From 1994 through 2009, the NFL and the NFL Players Association took similar approaches to the concussion problem — despite the failure of those who have attacked only the NFL to admit that.
The NFL has a new concussion problem: the film Concussion. This time, the NFL and the NFLPA are taking very different approaches.
The NFL, which began planning its response to the film months ago, has opted to have no response at all. Even as the trailers for the film (including one televised last night on ESPN) include game footage with players like Adrian Peterson and terms like “COVER-UP” blaring through the screen, the league’s approach has been to ignore the movie and to hope it quickly disappears from theaters amid competition from Star Wars and other films to be released between now and December 25, the Merry-Christmas-Ho-Ho-Ho-Now-Let’s-Go-Get-Depressed debut of Concussion.
Via TheMMQB.com, the NFLPA organized a screening of the film for retired players in Atlanta.
“We don’t endorse the film; we just knew it would be of interest to former players,” Ken Parker, treasurer of the NFLPA Atlanta chapter, told the retired players before the screening. “So here it is. But as you watch, remember, knowledge is power.”
The approach under current NFLPA leadership is far different from the union’s approach prior to 2009. The NFLPA had a seat at the table throughout the efforts to downplay and deny the existence of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy. And to the extent that a “smoking gun” supposedly arose from Mike Webster’s 1999 disability award for chronic brain damage, the NFLPA and the NFL had equal representation on the panel that reached the decision that should have put everyone connected to the sport on notice of the long-term risks of head trauma.
When the time came for Congress to explore in detail the league’s handling of concussions, the NFLPA opted for candor regarding its past failures.
“There is simply no justification for the NFL to have previously ignored or discredited Dr. [Bennet] Omalu and others with relevant, valid research,” current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in 2009. “For far too long, our former players were left adrift; as I emphasized at the last hearing, we were complicit in the lack of leadership and accountability, but that ends now. I am here again to make it clear that our commitment is unwavering.”
That commitment includes not only acknowledging the existence of the Concussion film, but also making the movie available to the men who played the game. Even if those screenings will result in sound bites that will further the efforts of those who would like to see football diminish or disappear — or those who at a minimum would like to be able to claim credit (and receive praise) for taking down football.
“I watch this movie and I know we were paid to hurt people,” former NFL linebacker Keith McCants told Emily Kaplan of TheMMQB.com. “We were paid to give concussions. If we knew that we were killing people, I would have never put on the jersey.”
From a P.R. standpoint, those kinds of comments don’t help the NFLPA. But it’s concerns about P.R. that created the mindset that sparked misguided efforts to pretend that head injuries aren’t a problem, and to discredit anyone who said otherwise. It’s far better to embrace reality; if nothing else, the current disconnect between the league and the union regarding the Concussion film shows that the NFLPA has learned from its past mistakes.