by Irvin Muchnick
Ed. Note: This article was written before the news yesterday that Junior Seau, 43, a very recently retired all-pro linebacker, was dead of a gunshot wound to the chest, in what appears to be yet another football suicide.
I recently served on a post-performance “talk back” panel following a preview of the new play Headstrong at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. As Arthur Miller did for military profiteers in the 1940s with All My Sons, so has playwright Patrick Link done for the newly risen issue of systematic traumatic brain injury in football.
Authentic in its depiction of the sport, painful in its family dramatic elements, yet ultimately non-judgmental, Headstrong takes the “What-Price-Glory?” school of athletic machismo about as far as it can go. A retired mid-level National Football League star, played with ferocious intelligence by Ron Canada, deals with and denies the forces behind not only his own too-soon and too-steep mental decline, but also the drift, divorce, and suicide of the football player who had married his daughter and fathered his grandson.
Headstrong raises a point also made in the discussion of what is now the nearly 60 lawsuits against the NFL on behalf of more than 1,000 retired players claiming that they were not adequately advised of the known scientific information on the long-term mental health hazards of their profession. Like Canada’s character in the play, many (most? almost all?) of even the most embittered ex-stars still say they’d do it all over again. The sense of sporting accomplishment, the rush of adrenaline and testosterone, the roar of the crowd, the drive to push past the limits of their brains, along with the rest of their bodies – all made the totality of the experience in some way existentially “worth it.”
CONTINUED TODAY AT BEYOND CHRON, THE SAN FRANCISCO ONLINE NEWSPAPER: