Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Head Games

Head Games is a thoughtful examination of a sports culture that allows athletes of all ages to accumulate concussions and concurrent brain damage by ignoring or suppressing evidence of injury. The film is a companion to the book of the same name by former NFL player and WWE performer Christopher Nowinski, who also features heavily here. We are walked carefully through the growing evidence that repeated head trauma creates long-term consequences (specifically memory loss and other related neurological conditions), something that has long been recognized in boxers but is now becoming apparent in football, hockey, and soccer as well. Much discussion is given to the effects of concussion and how diagnosis of this condition is underused.

My Thoughts:
It takes a lot for me to sit through a sports documentary, but I was fascinated by this one. It is definitely one-sided. Most of the screen time is given to people who agree that concussion is related to serious problems later in life, and that it is under-diagnosed in service of a culture where masculinity and toughness are valued highly (not to mention, in professional sports, a valuable asset can't earn money if they are benched). There's a lot to think about here.

Discussion Points:
  • Should professional sports teams, as businesses, be subject to the same health and safety controls as other businesses?
  • What role do the ideals of masculinity and toughness play in ignoring injury? (Consider the comment made by one of the football players that football is as close as you can get to being a warrior without going to war).
  • Is it useful for a man to learn to accept pain in pursuit of a goal?
  • Would you let your kids play contact sports? (Or do you already?) 
  • As Bob Costas asks in the movie: what's the level of acceptable risk? What's the level of reasonable reform?
  • How do we think about games in our culture? How does that contribute to this issue?

Documentary website here
Running time: 91 minutes
Streaming on Netflix: Yes

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