Playing football is about as safe as running head-first into a concrete wall, an increasing amount of research finds — and pop-science author Malcolm Gladwell isn't afraid to say it. The New Yorker staffer has been critical of the sport in the past, earning the ire of conservatives for whom concussions and brain lesions are just part of being a real American. But his latest musings on the subject, as aired in the new documentary United States of Football, are sure to stir further outrage from lovers of the brutal sport.
According a report on CBS Sports, in the documentary — which opens tomorrow — Gladwell says in the film that the convincing, frightening linkage between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy will lead to a nationwide scenario in which "we will disclose the risks and essentially dare people to play…That's what the Army does. So we leave the Army for kids who have other options, for whom the risks are acceptable."
The comparison between football and the military is not new; in fact, faux-macho conservatives make it happily themselves. Coming from a detractor, however, it will seem to cast aspersions on both sides of the analogy.
You'll get mad at the term "ghettoized", I'm mad at how Gladwell insulted the army in his football comparison http://t.co/4fuj9k40xa— Thomas Galicia (@thomasgalicia) August 29, 2013
Even more controversial will surely be the following statement by Gladwell: “That's what football is going to become. It's going to become the Army. That's a very, very different situation. That's a ghettoized sport, not a mainstream American sport.”
Some on Twitter are already enraged by Gladwell's use of "ghettoized," though that outrage does not appear to be fully justified:
Not sure which is making people angrier, people wanting a living wage or Malcolm Gladwell saying "ghettoized" in relation to their football.— ThatsSoTaguchi (@ThatsSoTaguchi) August 29, 2013
Of course, Gladwell used "ghettoized" to mean segregated culturally — much as smoking has become "ghettoized" in the last decade or so. However, there is some innuendo here, for most everyone knows that the people who do continue playing in college and beyond tend to be from the inner city or rural areas of dire poverty. Some of these young men may play for the love of the game; many surely do so because they have been offered no better path to success.
(Chart via The Atlantic Cities)
United States of Football director Sean Pamphilon endeavored to explain Gladwell's remarks, telling CBS Sports, "His assertion is that it's [football] going to stay relevant at least for the time being in lower income areas and then also football hot beds such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, certainly Texas, places were it transcends socio-economic conditions." Pamphilon also made the comparison between football and the military.
News of Gladwell's latest broadside comes on the same day as the National Football League agreed to pay out almost $800 million in the settlement of a lawsuit by former players who've suffered neurological damage from too many ten-yard fights. Earlier this week came news that the NFL pressured ESPN to bow out of involvement in a documentary that was going to critically portray the sport.
None of this, however, can stop the relentless onslaught of scientific fact.
Photos: Associated Press
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.