The United States of Football

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.

In summation:

Love for football – unchanged; my resolve that this issue is not related to the injury, rather the mismanagement – hardened.

5 thoughts on “The United States of Football

  1. joe bloggs August 29, 2013 / 09:16

    So how did you really feel. I am going to see it in Philadelphia in a week a so.

    In future, please don’t leave out knuckle dragging wife beater wearing simpletons. They need love too.

  2. Brooke de Lench August 29, 2013 / 09:25

    Excellent review. Thank you. For those that left the theater asking “what now” I have the answers.

    I have spent the past fifteen years as a youth sports expert focusing on ways to keep our sports active kids safe. The majority of my energy, talks and articles since 2000 have been about youth and high school concussions. I am the Producer/Director of THE SMARTEST TEAM: Making High School Football Safer –this new documentary is about how a team of experts working with the football program at Newcastle High School in rural Oklahoma, for an entire year under my direction, to address the challenges concussions pose to the sport, were able to reduce the rate of concussions by 75% in one season. The film just premiered on PBS (OETA) last week and will roll out all fall on various PBS stations on various dates/times. Those who watch it and apply the approach we used will reduce the amounts of concussions. But will most share it? Maybe not, the public would rather be “scared to death” than educated to prevent death.

    Early on I was vocal in my disdain for the potential harm our kids were subjected to while playing football. My own son included. Over the years, as I educated myself, I came to understand that there are certain players (and teams) who sustain more injuries than others. I can pick out the kids and teams who will suffer a catastrophic injury. Because I have been out front (quietly, sleeves rolled up and in the trenches) on the concussion issue, I now have a different mission: not to hyper-focus on the problems but to focus on the solutions. I fully believe if communities watch US Of Football, League of Denial (or the scores of others) and then my documentary, they too will reduce their rate of concussions.

    There is no reason to eliminate football for our sons and daughters. There is however, every reason to help the former NFL players who are suffering. Without them sharing their stories of how not to play the game with me, and on film, I would never have been able to produce a documentary about the correct way to play the game.

    For trailer/promo/schedules and more information:

    Brooke de Lench

    Producer/Director: THE SMARTEST TEAM: Making High School Football Safer
    Author: HOME TEAM ADVANTAGE: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth sports (Harper Collins)
    Publisher: – The Trusted Source For Youth Sports parents

  3. george beres August 30, 2013 / 23:28

    This film has some value. But I would not support it because it suggests football as it is PLAYED today is acceptable, and i critical only of management. Reality is, as I know from years as a sports information director in the Big Ten, then the Pac-10, that football is a violent sport that should be stopped in order to protect college and high school participants, and discouraged among the kids who play sandlot football. – George Beres in Eugene, Oregon

  4. george beres August 30, 2013 / 23:30

    In my 2d sentence, place an S after the letter, I, to read: is. – G. Beres

  5. brokenbrilliant August 31, 2013 / 08:50

    Absolutely true – the issue is not so much the initial concussion (tho’ if we can manage to find a way to reduce the injury rate, that might not be such a bad thing), rather the management after the injury/-ies,

    I’ve been dealing with my own multiple concussions (9 that I can remember) for as long as I can recall, and seldom have I encountered folks who A) have the information they need to not jump to conclusions about what “brain injured” means, and B) have the wherewithall and interest in helping.

    Help doesn’t have to be complicated – it can be as simple as not judging a person because of poorly chosen words, and not jumping to conclusions about what something they said or did means about their mental/emotional state. It can be very isolating to deal with the after-effects of mild TBI, and being pushed to the margins by people who take offense easily and don’t want to give you the benefit of the doubt, certainly doesn’t help things.

    Personally, I find the judgment the most damaging. The assumptions that because someone misses words or can’t answer a question *immediately* it means they are either stupid or lazy… or because someone gets frustrated and angry, it makes them dangerous… or because someone is having trouble with coordination and getting words out, it means they’re less intelligent and should be treated like the village idiot… those are the most damaging.

    Because they allow no “wiggle room” to improve. People decide who you are and where you are, and they decide you’re going to be there forever. Folks with concussion/mTBI need a lot of second chances, but in those second chances — with a heck of a lot of work — we can learn and grow and modify not only our words and behavior, but also our brains. Life is one big classroom and proving ground — for all of us. Those of us with a history of concussion / TBI just need a little more time and effort to get there.

    But we can — if we are given the chance, room to move and grow, and just a little encouragement, every now and then.

    TBI and concussion are so stigmatized. Anything having to do with the brain turns you into a “marked man” in the eyes of many. Eventually we will learn that the brain continues to grow and change and adapt and refine itself till the end of our living days. But I’m not holding my breath this the majority of the population catches up.


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