This Week in ‘Whither Football?’: Chaney Unbound, Goodell on a Leash

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In the historiography, if not the history, of the debate over football’s future, it is significant that writer Matt Chaney, the Cassandra of sports commentators, is starting to get platforms sturdier than the 2-by-4’s he has had to nail together with his bare hands.

As reported earlier this week, the League of Fans, a quasi-consumer lobby, has finally cleared its throat on the issue of traumatic brain injuries in football-playing children. The organization’s Ken Reed is quoting Chaney on how the false promise of safe football can only “dupe naïve parents, pose undue risk for trusting juveniles, and raise the legal stakes for vulnerable coaches and hosting entities.”

And yesterday Chaney was invited to his second appearance of the year on ESPN’s Outside the Lines — this time on a sober panel not slobbering with the rabid froth of ex-player and NFL apologist Merril Hoge. I’ll post a link to the video when I have one.

Anyone still clinging to the myth that football’s central health harm is a suddenly risen subject should check out Chaney’s exhaustive news timeline at


Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also spoke yesterday — at the Harvard School of Public Health on the topic “Leadership on the Road to a Safer Game.” I read the full text of Goodell’s remarks in the hope that the gravity of the football crisis, or perhaps respect for the intellectual chops of his audience, might have motivated him to stir a few new soundbites into the stew. But no such luck.

Our nation faces a public health crisis, all right, Goodell said: “growing levels of obesity, particularly in children.” There is double irony in this standard rhetorical curlicue. At the front end, it makes no effort to justify the equation of healthy exercise with the beating by boys of each other’s still-developing brains. At the back end, Goodell’s throwaway line ignores the fact that obesity, of ex-linemen who have become ever bulkier due to the demands of their sport, ranks right up there with the commingled factors of brain trauma and drug abuse as a cause of early death in football players.

“We embrace our leadership position…. Is playing tackle football worth the risk? For some, the answer may be no. But millions say yes. We emphatically say yes.”

Good grief. When it comes to mental nourishment, deconstructing Roger is about as effective as eating soup with a fork.

Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick