Discussing the Future of Football With San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Bruce Jenkins

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Last Saturday the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins wrote a column that I would describe as consistent with his philosophy of “Football is war – get over it.” See “Bounties, crushing hits long a part of NFL,” http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/10/SPH51NIKRH.DTL.

The exchange below followed. I give Jenkins credit for responding honestly, though I believe mistakenly. Too many of his sportswriting brethren either don’t think about the subject at all, or, when they do, try to have it both ways.


Muchnick to Jenkins

I would like you to reflect on the concussion crisis and tell my blog’s readers why you believe football at the youth and public high school levels remains medically, financially, legally, and morally sustainable in light of what we have learned about traumatic brain injury.

Your column is useful in several ways: as a piece of nostalgia, as a deflation of the PR-driven hypocrisy of the NFL regime, and as a description of football’s essence. I am not, however, asking you whether professional head-hunting linebackers or bounty-bearing defensive coordinators should be disciplined by the commissioner. I am asking you whether this sport can continue on its present course of participation and popularity. My own view is that it cannot. Middle-class kids, by and large, no longer box, and as awareness and lawsuits penetrate, neither will they play football.

In a previous exchange, you first responded, essentially, that nothing would change because football prowess has always been a chick magnet (I paraphrase only slightly). Then, when pressed, you said you’d have to think about it more.

Have you thought about it more? And what do you think? Some sports columnists prefer not to get involved in social issues, and I appreciate that. But this is not about the playing of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch, or the meaning of Pat Tillman. It is about the direct impact of your commentary beat on public health.


Jenkins to Muchnick

I believe the increasing awareness will reduce participation to a degree, largely through parents’ input, and I have no problem with that. I was a decent athlete growing up, and I played just about every sport BUT football. It’s a crazy way to go unless you’re fully committed to the nature of the game. The sport will not die, however, and I’m not sure it will even suffer a significant loss in participation. As I follow youth sports in my area (Half Moon Bay), I see countless boys who either play the game or wish they were good enough to make the team. As my wife put it so well, “Men go to war” (she was talking about the A’s-Giants territorial-rights issue), and an awful lot of boys seek out contact sports. For years, it was widely believed that boxing would die out as a sport, but it won’t, for the rest of time, because there will always be guys who want to beat the hell out of each other – because it’s fun, because they have nothing else going in life, because they want to take out frustration. I’m on the side of common decency, but I don’t see major changes in the game of football down the line, as far as popularity or participation.


Since this is my blog, I’ll take the last word. I have never argued that football “would die out as a sport.” With that in mind, the way boxing has not become extinct – but rather, and significantly, declined – seems to make my point, not Jenkins’. Everything about his boxing model (most especially the way it skews by class) reinforces this.

Football as a brutal spectacle of undeniable primal fascination? Yes, of course. Football as the national hearth? No possible way, once the seeds of concussion awareness finally get around to sprouting a full-fledged “Mothers Against Drunk Football.”


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick