Mandel’s Musings: PBS Show Tonight, “League of Denial” Outs the NFL’s Cover-Up of Brain Injuries to its Players

Published on: 8th October, 2013

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Roger Goodell
Goodell seemed unprepared for today's questioning

Image #: 6982248 NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell holds a news conference to discuss the state of the National Football League during the week of Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida, on January 30, 2009. The NFL's Super Bowl XLIII will feature the Arizona Cardinals vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, February 1. UPI Photo /Landov  | read this item

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New York — There are parts of it that aren’t violent, of course — the throwing and catching and running. But they are accompanied, and made possible, by the smashing and hitting and crunching and tackling the stewards and presenters of the game make central to the presentation.

Players get hurt, obviously, but not always in immediately obvious ways. “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” which premieres tonight (Tuesday, October 8) on the PBS investigative series “Frontline,” looks at the correlation between football and brain trauma. Specifically, the documentary examines the appearance of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — what used to be called dementia pugilistica, for the boxers who suffered from it — and the NFL’s campaign to deny or downplay the link and discredit the experts who detected it.

Goodell has tried to cover up the brain damage suffered by NFL players.

Goodell has tried to cover up the issue of brain damage being suffered by NFL players.

Football is a violent game, even its fans must admit, and might celebrate.I played the sport in college, when the average Division 1 team had offensive lines that averaged 235 pounds per man. I can speak from experience. It was both brutal and exhilarating on the field. I got out lucky. No concussions; just a knee replacement in my future. But, today’s game can be looked at the same way one views simple physics. Freakish 300 pound athletes who can outrun the wide receivers of forty years ago are crashing at full speed into each other.

Even the rules of outlawing helmet-to-helmet contact have no relationship to the damage caused by helmet to kidneys or helmet to the knees or ribs. How about when a running back tries to avoid a tackle by contorting and twisting his body at the very moment a solid, legal hit separates a ligament from one of his bones?

Let’s face it, this sport has a serious problem in front of it, and not a whole lot of solutions, in my view. Boxing has become a secondary event (sport? Not sure), in large part because of its brutality. If the NFL starts to carry players off the field in alarming numbers (remember, physics), it’s going to turn off the public, eventually.

The NFL doesn't shoot itself in the foot often. This cover up may change that.

The NFL doesn’t shoot itself in the foot often. This cover up may change that.

The issue with all of the recent rules changes pushed through by the commissioner, Roger Goodell and the Rules Committee of the league, is that the game has taken on the look of a video game teenagers play, with a lot of scoring based on the quarterback getting the snap in the shotgun, winding up and throwing it downfield to fast, amazing athletes called receivers. Defensive struggles, creative play-calling that includes a mixture of running and passing, zone blocking along the offensive lines, and complex strategies to defend the run and the pass are evolving out of the game. It really will be a game of pitch and catch, essentially, in the very near future. Some people will like that. Purists do not like it at all. We’ll see what that does for ratings and ticket sales. My guess is, the gravy train is going to slow down.

The media, particularly NFL partners like ESPN, are part of the cover up.

The media, particularly NFL partners like ESPN, are part of the cover up.

We are on verge of a ticking time bomb and an undiagnosed health epidemic while researchers scramble for a solution. No one knows the seriousness of this issue better than the NFL and its boys club of rich owners who have become much richer through the NFL.

Parents of adolescent athletes should watch this show, carefully.

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