptoms of a concussion. However, the brain can be undergoing permanent damage with constant sub-concussive hits. The problem is that, currently, there is no way to tell if a player has developed CTE until he dies and the brain can be fully examined.

The bombshell reality is that there may be hundreds of thousands, if not more, American males now walking around with undiagnosed CTE, because while the NFL is an elite group, the popularity of football is pervasive in our culture, a rite of passage, a “sissy-killing” ritual for almost every boy or young man from pre-teens through high school.