In the NFL, there has been a continuously growing crisis of under reported concussions affecting athletes. Many team doctors, managers, coaches, and owners have forced their players to continue playing with concussions, in order to improve the team’s chances of winning. In sport, especially national levels, players are taught that winning is everything and this ideology is emphasized by investors, owners and coaches who make money off of the team’s results. As a result, NFL executives have received backlash and are viewed as being unethical towards their athletes. In this paper, I will use the critical discourse analysis approach to research the effects of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the film Concussion, (Landesman, 2015) and the impacts his findings had on the NFL. Dr. Omalu’s discovery has affected the league on a moral and material level. In the film, multiple athletes from the same team are seen struggling with mental illnesses, chronic headaches, violent outbursts, and memory loss. However, their symptoms are misdiagnosed or downplayed by medical professionals and the NFL.
Often, male athletes face unfair treatment from society because of preconceived notions of masculinity. Masculinity can be used as a scapegoat for violent behaviour. Frequently we read articles supporting phrases like ‘boys will be boys’ in the media. In this sense, toxic masculinity supports inappropriate behaviour among men and reiterates the idea that males are superior to females. However, masculinity stereotypes can also negatively affect men. The saying ‘be a man’ has been drilled into men since they were children. This popular saying promotes the idea that men are unable to feel emotions or show ‘weakness’. This is especially seen in NFL when players get injured and force themselves to be a man about it and tough it out. Being an NFL athlete is particularly hard concerning the issues with masculinity since American football is known as a rugged sport (Furness, 2016). Often football is compared to a war zone where bodily harm is normalized and illegal hits to the head are encouraged (Benson, 2017). The issue with NFL players forcing themselves to continue playing is when concussions are not diagnosed or treated, the risks of a subsequent injury or a life threatening brain injury increases. In Concussion, the viewers see the growing issue with the football athletes refusing to accept help from medical professional because they fear the judgment of others who may view them as weak or feminine. Another issue concerning the league’s ideal view of manliness is when players aren’t considered masculine enough they are seen as less of a player and are blamed for their own failure.
The labour debate and its relation to the concussion crisis will also be explored as the claims of the NFL are unethical. The labour debate is a discussion between NFL athletes and their team owners involving arguments for fair payment and compensation for the risks they endure playing football. This argument for compensation is especially needed for African American players who are injured more frequently than white players. Most of the injuries that occur on the football field exclude the quarterback because of certain regulations that protect their bodies. Since the quarterback position is predominantly white, a high percentage of African American players receive injuries (Benson, 2017). The players requests in the labour debate have been denied and the owners are currently campaigning to increase the amount of regular season games while decreasing the athletes income. The league argues that the players willingly subject themselves to injuries because of how rough football is and that the athletes know the risks before they sign their contracts (Brayton, Helstein, Ramsey, and Rickards, 2017).
Concussions are one of the most frequent, long lasting injuries affecting NFL athletes every year. Given this knowledge, it is important throughout this paper that we discuss the sociological consequences that the NFL concussion crisis imposes on its players.