Sunday, December 12, 2010

At the Start of a Cultural Revolution

When do norms change?  When do we start viewing stuff through new lenses?  We need others to start the process, educating us about what was wrong with the old way of doing things.  In this NYT story, Chris Collinsworth is part of leading edge of the cultural revolution in football--that concussions are no longer a joke, and that illegal hits to the head should no longer be celebrated.  While Alan Schwartz and others have run heaps of stories about the damage that concussions are doing to our athletes, this only gets transmitted to the fans via the commentators.  "Collinsworth’s language and tone can be less overt, evident only when juxtaposed with that of other announcers...."

Collinsworth said that he handles head-injury issues as he does primarily because his job is to explain what is happening on the field.But he did cite other influences: The fact that some of his old Cincinnati Bengals teammates are having severe neurological problems in their 50s; Austin at Notre Dame and Jac in high school; and, most of all, all those youngsters in the Fort Thomas Junior Football League in Kentucky.
So, he understands it is not just about the big guys on TV, but that these guys are the ones shaping the expectations.  There is still much to do, even if we accept that the sport will always be dangerous--it is stunning that we do not have serious standards/requirements about helmets.  Teams, schools, and leagues continue to dodge such responsible efforts because doing nothing is actually less likely to produce liability than doing something.  And there are still retrograde announcers covering professional and collegiate sports, as the article notes.

What makes Collinsworth really worth listening to?  He sees the tradeoffs clearly:
“You try to teach toughness and to hit hard, and also say to be safe and don’t hurt anybody — there’s a contradiction there,” Collinsworth said. “The very fundamental question for the long road is, Do you want your kids playing football? That’s the scary question, especially for the N.F.L. I think we’re talking about the survival of the game to some extent.”

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