What becomes most clear from a quick survey of the coverage of Michael Vick’s concussion in Sunday night’s nationally televised game is that sports journalists have little interest in reflecting on the world beyond sports. The most common thread of sociological insight by the boys in the green eyeshades is the relation between football and fantasy football – the Internet-facilitated game-within-the-game by which fans build teams with the interchangeable parts of athletes’ statistics. In the process, they “objectify” jocks, in the words of the sternest commentators. This we are supposed to take as a bad thing.
The lesson, however, does not extend to projecting the National Football League’s allegedly changed culture on concussion management to a broader understanding of public health.
Last September, when a Fox telecast showed Philadelphia linebacker Stewart Bradley wobbling from a concussion but going back into the game, New York Times concussion writer Alan Schwarz excoriated the NFL’s unenforced return-to-play protocols in a news analysis.
But the problem then was the league, not how we all perceived the league. This September Schwarz is no longer writing about traumatic brain injuries. And today’s Times story from Philadelphia, by Mark Viera, is football-centric: “As Fans Fret, Eagles Assess Vick’s Injury.”
At the thinking fan’s forum, the Slate-Deadspin NFL Roundtable – home of Stefan “Go Fuck Yourself” Fatsis – Josh Levin tried and failed to engage Barry Petchesky. Levin began with some pointed comments on the essential ungovernability of football’s violence:
Roger Goodell has futzed with the league’s rulebook in an attempt to ratchet down the game’s most-frightening-looking injuries: hits to the quarterback’s head, kill shots on defenseless receivers, blows to kamikaze special-teamers. Vick’s concussion, caused when an Atlanta Falcon knocked the quarterback backward into his beefy Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans, reveals the limitations of this exercise. For the NFL, this was the worst kind of head injury—one it’s impossible to spin as a consequence of rule-breaking.
Levin then asked Petchesky, whether he agreed “with the Concussion Blog’s Dustin Fink that NBC was spinning for the NFL in saying that the obviously woozy Vick had a ‘neck injury’.”
Petchesky didn’t bite. He dismissed NBC’s inaccurate reporting as football “gamesmanship, the equivalent of saying a hockey player has an ‘upper body injury’ to avoid putting a target on a guy who might return to the game.” That Vick didn’t return proved the NFL guidelines “worked to perfection.”