In an email, Steve James, director-producer of the film Head Games, told me:
“As is increasingly the case in documentaries these days, funding has come from private investors, many of whom commonly prefer anonymity. What I can say is that funding did not come from any sports league, SLI [Sports Legacy Institute], NYT [New York Times], or the Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. We really are scrambling right now to prepare a version of the film for this showing. So beyond this, you’ll really need to wait until we get our publicist on board.”
Let’s see what Head Games brings to the screen. James, the director of Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, has done sterling work on subjects in which I am not as intimately connected. If his new documentary moves the ball down the field in the concussion debate, his oeuvre will boast a fine new entry. If he limits his story to counterposing those who want to make football safe with those who don’t, he’ll have stalled an important national conversation.
My own reset, in extended bullet points:
– While Alan Schwarz (the associate producer of Head Games) will never die of chronic traumatic modesty, whether he is a self-promoting egotist or a self-effacing genius is just a squabble between a couple of bar mitzvah boys.
– We are not even having this discussion today if Schwarz and The Times hadn’t devoted assets and front-page real estate to it as early as 2007. That ain’t chopped liver.
– Schwarz states repeatedly that his grasp of statistics was a game-changer. His newspaper, in an unkind review of the excellent new off-Broadway play Headstrong, perpetuates this myth. I think that’s an elitist load. The public health narrative of the boys of America turning their brains into mush in service of their parents’ panem et circenses is not the Bill James Annual TBI Abstract. It is a story best told by classic investigative journalism: cumulative and progressive anecdotes, plus relentless probing of powerful institutions and players.
– Since, oh, let’s say the spring of 2010 – right around the time Schwarz’s Boston pals, Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu, started receiving National Football League money – Times coverage has been poor. There has been an assumption that “concussion awareness” legislation is efficacious; there has been bent-knee attention to the efforts of the CEO of the same multibillion-dollar corporation that has lied to its employees and the public, across decades, in “peer-reviewed scientific literature”; there has been no heat on the Senate Commerce Committee for its fealty to the NFL and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center lobbying lines. Excuse all this, if you must, on the grounds that the NFL is “too big to fail” and this is about what we should expect from The New York Times. But do me a favor and don’t idealize it.
My column tomorrow for Beyond Chron is headlined “Let Elite Athletes Destroy Their Own Brains – But Stop Turning High School Players into Tackling Dummies.”