We caught the last hour of ‘League of Denial’ last night and I’m glad we didn’t watch the whole thing, because it just made me viscerally sick. So, I don’t know if they mentioned Chris Benoit, but I’m guessing not. And I think that’s a shame, because even the way the documentary was set up, you can kind of see the argument the NFL is going to make in the future–yes, the game is dangerous and men are hurting themselves in the brain, but they know the risks to themselves when they sign up for the sport.
And I get that talking about kids with traces of CTE maybe makes the same point I want made–that you don’t always know what you’re signing up for or you’re not the one initially signing up for it–but I want it made more explicitly. You’re not just making, or having made for you, a decision that only destroys you. It destroys families, sometimes to death. You might have the right to do to yourself whatever you want, even if it gives you brain damage, but I’m completely unconvinced that you have the right to do something to yourself that might make you a killer.
But I was also struck by the part that Jessica Luther’s taking about:
This kind of call for a larger context in which to study the cause and effect of football playing and CTE becomes for many who want to downplay or deny the possibility of that connection an easy out. Multiple times in the documentary there were doubters (of course, all of them somehow associated with the NFL) who said that we need to look for other possible connections between these football players beyond the fact that they all had CTE at the time of their death. And once we have crossed off the list however many (how many exactly?) other possible connections between the 45 players in McKee’s study, then we will know that the cause of CTE is playing football.
Just in the time we watched, the Butcher and I noted three different NFL-related people who seemed to be suggesting that CTE is somehow the fault of the players, something they just happened to be doing to themselves–like taking steroids or other drugs or that they all have some similar genetic disposition or something. As if those things aren’t related to football. It’s arguing that football is safe, it’s just the things you have to do to be a football player that are dangerous. As if that lets football off the hook.
It strikes me though, we all pay for this kind of victim blaming. If people are trained from a young age that they have to do what more powerful people tell them, that they have to give their bodies up to the whims of people with more money or more power than them or risk losing something important to them (their jobs,their lives, etc.) AND that, if they can’t keep themselves safe in such arrangements, they are to blame, of course this echoes around our culture in increasingly damaging ways.