In the January 31, 2011 New Yorker, Ben McGrath published, “Does Football Have A Future? The N.F.L. and the concussion crisis,” which, as a devotee of professional football, I read uneasily.
I love the game and agonize over the violence simultaneously. And I’ve occasionally avoided Alan Schwarz’s New York Times‘ coverage of these problems (McGrath gives Schwarz due credit), which were some of the earliest published articles on the subject. (I’m linking here to one recent piece, because it’s about the suicide of Dave Duerson, whom I met once at training camp, when he was playing for the Giants. A lovely, gorgeous guy with a spectacular smile. So miserably sad, this story.)
It’s a conflict that McGrath re-stirred in me, now that the actual playing season is over. McGrath tells stories of the life-curtailing, rotten long-term effects of football. Some of the stories are so painful; hard to read that the eccentric and entertaining ex-quarterback Jim McMahon says his memory is ‘”pretty much gone,” and that he often walks into a room without knowing why.’ He’s 51!
When I was writing about football, I’d go up to training camp to watch the New York Giants at work. Often I’d have lunch with my friend George Young, who’d played pro ball for maybe a year. Yet he walked so slowly, I’d have to restrict my steps to stay alongside him. It was as if I were accompanying a 90 year old.
Every retired football player up there in training camp walked that way.
George died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—a rapid disintegration of the brain. Its origins are not really understood.
One of the points McGrath brings up is the influence women inextricably involved with football—wives and mothers of players—have had upon this relatively recent focus on life after football. They’re the ones, after all, who have to cope with their depressed, arthritic, demented and sometimes suicidal family members.
In fact, my lawyer in the Skush-O’Brien case, Miss Amelia Bodkin, posted her own excellent piece about her concerns and triumphs as a football mom (in the Huffington Post).
Here’s what McGrath says toward the end of his piece:
“There’s a potential lawsuit out there that’s devastating,” the Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw said on Fox’s pregame show… I know of two groups of lawyers preparing class-action suits, on behalf of recent players, against the N.F.L., with an eye toward filing in the first six months of this year. At issue is what the league knew and when, and, ultimately, what responsibility it has to its players…Trial lawyers, tort reform, the nanny state: this is no small part of football’s future.
Such a huge lawsuit. I won’t be cheering this one on. I’ll be cheering only for the players.