The Football Fan’s Dilemma

After watching a screener of the new documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, Dan Amira winced his way through Monday Night Football:

Like many football fans, I’ve always cringed a little during those big, loud helmet-to-helmet hits, the ones you can almost feel in your own neck as you watch them. But now, even during the mundane plays, I couldn’t shake the thought that men were mortgaging their futures away, and perhaps shortening their lives significantly, for my entertainment.

Andrew Sharp applauds the film for making the facts of the matter – and thus the moral quandary – “as clear and undeniable as possible”:

Nothing in the documentary is breaking news, but if nothing else, it gives us a definitive document of all the NFL’s hypocrisy and ignorance that’s defined this battle from day one. … I love football, and I hate talking about concussions, but everything we know about football makes it impossible to choose between the two without being just as reprehensible as an NFL doctor.

Eric Levenson describes football fans one of the “losers” of the documentary:

After watching, it’s hard not to feel conflicted about the sport, particularly after hearing about Pittsburgh Steelers lineman “Iron Mike” Webster, whose football-caused head injuries led to an early death. The documentary showed parts of his autopsy and it wasn’t pretty for fans to see: cracked feet, disfigured legs, and a brain filled with tangled tau protein, the tell-tale signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative condition most associated with damaged football players. And as a fan, it’s hard not to feel a little responsible for that.

Fantasy football enthusiast Greg Pollock wonders what responsibility fans like him bear for transforming NFL players “from real people into collections of stats”:

To succeed in a game, the player must distinguish information that serves his goal from information that does not. Becoming a better player means doing more of that automatically, without thinking, before thinking. For serious fantasy players—and it is hard not to play fantasy without becoming serious about it – that means automating the process by which we ignore information that does not affect points earned. This warps the way we watch football – Frank Gore blocked so Vernon Davis could get the touchdown? What a useless idiot!—but also the way we think about the league as a broader institution.

Meanwhile, Evin Demirel asks if the film could mark a turning point for the NFL:

[A]fter you’re through with the film, you can’t help but feel that the league’s days of dominance are numbered, even if League isn’t what ultimately destroys it. It’s not that football is too violent; it’s that we now know too much about that violence’s effects. A tipping point of mothers who find the sport dangerous will inevitably be reached, and football will become yet another relic of America’s past, one of those things it’s embarrassing we used to love.

Previous Dish on League of Denial here. To read our extensive thread on head injuries in professional sports, go here.