Blame the Victim

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.


8 thoughts on “Blame the Victim

  1. I have a son and I will never let him play football. More and more, I can’t stand to watch it or talk about it. There is this uneasy undercurrent now, for fans, of lalalala, the game is still so great, we won’t think about the players literally damaging their brains for our entertainment right in front of us, lalalala. The nastier versions of this are, a. they agreed to this risk and b. they make tons of money (although that doesn’t work with high school and college players) so fuck ’em, they’re getting compensated for the risk. I’m sure the ancient Romans watching gladiators said the similar things to themselves while watching people die for their entertainment.

    I don’t expect the NFL to do anything but what it’s doing; if there is no way to make football safe, football will eventually die, and take all those millions of dollars with it. I mean, I would *like* it if the NFL chose ethics over profits/its continued existence, but that seems unlikely.

    Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge pro sports fan, so the idea of football going away doesn’t fill me with grief, but it’s basically a religion for a significant number of people, so I expect denial to stay strong for quite a while. Soon enough it will be only godless commie libruls that believe players get brain damage, or that it matters if they do.

  2. Beth, I kept thinking about that story, too.

    emjb, that’s how I’ve felt about wrestling. When they rattle off all the names of the guys who’ve died in the past decade and they’re all young guys I watched and enjoyed. It just… ugh.

    And, yeah, I’m starting to feel that way about football for sure. I turn it on, thinking it’s fine, and then I just feel more and more dread watching it. And, you know, I know there’s no way to make it safe, but there are a lot of dangerous professions people have where they could get injured or die that leave them with long-lasting health problems and I don’t sit around in the stands at the mineshaft waiting to watch to see if it happens, you know?

    I’m not sure their willingness to play football absolves me of my responsibility for watching it.

  3. I’m so irritated with myself that I forgot to set the DVR for this.

    It’s possibly needless to say I grew up in a football-watching family. It started getting less fun for me to watch somewhere around 2009 or 2010. That’s not attributable to how well (let’s be honest–badly) “my teams” were doing; it just happened. Looking back, this information probably had something to do with it. Now when I watch, it’s with that same kind of unease. When guys get hurt, it unnerves me more. I don’t know how to reconcile what used to be a happy diversion (let’s be honest–way of life) with the proven consequences to its warriors.

    Interestingly, one of the doctors associated with this project gave an interview where the question of allowing his kids to play came up. He punted on that (sorry; had to) but did say that he wouldn’t want to make a decision one way or another based on fear.

    It was such a great interview up until that point. He may think fear is a poor influence on decision-making, but it’s why I vaccinate my toddler, why I don’t let him walk through parking lots unless he holds my hand. I can’t protect him from everything but I can mitigate risks. As a parent, you just do what you feel is right with the information you have at the time.

    As it happens, these days we have a LOT.

  4. Right. I mean, things are going to happen. Your kid could fall off his bike and break his arm. And you don’t want to keep him from riding his bike–when the time comes.

    But if someone came to you and said, “19 out of the 20 kids who go on this bike ride are going to break their arms,” most parents would keep their kids off of that particular trail.

    So, you know, there are lots of ways kids can get concussions. You can’t predict or protect from everything. The problem football has is that, when you kid comes to you and says, “I want to do a fall sport. My school has football and basketball,” I think more and more parents are going to encourage basketball. Not that bad things can’t happen in basketball, but they’re not dissecting the brains of 18 year old basketball players and already finding evidence of CTE.

    I think that will be a harder thing for parents whose kids have a natural ability that fits with football and who know that football can provide their kids with a college education and, perhaps, a shot at a lot of money in the pros. But I do think it’s going to become more like boxing–which went from something a lot of kids did, even if they weren’t very talented, because parents thought it provided them skills they might use anyway to something done now mostly only by kids who are (or who potentially are) good at it.

    The risks just aren’t going to seem worth the rewards to everyone else.

  5. Pingback: txmere · Regarding my waning interest in football

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