Jim Nantz is just the loaf of white bread who is the face of CBS Sports. Let’s not make too much of his preposterous statement Sunday on Face the Nation, prior to his play-by-play call of the Super Bowl, that women college soccer players sustain concussions at more than twice the rate of college football players.
Let’s not make too little of it, either.
Nantz sent the future-of-football crowd off on a wild goose chase for the lies, damn lies, and statistics comparing football and soccer traumatic brain injury reports in “peer-reviewed scientific literature.” Nantz doesn’t come off so well when you hunt down the supporting data; nor do Rush Limbaugh and the other football-first revanchists who are trying to exploit this angle of the debate over the bleak future of America’s most popular sport.
As an investigative reporter and a social critic, I try not to devote a lot of assets to these “gotcha” moments, except insofar as they highlight the losing scoundrel’s arguments in a discussion that otherwise has gained critical mass to the naked eyes, ears, and common sense of the nation’s parents — who are beginning to understand why Johnny Shouldn’t Tackle-Dummy.
Joe Maroon, one of the National Football League witch doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who is also co-proprietor of the ImPACT ® Concussion Management System ™, is on record as asserting that teenage boys are safer playing football than riding in automobiles. (But Dr. Joe fails to cite a controlled study breaking down types of driving events! I wonder: Is it more dangerous to take a car to or from a football game or practice than to or from the Senior Prom?)
More broadly, this subject folds into what conservatives call the excesses of the “nanny state.” We can’t keep our kids in bubble wrap, they argue. Stuff happens in every activity in life. This riff reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live skit in which the maker of a toy banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, played by Dan Ackroyd, defends himself by demonstrating how a toddler could choke to death on the cardboard box containing a classic rattle.
Female soccer is a key fault line in this gambit, and CBS football flack Nantz was probably smart enough to know it. Girls and women do seem to be more susceptible to traumatic brain injuries than boys and men. In recent years, we also have started to landscape sports to make it friendlier to non-male opportunities. The collision of these forces is food for thought. But they have nothing … nada … zilch … to do with the systematic national mental health deficit caused by football, as played on a wide and subsidized scale by non-professionals, in all 50 states, by boys as young as 6.
I take the female fault line seriously: I have two daughters as well as two sons. And as readers know, I also write about the national disgrace of our competitive youth swimming system, in which untold numbers of girls have been sexually abused by coaches — unaddressed, business-as-usual acts enabled not only by the positive breakthroughs of the Title IX era, but also by the oblivious, delusional, hyper-ambitious outsourcing by parents to the authorities of sport-think and coach-think. Protecting our girls from rape is not bubble-wrapping them. Protecting our boys from life-long brain injury is not bubble-wrapping them.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of the football debate has been the NFL’s successful co-opting of sports parent groups, male and female alike, whose siphoning into programs like Heads Up and NFL Evolution amounts to a brain drain of talent and energy from the necessary next step in this process — Mothers Against Drunk Football.
President Obama has started to lead this conversation. Maybe not fast enough or forcefully enough to satisfy critics like me, but that’s OK. Next, I’ll republish exactly what the president said on Sunday’s Super Bowl pregame show.