Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Review: The War on Football: Saving America's Sport by Daniel J. Flynn

Daniel J. Flynn
So many of those who write about sports come from a liberal persuasion.  So it was refreshing to read Daniel J. Flynn’s book "The War on Football: Saving America’s Game” (Regnery Publishing, 2013 216 pages) as he iconoclastically uses science, history and social relations to defend a beleaguered sport.  Perhaps Flynn’s tenure as the former Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia inspired the author to include over 50 pages of footnotes to score his points, lest anyone doubt him. Flynn surveys the sport on the Pop Warner level, collegiate football programs even womens’ football leagues as well as the pros to try to discern the truth about football.
When listening to the news today, it is hard to escape hearing ancillary reports on the War on Football.  Between the news that former Dallas Cowboy running back Tony Dorsett declaring that hits from his NFL career contributed to his diagnosis of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).  Then there are the charges of hazing by Miami Dolphin Guard Richie Incognito that he bullied other 300 pound rookie players.  Then there is the irate Texas parent who pressed administrative charges of bullying against Alendo High School Football Coach Tim Buchanan after winning the game 91-0.

The battle against football is not simply for safety but it mirrors a “wussification” of society as well as reflecting the lessons which we want to teach our children. So instead of giving football a proverbial pat on the back for instilling discipline, teamwork and the virtues of hard work, football is given a kick below the belt by pointing to questionable science to win their game.

There is no doubt that football is a physically demanding sport, which requires conditioning and practice.  However, the mainstream media weltanschauung is colored by a perception that football is an American version of a gladiator sport.  While there were periods in history, such as 1905 and 1968, where many mortal injuries on the playing field occurred, Flynn contends that rule changes and better equipment mitigate those serious casualties.  So today anti-football fanatics concentrate on concussions. 

The $765 million settlement by the NFL to former players since 2006 with brain damage claims as well as suicides of Junior Seau and Dave Duereson which supposedly implicates CTE to the tragic deaths contributes to the public perception that football is an unsafe sport.

 Flynn’s "The War on Football" book debunks these simple conclusions as they are not bourne out by the facts.    Cheerleaders are more at risk for concussions than football players, but which athlete embodies the fearsome warrior traits so disfavored by Cocktail Party elites?  

Scientists can not find a causal effect between football and CTE.  However hucksters selling safety are able to profit hawking equipment with dubious extra protection.  Moreover, Flynn casts a shadow upon Mark Lovell’s Intermediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), noting how the expert lacks scientific detachment as he successfully  markets his “low to moderate reliability” product to sports programs desperate for cover against litigation.

The pro-football settlement regarding concussions may have a ripple effect which could well diminish the lower levels of the sport.  Some anti-football crusaders want to ban the sport to minors.  This nanny state protection for the children , which would effectively kill football as the physicality of the sport make football a young person’s sport.  In addition, the skills required for teamwork, precision and strategy takes time to develop to attain the athletic achievements that American football fans admire.  

As a casual football fan who loves history, I appreciated learning how football evolved as a uniquely American sport.  It was amusing to find out that Notre Dame greats George Gipp and Knute Rockne superceded their “tramp athlete origins” to become paragons of football.  In addition,  Pop Warner had his own foibles but still left a great legacy to football.   Flynn’s iconoclastic arguments against the junk science concerning concussions and football were compelling and often ignored by a sensationalist, liberal leaning mainstream media. 

The tone of the book was fair but decidedly not objective.  I appreciated the cynical asides peppered throughout the book questioning junk science or the tongue in cheek critique on litigators: “They don’t teach physics in law school.”    Flynn had so won me over that I was rooting for a blowout at the end instead of the more restrained conclusion that: “Football is good for you.  Play. Watch. Cheer.”


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