Moments ago, on my Twitter & Facebook pages, I released the highlight reel the NFL does not want you to see before the Super Bowl.
This NFL this season broke a dubious record, a destructive one, with an astounding 281 concussions from the NFL preseason until today.
I must admit the NFL has done a masterful job at mainstreaming the violence of the game so that fans and spectators don’t feel too bad about what’s actually happening out there.
No single word has protected the NFL from the true costs of its violence more than “concussion.” That word puts a protective barrier between us and what’s really going on out there.
It’s not a headache. It’s not “getting your bell rung.” You don’t have a bell. It’s a traumatic brain injury. Every single concussion is a new traumatic brain injury. In addition to the torn ACL’s and MCL’s, in addition to all of the horrible fractures and blown up tendons and ligaments, the NFL diagnosed at least 281 traumatic brain injuries this season and no short film has ever quite displayed the horror of it all like Concussion Protocol from Josh Begley.
And I think many of us are OK with this, on a conscious or subconscious level, because we don’t know these men. Let me tell you what I mean.
In a span of just two hot days in July of 2016, our nation witnessed two horrible instances of police violence. Filmed by innocent bystanders, we first saw Alton Sterling shot to death at close range outside of a corner store in Baton Rouge where he had been selling CDs. The next day, broadcast on Facebook Live by his fiancé, we witnessed Philando Castile, the beloved cafeteria supervisor, breathe his last breaths after being repeatedly shot by an officer who wrongly suspected Castile of an armed robbery purely because he saw the shape of Castile’s nose as he drove by.
The next day, I received the first of what would eventually be hundreds of messages from Colin Kaepernick. I would break down each case of injustice for him. He was brilliantly smart and asked the most insightful questions. He had not yet taken a knee or publicly protested the National Anthem. That was still a few weeks away, but these new injustices were clearly eating at his soul.
It was not just Colin. In those summer weeks before the NFL season began, dozens of players reached out to me to either have me try to break everything down for them or advise them on what they could specifically say or do about injustice and police brutality in America.
And it was in that moment, before Colin took a knee, before any player raised a fist or took a seat, that everything about how I watched the NFL began to change.
I love sports.
For my entire childhood and well into my college career it was my dream to be a GM or a sports agent. I still think about it. Until my boycott this season, I’ve watched football religiously every season for over 30 years now. Even with all I knew about the painful reality that the violence of the game was causing irreversible brain damage to its players, I kept watching.
But the moment I became friends with the men on the field, a switch was flipped. At first I couldn’t wait to cheer on the teams that had players I had come to know personally. Back in 2016 I still had the NFL Sunday Ticket – which is a monthly television subscription that allowed me to watch and monitor every game in the league. Before even the first game was over, though, I had already seen several men I had come to know and trust get absolutely crushed by fierce tackles on field. Throughout the day I saw men that I talked and texted and Skyped with all week. By that Sunday night, after watching a dozen different games, the joy of watching the NFL was gone for me.
In essence, I had been willing to excitedly watch men that I did not know play a game that damaged their brains and crushed their bodies, but the moment those men became more than just bodies on a sports field or highlights on a news clip, the moment those men became my friends and brothers, I stopped cheering so much and mainly just found myself nervously hoping my homies were OK out there.
Imagine if you learned that the most cherished person in your family received a traumatic brain injury earlier today from a violent assault, you’d be troubled right? Well, in spite of all of their claims to be protecting players, hundreds of NFL received traumatic brain injuries this year. And what we know is that the accumulation of those brain injuries and all of the other undiagnosed injuries to their brains from being hit with the full force of some of the strongest human beings on the planet dozens of times per game is causing a horrible degenerative disease of the brain called CTE.
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