Insiders/Outsiders

On the subject of my musings on sports and journalism, here’s a telling excerpt about the media’s treatment of football-related concussions from The New Yorker:

Schwarz may not have been out to get football, but he was clearly less emotionally invested in it than most of his predecessors and peers, who had helped build the sport into the de-facto national pastime with romantic coverage of heroic sacrifice. He was not a fan. “I’d been pitching this to reporters for years,” Nowinski told me, of the head-injury problem in general. “People in football told me, point blank, ‘I don’t want to lose my access.’ It literally took a baseball writer who did not care about losing his access, and didn’t want the access, to football.”

Schwarz’s math background came in handy, too, as he batted away the statistical objections about the unknown incidence of C.T.E. from skeptical doctors. And Schwarz had the backing of a news organization that did not see itself as having any symbiotic ties to the game’s economic engine. (ESPN, which drives the national conversation on sports, invests more than a billion dollars a year in football broadcasting.) “There’s certainly been a lot of tension between Alan and the N.F.L., and the N.F.L. and our editors,” Jolly said. “Their communications people made it clear that they were not happy with the reporting. Some of their folks were pretty brusque and not particularly eager to work with Alan.”

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10 thoughts on “Insiders/Outsiders

  1. This is one of the dirty little secrets of pro wrestling as well.

    If you go back and watch some of the matches from the early 80’s (rent “The Wrestling Classic” for the first attempt at a “King of the Ring” style tournament in the then-WWF) you find yourself amazed at how… *DIFFERENT* the wrestling styles (and bodies!) are.

    They’re on the mat for the whole match! The Dynamite Kid is the only one who seems to leave the ground, like, ever (the Dynamite Kid vs. Randy Savage is the reason to rent this one, if I recall correctly). The other matches, if they have any action at all (Terry Funk vs. Moondog Spot has no action at all, if I recall correctly) are matches where either the action happens in a flurry (Dynamite Kid vs. Nikolai Volkov) or where the action is all some form of kicky/punchy/headbutty with a sprinkling of the controlled falling/tumbling that are bodyslams and suplexes (Junkyard Dog vs. Moondog Spot).

    If you watch some of the matches on any given Monday in the WWF/WCW during The Other War of Northern Aggression, you see this weird acceleration of the matches. Instead of having an hour-long match (see: Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham in 1987 for the NWA title… commentator Dusty Rhodes put it best when he said “PEOPLE ARE STANDING ON TOPPA THEY KIDS!”) you would have 8 matches and the longest was 7 minutes. The wrestlers would hit all the high spots and get to the finish. And, of course, this called for more high spots… you’re only out there for 5 minutes, you want to get noticed, right? More stuff from the top rope, harder hits, higher jumps, bigger splashes.

    And people got injured and injured a lot and injured bad. Concussions, herniated discs… and that’s not even talking about the stuff involved with some of the, ahem, wellness regimens. Steroids resulted in enlarged hearts, pain pills resulted in people just stopping breathing.

    Ironically, the 60 minute matches did more to protect the wrestlers than the 5 minute matches did.

    And the guys in the lockerroom who complain about this get shown the door faster than you can count to 3. There’s always one more kid out there who wants his break to make it on the big stage. So nobody talks about it. Hey, you only have to go out there for five minutes, right? Do your spots, take your shower, and collect your paycheck.

    It’s a damn shame.

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    • Back in the mid-60’s George Steele gave my pal John (a large bodied weight lifter) $5.00 to ‘escort’ him to the ring and keep the kids off him. George was a ‘bad’ guy, very large, and rassled the best, sometimes ‘dirty’. He played football at Michigan State I believe.
      All the old guys, Bruno, et al were always nursing injuries and many probably died young. I think Bruno’s still alive in Picksburgh.
      I worked down in Memphis with a mechanic who wrestled the immortal Argentine Rocca. They don’t make ’em like these guys.

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      • I saw George wrestle at the Joe. He was “The Animal” at that point in his career and much beloved by the kids.

        Bruno is still alive and has nothing good to say about the state of wrestling today. He’s estranged from his boy, from what I understand.

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        • Yes, JB, “the Animal,” I’d forgotten the nickname. And, he was. When I saw him live in the olde hometown he literally was projecting flying spittle and the kids were just screaming. He gave ’em their bucks worth.
          Argentine Rocca wrestled a couple of times on Channel 11’s wrestling show in Picksburgh with Chilly Billy Kardilly as the announcer. The good guys always won. Argentine was the first dude I saw leave his feet and deliver a flying kick…I mean wow, he was an athlete.
          Didn’t know about Bruno’s troubles. He’s always at the Italian festivals in Picksburgh. He was loved as much as the football players back in the day, but times have changed and people have forgotten.

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    • See this is why I prefer to watch Godzilla movies.

      The guys in the rubber suits don’t get torn up nearly as bad as the pro-wrestlers. In addition Godzilla makes more heel face turns and face heel turns than anyone.

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    • Yeah, a lot of people seem to proceed from “there’s a lot of fakery involved” to “it’s all choreographed so that no one gets hurt”, tacitly assuming about five false premises on the way.

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    • And this is exactly right. I enjoy a good game of (world) football, so I have Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer Plus, and the “Plus” in the one channel is rugby. Most of these guys wear no helmets or, if they do, they are those soft padded things that aren’t going to protect one from a serious blow or allow the wearer to lead with his head in a spearing fashion. Now I’m not certain what the concussion rate is in this sport, although some research has shown that it is more extensive than they originally thought. But part of the difference is the way each sport is played. Certain rules in rugby don’t allow players to tackle the way American football players do. No high speed running hits (like you see on over the middle passes), no blocking, and all tackles must be made with an attempt to wrap the arms around the ball carrier; no using the shoulders in tackling, and nothing above the shoulders.

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    • Though batting helmets have genuinely made hitters safer, rather than encouraging pitchers to throw at their heads more because it’s less likely to kill someone. In fact, there’s far less headhunting now than in the helmetless 60s and 70s. (Not to mention the 1st century AD, when beanballs were a common method of execution, as portrayed in Bob Gibson’s Pastime of the Christ.)

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