Sunday, February 7, 2016

Superbowl is Family?

As I was scrolling through my facebook feed today, this NFL commercial popped up.  The opening scene states, "Data suggests 9 months after a Super Bowl victory, winning cities see a rise in births."  The video features collections of multiracial superbowl "babies" from 1967 to 2014 singing a "we are all superbowl babies....when history and our families were made..."  The end credit reads:

I got teary-eyed -- the babies from 2014 are particularly cute interspersed with other generations of older "superbowl" babies singing an adaptation of Seal's "Kiss from a Rose."

There are serious and deadly thorns on the NFL's rose.  In the wake of concerns raised by medical doctors and former football players about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and the film "Concussion," the superbowl baby video seems to be an NFL tactic to dispel critics of the "collateral damage" (Tony Dorsett) endured by former NFL players.

I can't help contrasting this joyous tear-jerking video with the disturbing media reports about C.T.E.

What does CTE look like?  Symptoms of CTE include a decrease in memory function, dementia, lack of impulse control, and rage.  To get a glimpse of the memory loss and demential, Watch "Iron" Mike Webster and Gene Atkins both struggle to respond to interview questions.  Webster played center for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs from 1974 until 1990. He was the first football player to be diagnosed (posthumously) with CTE.  Gene Atkins played safety for the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins from 1987-1996.

In this video, Kim Bush, who was a partner of Ken Stabler, a former Raiders quarterback and 1977 Superbowl champion, argues that CTE destroys both the lives of former football players and their family relationships.
Normal Brain (left) compared with a brain with CTE (right)

Bennet Omalu, the doctor who was portrayed by Will Smith in Concussion and the doctor who first noticed CTE in Mike Webster's brain, wrote an op ed plea in the New York Times to parents and coaches entitled, "Don't Let Kids Play Football."

I see an enormous contradiction between the family-generating-superbowl wins depicted in the NFL's choir video and the devastating effects of football upon players and their families.  Are football players our societal sacrifice?  If so, for what?  Entertainment?  A celebration of masculine toughness and violence?  Something else?  

Rome also celebrated violent "games" and the successful gladiators who entertained the masses.  Spain and Mexico have celebrated bullfights, and in the dystopian fictional world of "Panem," representative youth from different districts fight to the death, with a single winner emerging as a celebrated victor and hero of the Hunger Games.  These games are more immediately bloody and shocking to my eye.  In football, the injuries are often hidden in the form of ruptured blood vessels and bruised/damaged nerve cells and brain tissue.  Would we be watching and celebrating the superbowl tonight if we could see the current and future damage inflicted upon the players's brains?  I want to say no.  History and fiction suggests maybe we would.  

And 9 months later, we would still replace those lost lives anew.


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