National Commentary

The Ugly Truth About Football

nfbenton-mugThe ongoing descent of the Trump campaign hate rhetoric and attacks spiraling toward places no self-respecting gutter would go owes whatever traction it has in the electorate to a systematic, decades-long decay of core humanitarian American geniality and civility.

Where will this stop? It’s clear the November election won’t serve that purpose. If Trump wins, it will explode the rage and prejudice bubbling over into a horrifying end-game for the U.S. and civilization as we know it. If Clinton wins, the Trump phenomenon will continue to grow, but only in part because there are very powerful and very hateful monied forces behind it.

We’re in the shape are today in the U.S. because our citizenry has allowed itself to be led blithely down a primrose path toward complete and total disenfranchisement through a sequence of easy decisions over a long period of time.

Since World War II, too many Americans allowed their identities to be flipped, in their own minds, from generous producers to spoiled consumers. This is a fundamental goal of the masterminds who seek to undermine democracy. They know that democracy can really work only if its participants are alert, educated and active.

So has come the rise of phenomena such as bigger and bigger, theater-style “boob tubes,” ever-plumper “couch potatoes,” epidemic childhood and adult obesity, a wide array of mind-numbing products, from ever more powerful pain killers to really bad dialogue on TV sitcoms, to humor limited to the sophomoric and scatological, and to grossly-falsely inflated egos fed by sitting in underwear in front of computer screens and hurling ignorant insults through online anonymous comments helter skelter.

Then, oh yes, there’s also football. What kind of people, other than the ones I’ve described, could allow themselves to become so obsessed with a “sport” that in recent years has been proven to systematically and pervasively inflict serious brain damage on almost all its participants, no matter how young or old?

Those who’ve been covering up for this gladiator ritual all these years know that all they need to do is provide any sort of plausible case for continuing business as usual, and a Cheetos-gobbling numbed consumerist population will lap it up. That’s right, make it easy for them to continue as they have been.

The superb movie, “Concussion” with Will Smith, has gone almost entirely ignored. So has the New York Times writer Steve Almond’s 2014 book, Against Football.

They, and many other sources, have documented the pervasiveness of the problem. From a serious, permanent brain injury standpoint, it’s not the actual concussion, but the play-in, play-out, practice-in, practice-out, game-in, game-out sub-concussive blows to the head that add up to the deterioration, the tortured pain, confusion and dementia that have caused some former pro football players to blow their brains out. “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy” it’s called. CTE.

There is no way to insulate football players from this, as long as football is football. Safer helmets are an illusion as a comprehensive solution.

The sad thing is that there will continue to be the deniers, the defenders of the game, and the many millions, literally, who will be eager to believe them.

But this is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact, of science, of medicine. I don’t like having to face this any more than anyone else. I’m a jock, or was (no one should remain a jock past their playing days). Baseball paid for my college education.

However, the more the reality of this spectacle pervades our culture, the more repulsive it’s become, now that the facts are out there.

New Yorker magazine writer and author Malcolm Gladwell has equated this problem with the cover-up by mining companies for years of the deadly effects of black lung disease a century ago.
The problem is bigger than football. It is bigger than Trump. It is us, and as they say in the campaign against sexual abuse, “It is on us.”

Football’s militaristic, male chauvinist format notwithstanding, it’s dangerous not only to its players but to the psyche of a nation, of you and me, we who need to be using, not obliterating, our brains.