Commentary: Concussions in the NFL Can’t Be Ignored

Shame on ESPN for letting league officials pressure the network into dropping out of Frontline probe. 

Posted: 08/30/2013 11:56 AM EDT

Nobody should be surprised – not one bit. If anyone is, they are naïve to the workings of professional sports, or else an idiot. What other choices could there be?

Forget about the $765 million settlement the NFL and its retired players reached Thursday, a bigger story is that the NFL pressured ESPN into dropping out of an investigative project with the PBS series Frontline. According to The New York Times, the Frontline documentary, scheduled to air Oct. 8 and Oct. 15, takes a deep dive into the problem of concussions in the NFL.

Football fans know concussions have long been one of the major league football’s darker secrets, more closely guarded than Bill Belichick’s practices. But the evidence is stacked high that concussions are ruining the lives of football players. Scores of retirees are suffering from dementia and chronic brain disease, results of too many blows to the head.

To its credit, the NFL has tried to minimize the dangers its players face from these high-speed collisions. It has outlawed helmet-to-helmet hits and hard tackles on defenseless players. But aside from putting Bubble Wrap on athletes, the league can’t legislate its way out of a problem as glaring as concussions.

What it can do, though, is raise awareness of concussions and of the dangers of football – raise awareness not just for its players, but for football players like De’Antre Turman, a 16-year-old defensive back for Creekside High School in Union City, Georgia. Turman, an elite athlete, broke his neck making a routine tackle in a scrimmage and died.

Freak accident?

In Turman’s case, yes. A lot of concussions are freak accidents as well. But they pile up – one after another, and a player might suffer a string of them before he hangs up his cleats. He might not see the dangers until later, when he’s moving into the twilight of life with pains and disabilities that are unbearable to live with.

Ask any former NFL player whether such a life is worth it, and you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who would voice regret. The fame and fortune were always too addictive, and careers seem a lot more important and interesting than the consequences.

Yet maybe that says something about the macho world of football, a sport as popular as any in America: The country is obsessed with it, even as people see their heroes go down with injuries.

What only the NFL players and their families and friends see is life after the cheering stops, and report after report points to one that ain’t pretty. Scrambled minds and unrelenting agony should not be a man’s price to pay for fame.

Perhaps we will never be able to save players from themselves. That might be asking too much. What we should do is demand that the NFL takes care of its own. It does players no good pretending concussions aren’t a problem. 

If that was the ultimate message in the Frontline documentary, shame on, if it did, the NFL for pressuring ESPN to abandon the project. What a case like this does is spotlight the entangling alliances between media and pro sports.

Caught in the middle of it all are their players. Who will watch out for their interests if journalists cannot?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: KARL GEHRING- The Denver Post)

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