Kevin Guskiewicz — MacArthur Genius Fellow to the World, ‘Dr. No Jr.’ to Us — Partners on Weird CTE Denial Study

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by Irvin Muchnick


The managing general partner of LLP is overdue for a post that puts the “Concussion Inc.” back into Concussion Inc.

Let me start by expressing the hope that you all will go out of your way to see Sean Pamphilon’s United States of Football, which I believe is poised to be the best of the crop of concussion-crisis documentaries. And that’s without even knowing if Sean’s interview with me for the film last year wound up on the cutting-room floor. Or, conversely, if it led to a rise in heart palpitations among 58-year-old women in focus-group screenings.

The Pamphilon movie’s website — featuring the trailer, showtimes at theaters near you, and other goodies — is

There are other important related properties in the works. Of special note is the PBS/Frontline production League of Denial, in association with ESPN’s Outside the Lines. There will be a tie-in book co-authored by the brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada. Don’t be surprised, informed sources tell me, if the book even has a chapter entitled “Concussion Inc.” Not since Kenneth Clark on art history and Carl Sagan on the cosmos has public broadcasting midwifed such an eagerly anticipated spinoff blockbuster.

My own The Concussion Inc. Files, an adaptation of material from this blog, will be published in 2014. At no time did I delude myself that I was either first or best on this subject, though I do hope my serial observations in real time have helped propel the dialogue.

Fellow native Missourian Matt Chaney, the Cassandra of football, was on the case for years before me.

Of course, Robert Lipsyte, coiner of the term “SportsWorld,” was doing this stuff even longer and with superior erudition and wit. And of course Lipsyte is now employed by … ESPN. I can’t wait for his review of League of Denial.

WWE-Harvard hybrid Chris Nowinski — whose work has come in for both darts and flowers in this space, but let the record show that the latter should far outweigh the former — deserves much more credit for his groundbreaking work than I have given him. The same holds for Alan Schwarz of The New York Times, though I’m allergic to sucking up to obvious journalistic betters.

Patrick Hruby, formerly of the Washington Times and now with, humanizes the carnage of youth football better than anyone I’ve read.

And maybe some day, and if we’re lucky maybe very soon, American sports culture will be blessed with the movement that, from my perspective, is still sadly missing: Mothers Against Drunk Football. It would be even better if such an organization were spearheaded by Christian Rightists and headquartered in one of the states of the Old Confederacy, or at least one of the counties of Pennsylvania somewhere between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. “You may say I’m a dreamer …”

Ah, but Concussion Inc. is a world of ever-shifting treacheries and alliances — which brings me finally to the real topic of today’s sermon. A neurologist at Loyola University in Chicago, Christopher Randolph, is out with a study casting doubt that football players show mental decline distinguishable from the general population. Randolph: “We still do not know if NFL players have an increased risk of late-life neurodegenerative disorders. If there is a risk, it probably is not a great risk. And there is essentially no evidence to support the existence of any unique clinical disorder such as CTE [chronic traumatic encephelopathy].”

One of the contributors to the study is the University of North Carolina’s football-first Kevin Guskiewicz, whom I have taken to mocking as “Dr. No Jr.” The MacArthur Foundation, inexplicably, gave Guskiewicz one of its “genius” awards — which in this case must be a genius for simultaneously homing in on the Zeitgeist while propounding research that gives comfort to the already comfortable.

I’d previously spoken highly of Randolph for tearing to shreds the quackery (my word. not his) of Dr. Joseph Maroon, neurosurgeon to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the superstars of WWE, and his fellow witch doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who have foisted on public school districts and parents of youth athletes across the country the for-profit ImPACT “concussion management system.”

See what I mean about alliances? I ask you not to hold Randolph’s current lunacy against his previous bullseye on ImPACT and its cousin “how many fingers am I holding up? what day of the week is it?” software “solutions.”

Paul Anderson, the sharp attorney — and yet another Missourian — who edits the Concussion Litigation Reporter has noted the extent to which mere dubiousness, no matter how reasonable or reckless, becomes an exalted scientific and rhetorical commodity as the football industry manages what shapes up as its long, slow decline.

“Let the manufacture of doubt begin in earnest,” Anderson tweeted in response to the Randolph-Guskiewicz news.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick