I am staring blankly at this screen, in the dark listening to The Kyle Turley Band play “Final Drive”, trying to make sense of what I just watched. There have been some great comments from some great people about this film by Sean Pamphilon;
“The United States of Football is a passionate, unflinching, and eye-opening look at the concussion crisis in football. Sean Pamphilon’s heartfelt concern for this issue is palpable, and the film reflects the trust he earned from many football players and families that have been tragically affected by C.T.E.” (Steve James, director of “Hoop Dreams”)
“Pamphilon’s work is deep, fair, principled and haunting. He gives voice to the unheard, and that voice forces you to think, feel, fear and weep. His film is like the gladiators in it — uncommonly strong.” (Dan LeBatard–sports personality)
“A compelling and revealing look at the most important issue facing the National Football League.” (Bob Costas, broadcaster)
Even those do not do justice to what this film is. Certainly, each person that sees this film – AND YOU SHOULD – will walk away with different takes, but there are some undeniable problems within the business of football. The sport, at its core, remains beautiful and a test of mans will, but as Kyle Turley stated the problem is with the business not the game.
Pamphilon started with the intent of answering a burning question that many parents face; “will I let my son play football?” Starting with Turley and then driving though the horrid past of some of the greats that have been exposed to too much brain trauma: John Mackey, Justin Strzelczyk, Mike Webster, Ralph Wenzel and others The US of Football grabs your attention. That is if you care to know; this is the point in the film that many mouth-breathing, macho, Neandertal, head-in-the-sand types will make unjust and wrong thoughts about what the point of this film is.
It should scare the ever-living crap out of you, it’s not hyperbole, it is real. What has happened to those men is as factual as the sun coming up in the East. Just as alarming is what has NOT been done on their behalf over the years by the business of football.
Interestingly enough this film also made me change my opinion on James Harrison; in the credits Pamphilon titles him “the most interesting man in North America” and that is accurate. One thing Harrison understands, clearly, is that this is a dangerous sport. A sport he does not want his children playing, for fear of what can happen to them. As for his fear, he has none and is willing to pay the price. As would probably everyone else that has come before him, to wear “the shield”, even knowing what they know now.
While US of Football takes a look behind the curtain and beyond the glory days it also highlights some of the unsung individuals in this battle to keep the sport alive. Sylvia Mackey, Dave Pear, Eleanor Perfetto, and Sean Morey are some important people that we need to not only acknowledge but get behind.
The overwhelming theme was not one of destruction of the game, rather the mismanagement of the previously injured or endured athletes that have graced the gridiron. Which again steels my resolve about the problem we are facing. It is not the actual injury of concussion, rather the mismanagement of the injury and athletes themselves. Who was saving them from themselves? Who was giving them guidance with the recovery process? Who reached out a hand when the fell? The problem is that the answer, presented in the film, is “no one from the business” of football.
There were parts of this film that drew up serious emotions for me: as man who has/is dealing with many concussions, as a professional trained to spot and treat concussions, and as a father of two boys. Emotions were so strong at points it made me want to cry, vomit, scream, and simply cower. Yes, it was that powerful, to me.
What the film did not do to me was change the way I love the game. It did paint a clear picture of why the business of football would be concerned, check that SHOULD be concerned. However, to me its a simple – albeit painful – solution to save the game; acknowledge and accept the problems, clean house and make it right. Football at the professional level (perhaps the minor-pro level of elite university/college) is a business and meant for professionals. How they play the game and accept the risks is up to both the business and the employees, but that model cannot and will not sustain for the lower levels. Even Maclom Gladwell agrees with that.
It may take a trip for you to find this in a theater, but it is well worth it, especially if you love the game. The hour and forty minute documentary will take you to places in your being that you have not been before (listen, really listen to the lyrics of the song above), as it relates to the sport and its brain injury issue. Do yourself a favor, find it and see it.
Love for football – unchanged; my resolve that this issue is not related to the injury, rather the mismanagement – hardened.