Friday, August 23, 2013

Concussed! Sean Pamphilon's THE UNITED STATES OF FOOTBALL explores the NFL's foot-dragging non-reaction to head injuries

As someone who has never much enjoyed watching nor playing the game of football (ouch!), TrustMovies is not part of the fan base that filmmaker Sean Pamphilon is looking to reach with his new documentary, THE UNITED STATES OF FOOTBALL. He's after football lovers such as himself, a fellow who had some hopes and dreams of his own son maybe eventually becoming a player. Not any more. Early in the film, in fact, he features a quote from President Obama to the effect that if he had a son, he wouldn't want him to play football. The statement, along with the movie itself, is due mostly to the medical findings regarding the progressive degenerative disease, CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which affects the brains of men who've suffered, over and over again, traumatic blows to the head -- the very kind received by many if not most American football players.

This film is, as you might guess, an activist documentary meant to alert viewers to a problem and then do some-thing about that problem. On this level, it works very well. Style-wise, Pamphilon (shown at right) may be all over the place, traipsing back and forth a good deal, but he make his points and gets them across in a believable and anger-provoking manner. The effects of CTE on players -- some of them shown to us here -- are depression, dementia and loss of impulse control early on, followed eventually by something like near-catatonia and death at an age sooner than it ought to come.

The film focuses on one ex-player in particular, Kyle Turley (above) -- now a musician who composed much of the music we hear in the film and a CTE activist -- his family and his fears about succumbing to this disease. We also meet another activist, one whom it is said has done the most to ring the CTE alarm bell, Sean Morey (below), another fellow who lives in fear of what he may become. There are perhaps another six to eight players we see and/or hear about, a couple of whom committed suicide once their diagnosis and/or symptoms became apparent. Yes: CTE is that appalling.

I must say that seeing these players -- all younger than I and some of whom are now reduced to empty husks -- is a shocking thing (the late Ralph Wenzel is among them), one that ought to make football fans think long and hard about the "benefits" of this very violent game. It will not, of course. We live in an increasingly fraught culture that demands and rewards violence (George Zimmerman, anyone?), and the biggest attraction of football for many men has always been its violence. The movie begins to address this issue -- it takes a quick look at a section of a regular sports broadcast that consistently dwelled on this "violence as entertainment." But then it moves quickly on.

The main villain here, according to Pamphilon and many of the players he interviews is the NFL (along with its mouthpiece Roger Goodell) -- in its refusal to face these issues squarely, even though evidence of what injuries to the brain can do has been readily available since the 1920s. Pretense, foot-dragging and the rest of the arsenal of hypocritical behavior come to the fore whenever money-making ability is challenged, and so it is here. The film's indictment of the NFL, along with many football coaches, is as scathing as it is on-the-mark, and the movie will bring tears of rage and frustration to your eyes at the immense and enduring ability of humanity to deceive itself.

Among the most shocking scenes is the simple home-movie-like section devoted to young kids butting heads at football practice. Noel Coward one wrote jokingly in a lyric, "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington." Has he seen this film, he'd have warned Mr. Worthington not to let his son near that football field.

The United States of Football, running a little long at 101 minutes, opens today in Los Angeles (at The Landmark) and New York City (at the Quad Cinema) and elsewhere. It will hit most major cities in the weeks to come. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters -- click here and scroll down to your state....

No comments: