Most Americans have seen by now the YouTube video, shown repeatedly on national TV, of Miami Dolphins football player Richie Incognito strutting around shirtless, bellowing racial epithets while thumping his chest at the top of his lungs in a Ft. Lauderdale bar.
This is the player currently suspended on charges by a teammate of relentless, brutal taunting and bullying, something that Incognito’s defenders suggest reflects nothing more than a commonplace “culture of the football locker room.”
The video has also been seen by millions outside the U.S. led to believe, rightly so, that football is the “new American pastime.” Yes, Richie Incognito has become the new poster boy for what has become of American culture.
This is the culture that has been desensitized to routine massacres of innocents in their elementary school classrooms, unable to lift a political finger to change gun laws that allow felons to buy assault weapons without background checks.
This is the culture that is experiencing the greatest discrepancy between the super rich and the rest of us in history. It is the culture where 85 percent live one paycheck or less from the street.
This is the culture where, according to Pediatrics magazine, incidents of gun violence have tripled in the most popular movies since 1985.
The decline and fall of the Roman empire, contrary to the conclusions made by British historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote the famous three-volume tome by that name in the 1600s, was due more to lead poisoning than any other single cause, as research that emerged in the 1980s suggests. Lead in pots where hot wine drinks were brewed caused massive brain damage among the elites.
Now, the decline of America may be more due to the brutal culture of football, with its brain damaging effects, than almost anyone is yet willing to suggest.
There has been an enormous resistance, given that football has become a huge money-maker at all levels, from high school to the pros, to the acknowledgment of the epidemic of concussions to which players are repeatedly exposed. Former professional players have begun dropping dead from dementia, suicides and other effects of not only diagnosed concussions, but of a more pervasive degenerative brain condition known as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).”
This condition has been found to exist (at present, it cannot be conclusively diagnosed except after the death of a victim) in many cases where there was no record of a specific concussion, with its known symptoms, but came as something unique to football – the thousands of sub-concussive blows to the head that players experience daily in what have become almost year-round practices, as well as games.
The incredible extent of cover-up efforts at the level of the billion dollar National Football League was exposed in a recently-published book, League of Denial: the NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, which became the basis for a PBS “Frontline” special last month.
But the problem of an epidemic of CTE goes much deeper into our culture. It begins with the very young, as Associated Press writer Lauran Neergaard wrote last week in an article citing an Institute of Medicine and National Research Council report about the impact of football on the very young, on players of “pee wee football.”
The report not only warns of the dangers of concussions, but found that there is a “culture of resistance” based on a fear of being accused of “wimping out” by reporting them. Most troubling, however, was the report’s conclusion that “there is little evidence that helmets or other gear reduce the risk” and, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that “there is increasing evidence that too much mental activity can worsen symptoms and prolong recovery, too.”
That’s right, football’s impact harms the capacity to learn.
In football’s earliest days, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt threatened to outlaw it due to the high instances of deaths resulting from head injuries. As a result, helmets were introduced. However, if the latest evidence is true, then helmets may prevent immediate death, but do little to protect the brain from CTE.
To be continued.