Must Read: Q&A Between Journalist Patrick Hruby and ‘United States of Football’ Documentary Maker Sean Pamphilon

Muchnick Media This Week
May 4, 2012
‘“Many Brain-Damaged Football Players Would Do It All Over Again.” And Your Point Is … ?’ (full text)
May 6, 2012

Writing for the website of The Atlantic, Patrick Hruby has an extensive and uncommonly thoughtful Q&A with Sean Pamphilon, who is making an upcoming documentary entitled The United States of Football and is now well known for his recording of “BountyGate” coach Gregg Williams … um, issuing bounties.

I’m too busy to pull out the money quotes. Go read Hruby and Pamphilon in their own words: “Can America Quit Football?”,

I just want to add one personal remembrance. An important illustration of the Pamphilon project’s intellectual and moral seriousness is his rumination on age. I believe every male has somewhere a kind of humane sweet spot in his consumption of cartoon violence, and once that threshold has passed, the violence begins to career from cartoonish to pornographic. Pamphilon describes standing on the sidelines watching the Dallas Cowboys’ Alvin Harper take a crunching hit, and nothing was quite the same for him – for the viewer, that is – afterwards. I had a similar experience.

The year was 1989. I was working on a profile of Joe Montana for The New York Times Magazine (which, by the way, continues to profit from my old freelance work for it, without permission or compensation, but that’s a story for another blog).

In October that year, the almost-big-one hit – an earthquake, which held up the Athletics-Giants World Series for more than a week. Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the home of the 49ers, was shut down for repairs, and a home game against the New England Patriots got moved to Stanford Stadium.

The one-off post-game media logistics at Stanford involved herding much of the assembled media down from the pressbox to the sideline for about the last five minutes, I guess to get a jump on locker room access. So there I was for the closest of close-ups of the cumulative car wrecks that are standard for every play of every National Football League game. In his book on the Supreme Court, Gideon’s Trumpet, Anthony Lewis described the quaint ritual at the beginning of each conference, in which every justice shook hands with every other justice, and calculated the total handshakes (8 plus 7 plus 6 …). Since that day in 1989, I’ve always wondered how many seismic head swivels, all the way down to the brain stem, result when 11 large, fast, primed, heavily armored athletic gladiators crash-test-dummy into 11 counterparts.

But here’s the thing: Unlike Pamphilon, I have no memory of a specific play, except maybe for one vague image of running back Roger Craig both giving and getting punishment as he got knocked out of bounds on a sweep.

In a sense, my memory is even more profound for its generality, and for another reason: the game was a blowout; the 49ers had a several-touchdown lead. If this had been a basketball game, we would say it was “garbage time.”

In football, however, there’s no mailing in your crunching blocks and tackles, whether active or passive, whether tied in the late stages of the Super Bowl or up by a bundle against an opponent going nowhere but home after you play out the string. In football, it’s strictly kill or be killed.


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick