New Year’s Day as I was nursing my hangover the lady and I decided to watch Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix comedy special Equanimity & the bird revelation. Judging by my Twitter timeline I wasn’t the only one with that idea so I turned it on and got my Twitter fingers ready. Something else happened, though. I didn’t want to Tweet, I put my phone down and focused. The thoughts and emotions that transpired during that one hour is the motivation for this piece.
For the last few weeks I haven’t felt inspired to do much of anything. Between work, the holidays and trying to get settled in Los Angeles, my creative juice had run dry just like everybody’s Tequila bottles on New Year’s Eve. Watching Dave Chappelle inspired me, whenever I get in that creative rut I step back and observe a master of their craft do what they do at the highest level.
During the show, Chappelle talks about the story of Emmett Till, for those of you who don’t know who that is let me add a bit of context to the situation. Emmett Till was an African-American boy from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly “cat-calling” a white woman during the height of the Jim Crow-era. He was beaten, mutilated, and shot in the head before eventually being thrown in the Tallahatchie River where his body was located a few days later. His mother as Chappelle puts it, “was a mother fuckin’ gangsta’.” Mamie Till had the foresight to let her son have an open casket funeral and, “let the world see what they did to my baby.” His face was seen all over not just the country, but the whole world.
With that move alone, Emmett Till from his grave, became a face for the Civil Rights movement.
Recently, on her death-bed Carolyn Bryant the then 21-year old accuser of Till admitted that she lied during her testimony of the trial. Shocking? Not really. Infuriating? Very.
Now, I, like almost every American I ever met knows something about Till’s story, so hearing it wasn’t the fascinating part. What fascinated me was the way Chappelle looks at it. Chappelle called it the lie that brought us together and my mind nearly exploded when I heard it because I knew EXACTLY where he was going with this.
Chappelle states that if it wasn’t for Mamie Till being courageous enough to show the world her sons mutilated body, then we may not be where we are when it comes to the civil rights movement. That event helped open the door for a black man like Chappelle to have the type of career he has. It unfortunately took sacrificing Emmett Till to make a better way for so many people of color down the road. That made me stop and think. I had a moment of reflection and clarity. When he said this, I grabbed my PS4 controller and paused Netflix. I looked over to my girlfriend and said, “He gave me an idea. I’m going to rewind it a bit so I made sure I got exactly what he meant.”
For some odd reason, it wasn’t until hearing this that I figured out the way to describe how I genuinely feel about CTE and football. The lie that brought my family together on Sunday’s to watch the Cowboy’s game.
Some of my first memories were watching Cowboy’s games with my family. I’m from Texas, and I was a kid, I didn’t get much say in whether I wanted to watch that crappy team or not. None the less, the game of football is something that I identify with when I think family. BBQ, partying, and football, that’s how we bonded. All but one of my uncles are die-hard Cowboy fans. Shames me to admit it, but I still love them.
Football is religion in Texas, that’s not just a saying, we mean that shit. So, being from there you grew up wanting to play football for your high school and get a chance to suit up under those infamous Friday night fall lights. It’s something that every kid wants, no matter how violent we know the game is.
My mom would watch every game with the family. She would be the one yelling the loudest when the Cowboy’s blew a big lead, so it’s not like she wasn’t familiar with the game. She told me my whole life she didn’t want me to play football. I guess it was then that I should have stepped back and did some research, right? I didn’t. Nobody did, and that’s why were in the predicament we’re in today.
A few weeks ago, I came across the story of former Pro-Bowl RB Larry Johnson and how he believes he is currently living with the effects of CTE. He spoke with ESPN’s Bob Ley about symptoms he has like anger and forgetfulness. Want to know the worst part about it? Johnson says he can’t remember 2 full NFL seasons. TWO SEASONS. I can’t say I’m surprised, though. I used to be a guy who LOVED big hits where someone’s helmet flew off. Fans go nuts for that kind of stuff, and players feed off it leading to more reckless car wreck like hits.
Up until four years ago there was no way to detect CTE in the human brain until that individual was deceased and you could diagnose through an autopsy. FOUR years ago! We haven’t even started to scratch the surface on what we know about CTE and its long-term effects on players. What’s bad about that is the little we do know is bad, all bad. Absolutely nothing about CTE is positive, can you imagine what we find out next?
Now, I’m usually the guy who wants to address an issue and then provide a solution on said issue. What’s my solution to helping slow down head injuries and concussions? I don’t have a definitive step-by-step plan on how to make the sport safer. There’s too many variables.
Concussions occur when your brain rattles in your head and smashes against your skull. No helmet, no matter how padded and fancy it is will prevent your brain from rattling inside your head. I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen. In my opinion, if you want to start somewhere you start by seriously considering taking the helmets off the players. I know it may sound crazy to some of you so just hear me out.
That helmet is a weapon. How many times have we seen a free safety lead with the crown of his head and missile into a defenseless receiver like a nuke in WWII? Way too many if you ask me. You take that helmet away and defenders are going to be forced to wrap up and tackle correctly instead of trying to destroy ball carriers like Biggie used to do 16’s.
But the biggest thing we can do is start teaching kids the right way to play the game from the pee wee level. We need to educate young players proper techniques like seeing what you hit instead of teaching them to try and madden hit stick players on every play. We need NFL players and coaches at camps leading the charge. If we don’t do this now, parents aren’t going to let their kids play football anymore. Plain and simple. The decline in elite talent is starting to shift to basketball and baseball. MLB and NBA contracts are guaranteed, NFL’s are not. Too much risk, not enough reward.
Just like Dave Chappelle said it took a tragic situation to bring forward a whole bunch of good, not just right away, but forever. Is discovering what CTE does to the human brain now the same situation? Men like Junior Seau, Jovan Belcher, Ray Easterling, Ralph Wenzel, and Aaron Hernandez all have been diagnosed with CTE after they passed. Per a study published in the medical journal JAMA, CTE was found in 99 percent of players’ brains donated to scientific research. Just take a second to take that stat in.
There’s been mothers who have lost their babies because of this. We’re now seeing the scary truth of it all. Are we going to do something about it? Or are we going to let this happen to our babies as well? The ball is in our court.