Future of Football Notes: Steve James-Nowinski Film Confusion; Terry Bradshaw’s Serious Clowning

Road to Omaha: Thanks, Dave Zirin. Also, California Country Club Backs Down and Allows Abuse Survivor to Conduct Swimming Clinic
June 15, 2012
Andrew Stewart Court Win a Chink in NFL Retirement Plan’s Legal Armor
June 19, 2012

With resources directed to my trip to Omaha next week for a story from the Olympic Trials about sex abuse in swimming, observations from here on the concussion issue have been sparse. That’s OK: the debate over youth football, especially, is moving right along. As readers know, I have my own ideas on the end point of that discussion, but the pace at which the Cassandras will prevail in it is another question entirely. That depends on specific watersheds in public understanding, which are impossible to predict. Taking a step back, those of us advocating radical age-appropriate changes in the sport might be forced to concede that this ocean liner is being turned around just about as quickly as our dysfunctional political system and our addicted culture can bear.

Two recent developments bear note.

In the first, I am told by multiple sources who attended advance screenings, in Boston and Philadelphia, of Steve James’ documentary Head Games that the current cut of the film – based on Chris Nowinski’s narrative of his own work – does not feature blatant promos for the King-Devick concussion test. In fact, the version of the movie in these private sneak peeks includes no explicit King-Devick references at all. Behind the scenes, Steve Devick, the billionaire who is funding Head Games, is said to be none too happy over this.

Until director James finalizes his work and puts it into some kind of general release, there’s not a lot more for me to say. Evidently, Head Games 1.0, or whatever we should call it, is a very general work – kind of an overview promo of the Boston research group, spearheaded by Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu, with ancillary back-patting of associate producer Alan Schwarz of The New York Times. According to my sources, very little, if any, time is devoted to forward-looking solutions. And the absence of cinema verite elements with athletes themselves makes the project come off as a hired payday for James’ team rather than a signature social narrative on the level of Hoop Dreams or The Interrupters.

In the second development, Terry Bradshaw last week appeared on The Tonight Show, and like Kurt Warner and the father of Tom Brady, stated that he wouldn’t want his own kids to play football.

Bradshaw has been open and honest about his battles with depression and memory lapse. Good for him on that score. But I wasn’t terribly impressed by the Tonight Show shot itself. The reason is that whatever serious point Bradshaw was trying to make got tacked onto a sloppy coda to a goofball interview with Jay Leno. As we’re also going to see repeatedly in the fits and starts of the retired players’ lawsuits against the National Football League, the reform-minded should be careful not to rely too much on the quirky testimony of “I’d still do it all over again” professional veterans.


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick