Fat in the Fire: NFL Fights Obesity — Obesity Fights NFL

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I have derided the National Football League for averring that we have a public health problem — childhood obesity — which can be solved in part by a doubled-down defense of a public health crisis — youth tackle football. (The “problem” and “crisis” characterizations are my own deliberate skewing of the prevailing rhetoric.)

If the NFL is right and I am wrong, then I wonder why the league’s retirement system has been reduced to weight-baiting as a tactic to resist paying disability benefits to former players. This has come up most recently in the litigation by Jimmie Giles, a tight end for Tampa Bay and others in the seventies and eighties.

Independent Football Veterans organizer and blogger Dave Pear chronicles Giles’ win over the league in federal court in Maryland. Judge Ellen Hollander’s ruling is a thorough demolition of the illogic of the NFL retirement board (on which Players Association appointees, such as the late Dave Duerson, sit alongside management reps). See “Jimmie Giles: Legally Eligible for FULL Disability Benefits,” http://davepear.com/blog/2012/11/jimmie-giles-legally-eligible-for-full-disability-benefits/.

Here’s something that jumped out at me. Pear writes that at one point the balky benefits dispensers of the Bert Bell / Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan “even tried to use the fact that Jimmie was ‘overweight’ and it was pointed out to them that Jimmie’s teams had certainly never considered him overweight in his position as a tight end during his entire career!”

Tight ends are an interesting test of the obesity hypothesis, for both sides of this argument: these guys are part interior linemen, part “skill position” pass receivers. As every casual fan knows, the real career fatsos are the defensive tackles and offensive guards, who fling their girth, free-range and steroid-fattened alike, into the trenches on every play. Orlando Brown, who died last year at 40, is a good example. I don’t think their families care whether they suffered from brain trauma or drug abuse or obesity — they’re all prematurely disabled or dead just the same.

By the same token, I don’t believe the parents of America require a single-bullet scientific theory before resisting sending their kids, head-first or heads-up, into the NFL’s particular public-spirited division of the conveniently urgent war on obesity.
Irv Muchnick

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