In an insightful column headlined “The last season of the NFL as you know it,” Scott Ostler, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, talks about how the push by pro football owners for expansion from a 16- to an 18-game season, along with the threat of a players’ strike or owners’ lockout next season, is reshaping the landscape of America’s most popular and profitable sport. But Ostler has more than just labor relations in mind:
We’ll start at the head. Football was more fun for fans (and owners) in the days when a player “got his bell rung.” It validated our belief that football is dangerous and edgy, but in a cartoonish way; and it gave players a chance to prove their toughness when they staggered back to action with their helmet on backward.
Now we know more about such brain-damaging blows.... Each study seems to top the previous one on the fright scale.... The down-the-line consequences are frightening. There is evidence that repeated blows can lead to a condition with symptoms almost identical to Lou Gehrig’s disease....
Last week Ostler’s Chronicle colleague Gwen Knapp wrote a column for CBSSports.com, linked here at the time, which argued that the Senate campaign in Connecticut of Linda McMahon, who made her campaign-financing fortune from World Wrestling Entertainment, would be a referendum of sorts on steroids in sports.
Like Knapp, I’m here to tell you that the way the McMahon family has managed pro wrestling has ramifications far beyond the boundaries of that largely under-the-radar world. Unlike Knapp, I’m now adding that steroids, per se, are only part of the story. Today we have a sports culture and a popular culture that, consciously or not, glorify industrialized death as an appropriate element of mass entertainment. Just as Linda McMahon’s WWE is at the unexamined cutting edge of steroid abuse, so is it at the lightly regarded end of the continuum on the issue of the consequences of serial and untreated concussions in contact sports.
My point is that, even if you don’t give a damn about wrestling, you ought to be giving a damn.