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by Irvin Muchnick


Jim Litke, national sports columnist for the Associated Press, strikes pure gold in his new column, “Youth Football Could Lose the Numbers Game.” Read it in a newspaper near you. Here’s one link:

Much of the essay is devoted to giving the Cassandra of football, Concussion Inc.’s friend Matt Chaney, a long-deserved national platform for his tireless work in amassing data on the sport’s annual toll of youth death and catastrophic injury — tied to Matt’s historical analysis of the game’s hundred-year sequence of bobs and weaves past the ineffectual prevent defense of the keepers of public health.

Remember all this, Litke writes dourly, “if one of the breezy ‘Football Safety Clinics for Moms’ turns up in your neck of the woods”:

The 90-minute presentation is jointly sponsored by the local NFL team and the league, part of a charm offensive launched to combat the growing body of science on the dangers posed by concussions to even the youngest players. The aim is to convince families to allow kids, some as young as 5, to play tackle football, thus ensuring a steady flow of talent in the pipeline.

It’s bad enough that the moms’ clinic in Chicago last month never touched the topic of how many kids are killed or broken playing football every year. And worse that it included a demonstration of what’s called “Heads-Up” tackling, a technique that claims to teach kids and coaches how to avoid head and neck injuries — as if such a thing were practical in real games, instead of practically impossible.

There’s no nice way to put it: Big Football’s co-optation of a natural Mothers Against Drunk Football movement is one of the extraordinary feats of American exceptionalism. In their book League of Denial — in the chapter “Concussion, Inc.” (ahem) — Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru oh so briefly touch on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s summit for mom sports bloggers. But they don’t tell the half of it: the gee-whiz sports safety journalist who wrote about the thrill of spinning in the swivel chair behind Dollar Roger’s desk; the strategically disseminated grant money for “further study” of the truth … the scientific facts, not the conjecture! … about the short- and long-term damage of hundreds or thousands of gridiron collisions on Johnny Football’s bobblehead; the combination of economic incentives, macha neo-feminism, cultural stereotypes about masculinity, and assorted other ballroom dance moves that I will understand no sooner than I enjoy a threesome with Sophia Loren and Miley Cyrus.

To boot, men with the temerity to observe that almost no social reform in the history of humankind has thrived without the activism and leadership of mothers get gender-baited.

And this is where the project partially in my rear-view mirror — the concussion crisis — intersects with the one in the foreground — government investigations of rampant sexual abuse in our amateur athletic programs. While moms and dads wallow in sports’ warped rewards system, with its insistence that it’s in the business of “building character” rather than making money, our boys are getting brained and our girls are getting raped. No, not every son and every daughter, of course; but only kitsch nationalism and lay religion can explain our collective obliviousness to these phenomena at current levels.

In the film adaptation of Little Girls in Pretty Boxes — Joan Ryan’s powerful 1995 book on gymnasts and figure skaters — there’s a scene in which a mother confronts a coach about this or that abuse. She demands to know why he doesn’t do something about it.

“You’re the parent,” the coach retorts. “That’s your job. My job is to win.”

For once, I have to admit, a coach told it like it is.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick