ESPN Analyst Blames 'Liberal Media' For 'War On Football'

"War on Christmas," meet "war on football."
ESPN analyst Danny Kanell when he was a quarterback for the NFL's Denver Broncos in 2003.
ESPN analyst Danny Kanell when he was a quarterback for the NFL's Denver Broncos in 2003.

The New York Times published an editorial on Monday that questioned whether parents should allow kids to play football, given increased awareness about the long-term dangers the sport may pose to the brain.

To former NFL quarterback Danny Kanell, who now works as an analyst for ESPN, that editorial represents an effort by the "liberal media" to wage a "war on football."

The author of the editorial, however, was not a member of the so-called "liberal media," but rather Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first discovered the degenerative brain known as disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the brain of former NFL star Mike Webster.

Omalu, the subject of the upcoming movie "Concussion" starring Will Smith, has continued studying CTE -- as have other researchers, like those at Boston University who have found the disease in the brains of 87 of the 91 deceased former NFL players they have studied. There are important caveats about sample size and selection in that research, as the scientists themselves have warned, but it has helped paint a clearer picture about the risks that football may pose.

Further studies have highlighted the potential risk of repeated hits to the head to young players or those who began playing football at younger ages. Increased attention to the number of high school students killed while playing football, which has remained constant for 35 years, has raised further questions, too. 

Omalu is not the only doctor to question whether children should play football: Boston University's Dr. Robert Cantu, another leading brain scientist, has suggested that kids shouldn't play tackle football until after age 14, and other doctors have made similar arguments

Not all scientists agree with Omalu and Cantu, but their positions are part of the ongoing discussion about whether children should play sports that may pose long-term dangers to their brains. Those opinions would seem worthy of consideration, especially because the brain, as Omalu wrote on Monday, can't heal itself after all types of injuries.

There are still unanswered questions about the risks that football and other contact sports like hockey and soccer pose to the long-term health of players at every level. It's not clear how likely it is that athletes who play contact sports will suffer long-term brain damage, or how and whether those risks can be mitigated. Scientists have called for more research, particularly on young athletes.

But what Kanell sees as a "war on football" is not a product of some vast media conspiracy to take down America's most popular sport. Rather, the scrutiny football and other sports are facing is a result of scientific research that attempts to understand and explain problems that have afflicted so many athletes, and to answer the questions that not just reporters, but former players themselves, have raised about these sports.

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