Some Ramblings - Concussion (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Ever wondered why, during the height of the Big Tobacco litigation during the 90s when state after state were jumping on the class action lawsuit bandwagon against the major tobacco companies trying to exact their pound of flesh from the prized multi billion dollar pot, the rest of the world simply stayed put and just went about their business and not bring about a suit or two of their own, despite the fact that the same brand of the carcinogenic sticks were huffed and puffed by their citizenry as their brethren in the US? Could it be because the rest of the world simply knew going into the game that inhaling tobacco carried the inherent and eventual risk to life and that feigning ignorance about the ill effects inevitable during the twilight years was, in a way, admitting to being too dumb to be referred to as adults? But the American had no such qualms or compunctions being looked upon as intellectually inferior and ethically malleable, willing to be manipulated by the legal industry to point the finger at someone else for the ramifications of his own free will and conscious choice of picking up a cigarette and smoking himself to death, quite literally. Litigation is a birth right, a fundamental obligation, claims the gung-ho American. And so when he spills hot coffee on himself making his way out of a drive-thru, he immediately looks for a pawn to peg his idiocy and incompetence on, and on finding one, sues away to glory. Scalding himself on a hot iron, sue. Slipping on a snowed out side walk, sue. Accidentally injuring himself during a robbery attempt, sue. The litigious mind of the American that brought out the best changes on the regulatory and oversight side of things in the society, reveals its snarky, ugly, and even dumb side, when it comes to aspects covering individual responsibility and personal accountability. Despite the tobacco companies' conceitful ways of manufacturing and marketing substances that have been scientifically proven to be highly harmful and serious addictive in their own research, and yet carried on without any kind of social responsibility, and worse, devising eye-catching ad campaigns to lure new recruits in quite early in what was going to be a long insufferable road ahead, the onus still rested with the individual to lookout for himself by virtue of that single trait that had sustained mankind through millions of years of evolution - self preservation. Ignore that at one's peril. Darwin said it best, survival of the fittest.

American Football is a strange game. For the uninitiated, it looks brutal, blunt, rugged and gladiatorial, lacking any kind of artistry, finesse or sophistication associated with all modern sports. Any sport that celebrates overweight men pounding other overweight men into submission is hard pressed to be reckoned as contemporary (save for those staged wrestling matches, which to their credit, claim themselves more as entertainment than sport). Boxing is another sport that treads that gray area between sport and mutilation. And now the crux of the issue. Forget the game for a second. Ask a school going kid, with reasonable exposure to physics and biology, the long term effects of repeated blows to the head by a good sized blunt instrument swung at a serious pace for at least a couple of decades (as the movie notes, a frontline defender in the game sustains an average of 70,000 hits during his career lifetime). It doesn't take a neurologist or a brain surgeon to figure out that the brain would turn into a mush, a gray gravy, by that incessant pounding.

'Concussion' makes a hard case for how the football league shirked its responsibility once the athlete is out of active duty and is destined for a life (or should it be half-life?) full of neurological issues and in some cases, culminating into shocking suicides unable to cope up with the constant head pounding pain. What is really bewildering about it is how no one spoke about this big elephant in the room until a Nigerian pathologist put the two together, the violent nature of the game and its debilitating side effects, and tried to pressurize the league into, first, admitting that there was a problem with the game and second, trying to have a panel of experts, both from the sport and medicine, make recommendations into making the game less life-altering and life-ending for the sportsmen. Be it the tobacco companies in the example above, or the football league in the situation at hand, the M.O. for safeguarding the organization's interests in the wake of such whistle-blowing exposés is immediately one of self preservation. Denying, debunking and flat-out refusing the overwhelming evidence and incontrovertible science, blaming and defaming the whistle blower, arranging, assembling and parading contradictory facts and figures to completely muddy the pool, the playbook is pretty much a public knowledge. Despite all those claims and counter claims, the science and the rebuttals, the ex-players suing the league citing non-disclosure of known detrimental effects and the league mounting an immoral, illogical, yet spirited defense, what seems to be missing in the whole argument is the commonsense stand, where personal accountability could have met corporate responsibility midway, eliminating all the unnecessary acrimony. If a fully grown man of 30 needs to be told in legal terms that a continuous exposure to disorienting collisions over a prolonged period of time might lead to a less than productive life after the game, the problem might not be with the game, the problem lies, pardon the pun, within the head. On the other hand, if the richest league in the history of sports governed by the smartest people in the business needs to be told that the casualties of the game need to be cared for, for giving the sport and the audience its reach and relish, once the sportsmen retire into sunset, there is an even greater need for the game to grow a heart to match its wily mind. And just sometimes, there is no victim when two fools butt their heads over and over and over again.


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