The National Football League could easily provide an object lesson to the Trump administration on how to better utilize smoke and mirrors to get over the rough patches. Both the NFL and POTUS energetically strive to convince their respective fans of things that are inaccurate at best, but while the president’s approval rating is tanking spectacularly, Sunday afternoons remain as sacred as Sunday mornings used to be. And this Sunday is the most sacred day of all.
The NFL manages to rake in billions annually peddling a sport that’s systematically killing its participants, as well as endangering their wives and girlfriends, while implanting the notion that being fans is somehow patriotic: “America’s Game,” replete with a military color guard raising the flag, fighter jets buzzing the stadium and a celebrity rendition of the national anthem, owes much of its success to perpetuating a series of illusions over the last several decades — not the least of which is that the game is safe.
While the president hands-down wins Pinocchio honors for his sheer volume of lies since taking office — over 9,000 at last count — much of what he says is clearly untrue, easily refuted or frequently ridiculous: exaggerating both the size of his inauguration crowd, the size of his ... um ... “No Problem (down) there” or the “massive voter fraud” depriving him of a victory in the 2016 election’s popular vote.
On the other hand, the NFL has willfully endangered lives for years, masking the perils of head injuries even with former players suffering myriad debilitating conditions in retirement. Although the league’s effort to cloud the issue goes back decades, as recently as 2016 a congressional report cited the NFL for trying to improperly influence a government research study connecting concussions and brain disease.
After learning the National Institute of Health’s findings might be detrimental to its image, the league rescinded a $30 million “unrestricted gift” designated to fund the research, shifting the burden instead onto taxpayers. And it doesn’t take much digging to learn that head injuries, football-related or not, may be a contributing factor to off-the-field violence as well, further tarnishing the league’s image.
Other than mass shootings and Trump’s daily barrage of lies, there are few things you can put your money on these days quite as confidently as the unbridled violence of professional football. But the league has made diversion a science, focusing instead on the “problem” of players exercising their First Amendment rights, by taking a knee, glossing over devastating game-related injuries, as well as a parade of women being punched, kicked and dragged by muscle-bound men whose explosive tempers might very well be exacerbated by the game they’ve played since childhood. Making it all the way to the NFL means that elite players have been on the field since elementary school and, in many cases, taking the kind of pounding for most of their lives that would be classified as child abuse if inflicted by teachers, babysitters or parents, instead of coaches.
Even though it has been clearly established that the repeated, car-wreck head trauma that occurs on every NFL snap predisposes players toward debilitating brain injuries, depression, violence and even suicide, there’s more — much more. A body of evidence exists correlating domestic violence and traumatic brain injury, determining that 53 percent of perpetrators had a history of TBI, a significantly higher prevalence than in the population at large. Since the link between football and brain damage is solid, it’s not much of a stretch to connect the violence on the field with the violence everywhere else.
Just as Trump would be reluctant to share statistics proving crimes committed by immigrants are substantially fewer than those of native-born Americans, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — who once compared football risks with the risk of “sitting on a couch” — is unlikely to explore the far-reaching impact of head injuries anytime soon. What’s amazing, though, is that very few others seem to have made the connection, and if they have their findings, have been kept largely under wraps.
We already know the NFL is a veritable concussion factory, and we also know that head injuries are correlated with domestic violence, so it logically follows that it’s quite likely much of the domestic abuse meted out by professional football players is directly related to the game itself. We also know that repeated head injuries do not have to rise to concussion level to pose serious, life-altering debilitation after the last whistle blows.
While America is once again seduced by the NFL, magically transforming 10 minutes of actual football into a global celebration of consumption. Outdone only by Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday has become a de facto national holiday. We crunch more chips, drink more beer and consume more pizza than on any other single day of the year. And when we’re done with that, millions of us dream up creative excuses for calling in sick Monday. But, as we gently nurse ourselves back into working order, we might take a moment and remember the guys out on the field. Their post-game hangovers may very well last the rest of their lives.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.