by Irvin Muchnick
Yesterday I finally got around to reviewing the superb new book League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth. By coincidence, authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru were simultaneously reporting anew for ESPN on the dramatic two-year decline in Pop Warner football participation numbers. See http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/page/popwarner/pop-warner-youth-football-participation-drops-nfl-concussion-crisis-seen-causal-factor.
And today is turning into a full-blown whither-youth-football? day at ESPN. As Sports Illustrated’s media columnist, Richard Deitsch, says, “I will continue to bang ESPN on [burying the time slot of the investigative program Outside the Lines] for as long as I have a forum.” But “they remain the best TV hope for concussion reporting.”
Meanwhile, in his usual rip-roaring storyteller’s way, Patrick Hruby hits every conceivable angle of the controversy in his latest Sports on Earth article, “The Choice,” http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/63895452/. Among many other valuable factoids, research nuances, and ethics seminars, Hruby has additional data on the sport’s grassroots erosion. The National Sports Goods Association says tackle football participation has plunged 11 percent since 2011.
But one doesn’t read Hruby’s feature-length treatments for its stats any more than you pick up Umberto Eco to find out about the habits of monastery monks. The story is mind-blowingly thorough, more patient than I could ever be with Kevin Guskiewicz, a.k.a. “Dr. No Jr.,” and the macha moms of institutional football, who are already playing catch-up with their constituency. One of the article’s best sections involves a pet critique of mine for a couple of years: the idea that “further study” of football is turning a generation of pipsqueaks into crash-test-dummy guinea pigs.
While this multibillion-dollar industry goes about “manufacturing doubt,” in Paul Anderson’s memorable phrase, how long will it take the preponderance of public opinion to come around to the notion that consent-impaired minors shouldn’t be greenlighted for this activity any sooner than they should be inhaling tobacco?
In the comments at the Sports on Earth site, a reader talks about how privileged Americans, “the smart money,” don’t place their bets on the regressive-tax lottery ticket that is football fame and fortune. That thought leads to the next rumination from here, on the San Francisco 49ers’ release this week of star-crossed kick returner-wide receiver Kyle Williams, one of the Forrest Gumps of the concussion story.