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The manifest glory of JJ Watt

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 09, 2015

I’m increasingly ambivalent about football (see here, here, here), but HBO’s Hard Knocks, the recurring documentary miniseries inside an NFL training camp, is still the best TV show I’ve seen all year.

The show’s stars included coaches, families, undrafted rookies and journeyman free agents, all in orbit around the Houston Texans. A huge part of the draw, though, is all-pro defensive lineman JJ Watt, maybe the NFL’s best player at any position. Watt does freakish things, like flipping half-ton tires end over end, or box-jumping sixty-one inches (kind of like jumping onto the roof of a car from a standstill).

Earlier this summer, Grantland’s Shea Serrano got to run through drills with Watt:

Watt is the best defensive football player on the planet — probably the best football player full stop. His body looks like what Superman would draw if someone asked him to draw what he wanted to look like. My body looks like if someone asked Superman to draw a pile of mashed potatoes wearing shorts.

Sports business may be evil, its fundamental practices barbaric, its media representations distorted and misleading, and its role in American life exaggerated beyond all reason. But god, it’s compelling to watch human beings who are better at what they do than anyone else on the planet, who do things that don’t completely seem possible.

We Work Remotely


posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

Concussion, starring Will Smith, is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered the link between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and will be out in December.

The movie is based on the 2009 GQ article, Game Brain.

Let’s say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let’s say the scientific community — starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country — comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?

Saw someone on Twitter saying that maybe this will be football’s The Insider. Let’s hope it moves the needle.

Update: From the NY Times, Sony Altered ‘Concussion’ Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests, Emails Show.

In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.

“Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge,” Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote in an email on Aug. 6, 2014, to three top studio executives about how to position the movie. “We’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”

(via @masterofn0ne)

The allure of the NFL

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2015

Back in September at the beginning of the NFL season, I wrote a post called I’m quitting football.

I’ve been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I’d catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league’s nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It’s overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won’t be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can’t see each other anymore. And it’s definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

So how did I do? I ended up watching four games this season: a random Sunday night game in week 15 or 16, the Pats/Ravens playoff, the Pats/Colts playoff, and the Super Bowl. I’ve been watching and rooting for the Patriots for the past, what, 14 or 15 years now. And more to the point, I’ve been following the Brady/Belichick storyline for almost that long and once it became clear the Pats had a great shot at winning it all, not watching the final acts was just not going to happen, NFL bullshit or not. It would be like putting down one of the best 1200-page books you’ve ever read with two chapters to go and just saying, yeah, I’m not going to read the end of that. And that game last night…I felt *incredible* when Butler intercepted that pass. Life is full of many greater, more fulfilling, and more genuine moments, but there’s no feeling quite like the one when you realize your team has won, especially when that victory has been snatched, semi-literally, from the jaws of near-certain defeat.

But that’s ultimately weak sauce. I don’t feel justified about watching just because I really enjoyed it. I made a commitment to myself and didn’t honor it. I believe the NFL is still a terrible organization and isn’t worth supporting with my attention. For whatever it’s worth, I’m going back to not watching next year, and I hope I fare better.

Update: Bill Simmons, in an epic recap of the final 12 minutes of the Super Bowl, echoes what I was getting at above.

When you’ve been rooting for the same people for 15 years, at some point the stakes become greater. You want that last exclamation-point title. (Just ask Spurs fans.) You want to feel like you rooted for a dynasty, or something close to it, instead of just “a team that won a couple of times.” You want to say that you rooted for the best coach ever and the best quarterback ever, and you want to be constantly amazed that they showed up to save your sad-sack franchise at the exact same time.

What the ball boy saw

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2014

When he was 17, Eric Kester was a ball boy for the Chicago Bears and saw all the stuff you don’t hear about on TV or even on blogs.

I lay awake at night wondering how many lives were irreparably damaged by my most handy ball boy tool: smelling salts. On game days my pockets were always full of these tiny ammonia stimulants that, when sniffed, can trick a brain into a state of alertness. After almost every crowd-pleasing hit, a player would stagger off the field, steady himself the best he could, sometimes vomit a little, and tilt his head to the sky. Then, with eyes squeezed shut in pain, he’d scream “Eric!” and I’d dash over and say, “It’s O.K., I’m right here, got just what you need.”

And from Vice, the story of former NFL running back Gerald Willhite:

Memory loss is just one of the problems that plague Gerald Willhite, 55. Frustration, depression, headaches, body pain, swollen joints, and a disassociative identity disorder are other reminders of his seven-season (1982-88) career with the Denver Broncos, during which he said he sustained at least eight concussions.

“I think we were misled,” Willhite said from Sacramento. “We knew what we signed up for, but we didn’t know the magnitude of what was waiting for us later.”

When Willhite read about the symptoms of some former players who were taking legal action against the NFL, he thought “Crap, I got the same issues.” He decided to join the lawsuit that claimed the league had withheld information about brain injuries and concussions. He feels that the $765 million settlement, announced last summer and earmarked for the more than 4,000 players in the lawsuit, is like a “Band-Aid put on a gash.”

Still haven’t watched any NFL this year. (via @arainert)

I’m quitting football.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2014

Life-long NFL football fan Steve Almond recently wrote a book called Against Football in which he details why he is no longer watching the game he loves. Ian Crouch talked with Almond for the New Yorker.

Any other year, Steve Almond would have seen the play. But, after forty years of fandom, he’s quit the N.F.L. In his new book, “Against Football,” Almond is plain about what he considers the various moral hazards of the game: “I happen to believe that our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia.”

This part resonated most with me:

Even a casual N.F.L. fan can recognize that this is a particularly opportune time for a Raiders fan to stop watching football. The team is terrible. I asked Almond about that. “If the Raiders were really good, I might not have written the book,” he said. “How fucked up is that? It’s true, I love them. I see those colors, and it’s me.” For Almond, his struggle to confront his own hypocrisy is exactly the point: proof of football’s insidiousness, of its ominous power.

“Football somehow hits that Doritos bliss point,” he told me. “It’s got the intellectual allure of all these contingencies and all this strategy, but at the same time it is so powerfully connecting us to the intuitive joys of childhood, that elemental stuff: Can you make a miracle? Can you see the stuff that nobody else sees? And most of us can’t, but we love to see it. And I don’t blame people for wanting to see it. I love it, and I’m going to miss it.”

I’ve been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I’d catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league’s nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It’s overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won’t be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can’t see each other anymore. And it’s definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

Update: Chuck Klosterman recently tackled (*groan*) this issue in the NY Times Magazine: Is It Wrong to Watch Football?

My (admittedly unoriginal) suspicion is that the reason we keep having this discussion over the ethics of football is almost entirely a product of the sport’s sheer popularity. The issue of concussions in football is debated exhaustively, despite the fact that boxing — where the goal is to hit your opponent in the face as hard as possible — still exists. But people care less about boxing, so they worry less about the ethics of boxing. Football is the most popular game in the United States and generates the most revenue, so we feel obligated to worry about what it means to love it. Well, here’s what it means: We love something that’s dangerous. And I can live with that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates quit watching back in 2012 after Junior Seau died.

I’m not here to dictate other people’s morality. I’m certainly not here to call for banning of the risky activities of consenting adults. And my moral calculus is my own. Surely it is a man’s right to endanger his body, and just as it is my right to decline to watch. The actions of everyone in between are not my consideration.

Same here. I don’t feel any sense of judgment or righteousness about this. Just the personal loss of a hobby I *really* enjoyed. (via @campbellmiller & @Godzilla07)

The 2013 NFL season in 160 seconds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2014

If you haven’t been watching the NFL at all this season but are planning on tuning into the Super Bowl, this video by ESPN will prepare you by recapping the entire season in under three minutes.

If you want something more specific, try Wikipedia or SB Nation. (via devour)

More hilarious bad lip reading of NFL players

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2014

The first installment was a classic, but this second video of NFL players and coaches overdubbed with alternate dialogue is pretty great as well.

(via devour)

Bad British NFL commentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2014

From the clueless British announcer who brought you this bad baseball commentary (“No! Caught by the chap in the pajamas with the glove that makes everything easier. And they all scuttle off for a nap.”) comes some hilariously misinformed NFL game commentary.

Alabama’s fullback has a handkerchief in his back pocket. He must have a cold but he’s pressing on regardless. That’s stoicism for you.

On the intelligence of football players

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2014

Michael Lewis made the case in The Blind Side that football players are the smartest in sports because the game is complex and moves fast. For the New Yorker, Nicholas Dawidoff takes a look at what makes a football player smart.

The Redskins’ London Fletcher is undersized and thirty-eight years old, but he’s been able to play for so long because he is a defensive Peyton Manning: seeing the game so lucidly, yelling out the offensive play about to unfold, changing alignments before the snap, organizing the field in real time. Similarly, Lavonte David, who has been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two years, is just two hundred and thirty-four pounds — ten to fifteen pounds lighter than most at his position — the Wonderlic scores out on the Internet for him are not especially high, and, like all players, he makes the occasional boneheaded play. But he possesses dedicated study habits and a football clairvoyance that, come Sunday, finds him ignoring the blocking flow only at the one moment during a game when the offense runs the ball away from it.

The Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Alan Page weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds, the dimension of a modern fullback. Even so, Page was terrifying. His forty-yard-dash time wasn’t anything special, either, but he says that he could run down faster opponents because he always had sense where he was in relation to the blur of bodies around him-he could “understand the situation.” Page is now an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. “Being a football player requires you to take your emotional self to places that most people shouldn’t go,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to get to know the person who was in my head on a football field. I likely see some of these people in my current job — those who can’t control that person — and they do not very nice things.”

I asked him, “You could control that person on a field?”

“Most of the time,” Page said.

The safety, standing at the rear of the defense, must compensate for the mistakes of others; football intelligence matters more at this position than any other on the defense. At five-eight, a hundred and eighty-eight pounds, the Bills safety Jim Leonhard, a nine-year veteran, is among the smallest and also the slowest starting defensive backs in the game. And yet, watching him on film, he appears to teleport to the ball. Leonhard’s name seems to enter any conversation about football intelligence; he knows every teammate’s responsibilities in every call, and understands the game as twenty-two intersecting vectors. “He’d walk off the bus and you’d think he was the equipment manager,” Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “He’s still in the league because he’s the quarterback of the defense.”

The best and worst NFL announcers

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2013

Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.

In general, there are three types of announcer comments: good, neutral and bad. Good statements offer some type of insight into the game. This is inherently subjective, since different people know different things. Neutral statements constitute the bulk of their utterances: neither offensive nor insightful. As a result, I decided to measure the bad statements.

I divided announcers’ verbal infractions into six categories that are not simply pet peeves, but likely to be annoyances for a majority of NFL viewers.

Happy to see Chris Collinsworth near the top of the heap…he’s my favorite and, while a bit goofy sometimes, offers the best post-Madden analysis in the game. Siragusa and Gruden are like nails on the chalkboard, surprised they didn’t rank much worse.

More former NFL stars have head troubles

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2013

Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett is among a growing group of former NFL players who have been diagnosed with diseases caused by years of head trauma and other injuries.

The former Cowboys running back, now 59, said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.

Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games.

“I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there,” he said.

The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and eighth all-time leading NFL rusher said he has trouble controlling his emotions and is prone to outbursts at his wife and daughters.

“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me.” After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, “It’s painful.”

And I missed this last year, but former Bears QB Jim McMahon is suffering from early-stage dementia.

In an interview with Fox affiliate WFLD-TV, aired Wednesday, the 53-year-old McMahon says he knows where he’s going when in an airport. But when he meets people, “I’m asking two minutes later, ‘Who was that?’

“When my friends call and leave me a message … I’ll read it and delete it before I respond and then I forget who called and left me a message.”

McMahon says he is not worried about his mind withering away. He says he still reads a lot and is doing other things to keep his mind active. However, he said he doesn’t know whether he is getting worse.

These stories are just going to keep coming. Perhaps a true tipping point will come when one of the league’s past megastars is dianosed with CTE…if Brett Favre or Dan Marino or John Elway or Troy Aikman or Ray Lewis or any of the other former players that appear regularly on NFL game broadcasts announces he has CTE or dementia, maybe then the league will take real action? Or not? (via df)

League of Denial

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2013

League of Denial, the Frontline documentary on the NFL and concussions, is available online for anyone to watch for free.

NFL deliberately campaigned against science regarding head injuries

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2013

According to an upcoming book by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the NFL “conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage”.

Excerpts published Wednesday by ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated from the book, “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” report that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league’s own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.

Excerpts of the book are available from ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. An episode of Frontline based in part on the book airs next week. Interestingly, ESPN was collaborating with Frontline on this program, but they pulled out of it in August.

How the NFL fleeces taxpayers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2013

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the NFL is a highly profitable business. But it might come as a shock that the league enjoys nonprofit status. From Gregg Easterbrook: How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers.

Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn’t apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It’s time to stop the public giveaways to America’s richest sports league — and to the feudal lords who own its teams.

Easy NFL/Netflix/Hulu region unlock using DNS

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2013

Lex Friedman details how to use DNS services (like AdFree Time) to route around region-specific content locks, so you can do things like watch all NFL games in HD from anywhere, change Netflix regions (for access to different content), etc.

Third-party services like AdFree Time offer up a DNS-based solution: Pay a monthly fee and use their DNS services, and the NFL’s website treats you as if you’re coming from Europe. You thus get to watch every NFL game streaming online in high definition, since the league offers that option to folks in Europe at no charge. Americans, usually, miss out. I could pay for DirecTV’s insanely overpriced Sunday Ticket, but I think it’s a ripoff when I’m only looking to watch about six to eight Eagles games that won’t show here.

This beats hate-reading the NFL TV maps every weekend.

Super Bowl preview for non-football fans

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2013

If you don’t know anything about football and yet are interested in (or being coerced into) watching the big game this weekend, here are some players’ stories that might make it more interesting for you.

Whether actively experiencing the spectacle or not, there are a few reasons to like the Super Bowl in 2013, besides the fact that the Baltimore Ravens are the first major professional sports franchise, so far, to be named after a 19th century poem. For starters, in a sports year that’s already brought us doping cyclists and fake dead girlfriends, the teams in this year’s contest are welcome standouts. The San Francisco 49ers were the first NFL team to join the “It Gets Better” campaign, and their opponent, the Ravens, has a team captain who is the most outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in the NFL, and whose presence has evolved the once overtly homophobic locker-room culture of his entire team.

I loved this line in reference to Colin Kapernick’s replacement of Alex Smith as the 49ers’ starting QB:

The deliberate, steady bus was replaced by a flaming Apache helicopter flown by a nude Vladimir Putin.

Bonus: nothing about the Harbaugh brothers.

Junior Seau’s family sues NFL over concussions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2013

The deceased former NFL player’s family joins more than 6000 people who have sued the NFL over head injuries in the past few years.

“We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE,” the family said in a statement released to the AP. “While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.

“We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations.”

Plaintiffs are listed as Gina Seau, Junior’s ex-wife; Junior’s children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of Seau’s estate.

The lawsuit accuses the league of glorifying the violence in pro football, and creating the impression that delivering big hits “is a badge of courage which does not seriously threaten one’s health.”

It singles out NFL Films and some of its videos for promoting the brutality of the game.

Seau is a pretty boldfaced name…I wonder what effect this will have on public perception, etc.

Possible test for CTE in living patients

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2013

CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the degenerative brain disease that could dramatically change the way pro football is played in the future (if it’s played at all), can’t be identified in victims until after death. That makes it difficult to prove (or disprove) the connection between pro football, concussions, and death from CTE. But researchers have discovered a possible technique that could diagnose CTE in living patients.

Last year five retired N.F.L. players who were 45 years and older and suffered from mood swings, depression and cognitive problems were given PET, or positron emission tomography, scans. The authors of the study said those scans revealed tau protein deposits in their brains, a signature of C.T.E. While not definitive, the distribution of tau in the retired players was consistent with those found in the autopsies of players who had C.T.E.

If it’s actually possible, this could be huge. Many more players, current and former, can be tested and diagnosed and if CTE was found regularly and consistently, you’d think that insurance companies would flee from the NFL like rats leaving a sinking ship and football would have to adapt (to be more like soccer? flag football?) or die.

The NFL, a theater of pain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2013

Tom Junod’s just-posted piece in Esquire is a good companion to the interview with former NFL star Jason Taylor. In it, Junod talks to several current NFL players about injuries and pain.

“The worst injury I’ve ever had on the field — for my wife and kids, at least, and my mom and dad — was an injury I got against the 49ers,” says Matt Hasselbeck. “Patrick Willis hit me as I was diving for the goal line. He hit me, and twenty minutes later I’m in an ambulance on my way to Stanford Medical. I’d broken a rib on the left and I’d broken a rib on the right. The rib on the right was right next to my aorta, and it was really dangerous for my health. I couldn’t breathe. It was like there was a weight on top of me. It’s a scary thing, because it feels like you’re drowning. I couldn’t breathe at all, and I got up off the field because it was a two-minute situation - I didn’t want the team to have to take a time-out. I tried to run off the field, and when the trainers met me they saw I was, like, purple in the face. And they immediately put me on the ground. Sometimes they’ll put you on the ground to evaluate you and sometimes to give the backup quarterback a chance to get loose. They put me on the ground because I was purple.”

That instinct - the instinct to run when you can’t breathe in order to save your team a time-out - is not one often encountered in civilian life. Indeed, it is one encountered almost exclusively in war, in which people’s lives, rather than simply their livelihoods, are at stake. Now, the NFL is replete with military symbolism, not to mention military pretensions. But the reality of injury is what makes it more than fantasy football, more than professional wrestling, more than an action movie, more than a video game played with moving parts who happen to be human. The reality of injury - and the phantasmagoric world of pain - is what makes it, legitimately, a blood sport. And it is what makes Dr. Yates, the Steelers’ team doctor, define his job simply and bluntly: “My job is to protect players from themselves.”

Junod adds, via Twitter:

Concussion: the global warming of the NFL. We feel bad about it. But what we really worry about is someone taking our football away.

Hilarious bad lip reading of NFL players

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2013

Take footage of NFL players, coaches, and officials talking, dub it poorly with alternate dialogue, and you get a bit of genius.

Let’s not beat around the bush: this is the best thing ever. (via @gavinpurcell)

Pain is routine in the NFL

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2013

Former NFL star Jason Taylor was so injured (and yet still playing every week) that for a period of two years, the 6’6” 240-pound linebacker couldn’t lift his kids into bed. So how did he play? Shots to kill the pain and then more shots to kill the pain of the first shots. And so on. Until he almost had to have his leg amputated.

The trainer rushed to Taylor’s house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor’s blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he’d fly out in owner Daniel Snyder’s private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he’d have to cut off Taylor’s leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn’t. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.

Taylor’s reaction?

“I was mad because I had to sit out three weeks,” he says. “I was hot.”

He had seven to nine inches of nerve damage.

“The things we do,” he explains. “Players play. It is who we are. We always think we can overcome.”

At the New Yorker, Reeves Wiedeman reminds us that the NFL is unlikely to change because so much of what happens with injuries is hidden from view.

As we watch a game that we know is dangerous, we soothe ourselves with the idea that these men must be aware of the risks, too; that they are being well compensated to take on those risks; and that, at least when they’re on the field, in front of the cameras, they are living the dream that we all craved as kids, and they’re having fun.

But what we can take from this story, and from the fact that, on the surface, this weekend’s games were filled with such excitement, is the fact that so much of football’s barbarism takes place beyond our vision and behind closed doors.

(thx, meg)

Here is what happens when Troy Aikman does your NFL broadcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2013

Troy Aikman moves around the field at Cowboys Stadium as if he owns the place, but in a previous-owner kind of way. He’ll soon call a game here for Fox. People scream his name from the stands as he moves toward midfield to meet a head coach and a PR man. The sportcaster’s partner, Joe Buck, sits up in the booth, preparing. The Cowboys. The Saints. Thanksgiving Day. Here’s the behind-the-scenes look at how Fox’s broadcast of the game happens.

If Aikman — and Buck, too — have any misconceptions about their comedic chops, it’s because, for several months out of the year, they are surrounded by people who laugh too hard at their jokes or anything that even seems like a joke. The next day, Aikman makes the slightest quip about the size of the enormous screen that hovers above the field at Cowboys Stadium — certainly strip-mined ground even a couple of months after the place opened. The reaction he receives would seem improbable even if Louis C.K. had delivered the line.

Pretty interesting. Aikman and Buck are among my favorite football announcers, but they’re not as good as Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth or John Madden and Anyone At All.

Junior Seau had brain damage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2013

Recent analysis by specialists shows that Junior Seau, the former stand-out NFL linebacker who committed suicide last year, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death. CTE is associated with repeated trauma to the head and has been found in many ex-NFL players, including a few that have committed suicide.

“I think it’s important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE,” Gina Seau said. “It’s important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don’t want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.”

She said the family was told that Seau’s disease resulted from “a lot of head-to-head collisions over the course of 20 years of playing in the NFL. And that it gradually, you know, developed the deterioration of his brain and his ability to think logically.”

Experts caution that correlation is not causation, but as these incidents mount, the NFL is going to come under increasing pressure to act, causation or no.

NFL TV maps 2012

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2012

Once again, here’s the link to the maps that show which NFL games will be shown in which parts of the country.

NFL concussion lawsuit

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jun 09, 2012

On Thursday, 80 lawsuits against the NFL related to brain injuries and concussions were combined into one complaint and filed in Philadelphia. The suit also names helmet maker Ridell, and if I’m reading the article correctly, 2100 former players are involved in the case.

Former running back Kevin Turner, now suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, said:

The NFL must open its eyes to the consequences of its actions. The NFL has the power not only to give former players the care they deserve, but also to ensure that future generations of football players do not suffer the way that many in my generation have. For the longest time, about the first 10 years after I retired in January 2000, I thought I had just turned into a loser overnight. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was a very scary proposition — until I found out there were a lot more guys just like me. I find they had been through some of the same struggles. I realized this is no longer a coincidence.

Back in February, we linked to a Grantland piece by economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier about head injuries leading to the end of the NFL. In their version, injuries to high school and college students result in lawsuits making the sport prohibitively expensive to offer to their students (along with a perception that it’s too dangerous for kids to play).

Is this case the beginning of that timeline? Depending on what comes out in the lawsuit, one (unjust) popular opinion will be that the players should have known they were playing a dangerous game and they were handsomely rewarded to boot. It’s not really a fair opinion, but people love their football. (You can see evidence of this in the comments to the ESPN article linked at the top.) A best case scenario, I would think, would be for the NFL to settle with some sort of acknowledgement of the issue. Not lip-service, but actual changes to current policies and future support for former players.

In happier NFL news, Trick Shot Quarterback, Alex Tanney was signed yesterday by the KC Chiefs. Regardless of setting the NCAA Division III record for passing with 14,249 yards, the NCAA record for touchdowns with 157, and only throwing 30 interceptions in college, Tanney had gone undrafted.

How professional football might end (sooner than you think)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2012

Writing for Grantland, economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier imagine how the NFL might end due to the increasing visibility of head injuries.

This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players — or worse, high schoolers — commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn’t worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it’s mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.

Is this how soccer finally conquers America? Not that soccer doesn’t have its own concussion-related problems.

Update: Claire McNear for the Ringer: It’s Getting Harder and Harder to Deny That Football Is Doomed.

They keep telling us they’re going to find a safe way to do it — a way to play football that doesn’t result in Tre Mason’s mom telling the police that her 23-year-old son just isn’t acting right, that her boy, who couldn’t bring himself to turn up at Rams training camp this summer, now has the mind-set of a 10-year-old. They keep telling us they’re going to find a way that doesn’t end with Bruce Miller, all 248 pounds of him, wandering lost and angry and confused, looking very much like someone exhibiting the symptoms of long-term brain damage, and then attempting to enter a family’s hotel room and allegedly beating a 70-year-old man.

What the NFL won’t show you

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2011

The NFL regards the “All-22” footage of their games — the zoomed-out view of the game that includes the movements of all 22 players on the field — as proprietary and releases it to very few people. But it’s difficult to fully understand the game without it.

For decades, NFL TV broadcasts have relied most heavily on one view: the shot from a sideline camera that follows the progress of the ball. Anyone who wants to analyze the game, however, prefers to see the pulled-back camera angle known as the “All 22.”

While this shot makes the players look like stick figures, it allows students of the game to see things that are invisible to TV watchers: like what routes the receivers ran, how the defense aligned itself and who made blocks past the line of scrimmage.

By distributing this footage only to NFL teams, and rationing it out carefully to its TV partners and on its web site, the NFL has created a paradox. The most-watched sport in the U.S. is also arguably the least understood. “I don’t think you can get a full understanding without watching the entirety of the game,” says former head coach Bill Parcells. The zoomed-in footage on TV broadcasts, he says, only shows a “fragment” of what happens on the field.

Update: The NFL is making the All-22 footage from next season’s games available on its website for $70. (thx, stef)

The life and death of Dave Duerson

posted by Tim Carmody   May 03, 2011
Dave Duerson.jpg

Jason wrote about the suicide of Dave Duerson in February. Duerson was an all-pro NFL safety, most notably with the Chicago Bears, who shot himself in the chest.

He left several suicide notes and text messages asking for his brain to be examined post-mortem for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a disease caused by repeated untreated concussions now thought to be common among professional football players and other athletes — which he thought may have led to his depression. An autopsy later revealed that Duerson was right.

Gus Garcia-Roberts has a magnificent story on Duerson — his childhood, football career, post-NFL life as an entrepreneur, and his dip into bankruptcy and mental illness, both of which he tried desperately to cover until the day he died.

To its black residents, Muncie — nicknamed “Little Chicago” because it was divisively and forever segregated — felt like a village. And by his high school graduation in 1978, Dave was the golden child. He was a member of the National Honor Society, had traveled through Europe playing the sousaphone as part of the Musical Ambassadors All-American Band, and in his senior year was voted Indiana Mr. Football. He could run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and throw a fastball at 95 mph. “I thought he might go on to be a senator,” Kizer says, “or anything he wanted.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers offered Dave a signing bonus to pitch for them. But when the Dodgers’ scouts told his father there was “no time for college,” Dave later recounted to HistoryMakers, “that was a very short conversation.”

He enrolled in his home state’s University of Notre Dame on a football and baseball scholarship. Once there, football dominated his schedule, and his baseball prospects faded away.

Dave would later say that, for the career longevity, he wished he had chosen baseball. Decades down the road — after the undiagnosed concussions, headaches, mood swings, memory loss, erratic behavior, and, finally, the suicide — his family would agree.

Read it. (Via the excellent new sportswriting aggregator SportsFeat.)

How NFL footballs are made

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2011

The manufacturing process for the official NFL football made by Wilson:

It’s fascinating that every football used in the NFL for the past 20-30 years has been made by Deb, Loretta, Peg, Glen, Emmitt, Tina, Etta Mae, Pam, and Michelle. Also, they call the pre-laced, pre-inflated ball a carcass! (thx, peter)

Update: The NY Times takes a slightly different look at the Wilson factory, through the eyes of Jane Helser, who sewed footballs there for almost 50 years.

And then after the teams get the balls, they go through further procedures that vary from team to team. Here’s how the NY Giants prep their footballs for Eli Manning:

The new ball is rubbed vigorously for 45 minutes with a dark brush, which removes the wax and darkens the leather.

Next, a wet towel is used to scour the ball until the ball’s outer surface is soaked through. “You’re not done until the ball is waterlogged and water will no longer bead on it,” Ed Skiba said.

While the ball is wet, it is brushed again.

Then the ball is taken over to an electric spin wheel, where it undergoes another high-speed scrubbing.

At this point, the ball is put aside overnight. Then the process is repeated twice over the next couple of days.

But under-inflating by a couple of PSI is a scandal? Absurd.

NFL TV maps for 2010 season

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2010

I’m a little late this year, but the 2010 NFL maps site has been up and humming for four weeks now. The site displays what games are going to be on TV in different parts of the country.