‘Sports Concussion Crisis a Culture-Wide Problem – Maybe a Post-Ideological One, Too’ (full text)

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[originally published 8/8/11 at http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Sports_Concussion_Crisis_a_Culture_Wide_Problem_Maybe_a_Post_Ideological_One_Too_9407.html]


by Irvin Muchnick

Writing in The Nation’s special August 15-22 sports issue, currently on newsstands, recently retired Denver Broncos wide receiver turned social critic Nate Jackson reflects on the football concussion crisis. Jackson is short on specifics and long on the banal (“But at what price comes the glory?”). Jackson also makes regrettable separation from the essential theme: traumatic brain injuries are not the same as blown-out knees; the National Football League’s commerce-first values inculcate amateur sports, as well; and the depth and breadth of the resulting societal fallout far exceed the public’s current perception.

Like most painful attempts by intellectuals to be hip, Jackson and his fellow sloganeers for solidarity fail to account for the limitations of labor-model ideology in a popular culture dangling as far off the bread-and-circuses deep end as America’s in 2011. Through their solutions, obscene revenues would be shifted from the “bosses” to the “people,” and football would be “civilized” by rule-tweaking. But the nearly $10-billion-a-year NFL would not be held accountable for a system imposing documentable mental-health deficits on our public schools, work force, and prisons.

A similar inability to forge a vision more imaginative than the struggle between unions and owners leads to the overplaying of the class-warfare card throughout The Nation’s “Views from Left Field.”

After a strong introductory essay by Robert Lipsyte, we are served up a lot of the usual suspects saying a lot of the usual things. Noam Chomsky reminds us of the evilness of evil. In a series of short sidebars, an almost parodic litany of credentialed lefties asserts their sports-worship bona fides (Victor Navasky on Babe Ruth, Ralph Nader on Lou Gehrig, David Remnick on Muhammad Ali).

In an article co-authored with long-time activist and National Football League Players Association official David Meggyesy, guest editor Dave Zirin patiently explains how the pro football talent union “won” the recent lockout – news to the rest of us. I don’t advise hotel custodians or stadium beer vendors to design their own tactics around the delusion that Tom Brady and the Manning brothers might deign to honor anything so proletariat as a picket line.

Left unreported by The Nation are the lawsuits and counter-organizing by retired players who feel abandoned by the NFLPA’s “cash up front” philosophy; this colluded with the profiteering league’s underfunding of pension and disability plans, which in turn failed to forge meaningful solidarity with a generation of neurologically and orthopedically damaged brethren. On this raging controversy, Meggyesy has taken to Internet forums, including my blog and that of Dave Pear, the ex-Oakland Raider who heads a group of dissident retirees.

John Hogan, a disability attorney representing many players – along with some others in Pear’s Independent Football Veterans, who include famous names – are debating federal labor law rings around both Meggyesy and Sam McCullum, the former wideout who recently was named as an NFLPA replacement for Dave Duerson on the joint league-union disability board. Duerson, of course, committed suicide in February. Duerson’s hyper-macho passivity on colleagues’ cases of brain trauma in the years leading up to his own postmortem finding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy remains high on the list of “tasteful” sports journalism’s muted scandals.  The Nation playbook provides no audibles for that one, either.

NFLPA apologists really ought to quit while they’re behind. Concussions are a culture-wide problem, and a guild of elite mass entertainers is neither motivated nor equipped to lead us out of it.

Irvin Muchnick (https://concussioninc.net), author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, is @irvmuch on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. Irv,
    As a non-vested ex NFL DT who has survived 9 NFL caused emergency VP shunt brain surgeries, since developing hydrocephalus during the 81 season, I couldn’t agree with you more. The NFLPA has never been there for the ones they are supposed to support. Case in point.

    During the 81 Super Bowl season with the SF ers, I underwent emergency VP Shunt brian surgery (after the team Drs misdiagnosed my brain hemorrhage as high blood pressure, and had me on diuretics for 3 weeks while my brain hemorrhaged. I underwent emergency VP Shunt brain surgery, was in intensive care for 14 days, during which time the only 49er associates to visit were my 2 room mates, both of whom where cut a few days before I was released. While enjoying my stay in ICU at Stanford, the 49ers team Drs and trainers called to inform me they were looking into having a special made helmet to protect the shunt they installed in my brain, and the drain tube that ran down the side of my neck into my abdomen to permanently drain spinal fluid from my brain.

    As a young gung-ho athlete of 22 when I had my first brain surgery I was all for it. When I returned to the 49ers to get back in shape to continue my career that season, suddenly they denied I ever had a brain surgery. Four months after we won Super Bowl XVI my shunt failed, I had 2 more brain surgeries 10 hours apart and was given last rites. I was also given the hospital bills by the 49ers and had creditors on me for nearly 5 years till I successfully sued for Workers Comp, thus proving in a court of law my head injury was caused by my being injured while fulfilling my obligations as an employee of the 49ers.

    I am now nearly 53, on brain surgery # 9, currently taking my 6th different anti seizure medicine, and fighting with all my might to stave off early onset demensia, which I have been showing signs of for years.

    NPR: A Brain, A Life, Battered by Football

    NFL’s forgotten men take, and earned, center stage

    By Mike Freeman
    CBSSports.com National Columnist
    July 2, 2011
    Tell Mike your opinion!
    If you want to understand the raw emotions an army of debilitated former NFL players feel, emotions that are also figuring into — and possibly stalling — the current labor talks, please read what former San Francisco 49er George Visger has to say.

    George Visger
    SF 49ers 80 & 81
    Survivor of 9 NFL Caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries
    Benefactor of ZERO NFL Benefits

Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick