[originally published 3/23/12 at http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/NFL_s_Bounty_Game_Is_Savage_We_Get_It_Now_About_the_High_Schools_10000.html]
by Irvin Muchnick
Dissident sports voices might as well admit that the mainstream media have it about right in their analyses of the penalties handed down by Roger Goodell, the National Football League commissioner, in the New Orleans Saints “bounty” scandal. The smartest commentators focus on the internal NFL politics: Goodell’s jockeying for leverage with the owners; Saints coach Sean Payton’s more profound sin of flaunting league authority; and when it comes to the overarching concussion crisis, this $10-billion-a-year corporation’s need to position itself as not blatantly negligent.
Latently negligent? Let the legal mouthpieces slug that one out.
In short, there’s plenty of snark to go around, and most intelligent observers grasp the concept that the perpetuation of the pro football product for all of us – owners, coaches, players, fans, sponsors – requires lots of film work in the hypocrisy and denial rooms.
Which is why I choose not to jump feet-first into the New Orleans story. I don’t care whether there was an inside snitch. I don’t think it matters all that much how the equities of Payton’s one-year ban (most likely, he’ll never work as a head coach again and almost certainly not in the Big Easy) stack up against sanctions involving other kinds of cheating. I haven’t the foggiest whether Goodell’s administrative kill shot enhances or diminishes the dozens of lawsuits by retired players living life sentences of traumatic brain injury.
For my money, what’s missing in the NFL bounty coverage is a word or two about Scott Eveland. Maybe, just below the mug shots of Payton and his defensive coordinator accomplice Gregg Williams (now suspended “indefinitely”), someone can run a nice feature photo of Eveland, 22, in a wheelchair at home in Southern California, tweeting his thoughts. While one of the loved ones involved in his 24/7 care supports his elbow so he can type on an iPad – his only way of communicating in the wake of a 2008 football concussion, which earlier this month resulted in a $4.4 million settlement between his family and the San Marcos Unified School District.
In the legalistic tradition of pre-trial hairsplitting, the district admits nothing – certainly not that Eveland’s head coach at Mission Hills High School prematurely pushed him back into action following an earlier concussion. Whatever. Further journalistic fact-finding might have a thing or two more to say about all that.
Meanwhile, we know that this taxpayer-funded school system on the outskirts of San Diego is out nearly four and a half million bucks. This is dough that could have gone to football safety or to a new line of cheerleader uniforms or to swimming or girls’ lacrosse or the jazz band or the dance troupe … or even (gasp!) to teachers and libraries.
We also know that there’s a lot more litigation where the Eveland case came from, and that these heavily lawyered tussles at the Pop Warner and prep levels – and more important, the circulation of their underlying narratives – are what will drive American sports reform. As a football nation, we can bathe only so long in bathos and war games and maimed linebackers and running backs being wheeled out to the 50-yard line at halftime of the homecoming game to drink in the affection of the crowd. Sooner or later, the sleeping giant, Mothers Against Drunk Football, will awake.
Until then, Concussion Inc. feeds the tinkerers and fixers. Dr. Robert Cantu, the Boston neurological guru, has a book coming out this fall entitled Concussions and Our Kids: America’s Leading Expert on How to Protect Young Athletes and Keep Sports Safe. Will Cantu state with clarity the obvious: that tackle football is not a sport for non-adults, period, end of paragraph? As Cantu proofreads his galleys, NFL-funded associates are developing “hit count” technology inside science fiction Rollerball-style helmets, and producing clinics for kids on better technique. And the NFL is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control’s “Heads Up” program of “concussion education.” (No word on whether the Tobacco Institute is waiting in the wings to underwrite a few choice pamphlets on “cigarette education.”)
Bounty shmounty, folks. The ongoing football crimes in this country aren’t only playbook-deep.