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David Cook

In 2017, researchers in Boston examined 111 donated brains of deceased pro football players.

Of the 111 brains, they found degenerative chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 110 of them.

The research only adds to a growing body of evidence: playing pro football causes brain damage.

But for years, we've mostly been silent.

We, the fans.

We, America.

Sure, we know about it. Talk radio might discuss it. Will Smith made a movie about it. The NFL acknowledges it. (Sort of.)

But few of us are angry about it.

There is little protest.

Little collective outrage.

But there should be.

The game causes brain damage.

When we watch — cheering, Sunday games, fantasy leagues — we give our complicit approval for a sport that disables and destroys its players.

Shouldn't we talk about that?

We also don't talk about the way pro football treats and views women. The eye-candy roles. The busty cheerleaders and their rock-bottom salaries, which are barely minimum wage.

"Women play minor roles in most parts of the Super Bowl, and when they are present and featured, they are usually eroticized. Their agency is not chiefly linked to their minds or the wholeness of their persons, but is unmistakably connected to their bodies," writes Covenant College's Dr. Matt Vos in his "Prizes and Consumables: the Super Bowl as a Theology of Women."

But we don't want to talk about that.

Nor do we talk about pro football and its distorted masculinity, which equates manhood to domination. And a fierce aggression. Notice the way we call players — pay close attention to the words here — "beasts." And "studs."

Jesus called us to be peacemakers. And humble. To love our enemies.

Pro football encourages just the opposite.

"More Americans will watch the Super Bowl this Sunday than go to church," the National Review reported in 2015. "The NFL is more popular than organized religion by two measures: the number of us who make time for it in our lives, and the amount of time we make for it."

I confess: this is true for me. Add up the hours I spent in church this winter versus the hours on the couch watching the Atlanta Falcons? And the Falcons win by a landslide. (That's a sentence we didn't hear much this season.)

But it never feels clean. Or right.

"Early Christians feared consumption by lions in stadiums," Vos continued. "Ironically, stadiums still consume Christians."

So why don't we talk about it?

Why not talk about the way pro football has become militarized? The enormous flags. The flyovers. The salutes. The $5 million taxpayer-dollar contract with the U.S. military for more patriotic displays. Why is pro football marketing war?

But we don't talk about that.

We, the fans, have been mostly quiet.

We've refused to get angry. Or critical.

About so many things.

Until this season.

This season, one issue exploded on pro football.

A few black players began kneeling in protest over police violence and injustice.

The response?

So much of America howled in anger.

And all hell broke loose.

Then, and only then, did America rage — boycotts and politicians and headlines and counter-protests.


Why does much of America angrily wake from slumber not to rage about the exploitation of women, or to demand more protection for players' brains, or to challenge the militarization or hollow spirituality of pro football, but only when black athletes kneel in quiet protest?


It seems hypocritical.

It seems racist.

I'm not ranking injustices here, trying to categorize whether sexism is worse than brain damage is worse than police brutality.

But if pro football fans are really concerned about honoring soldiers and troops via the anthem, then why not fight against brain trauma and damage, which occurs not only in football players, but in veterans?

If pro football fans care about respecting the flag, then why not respect the dignity of women and men by fighting against narrow stereotypes promoted by the NFL?

Why is our national anger aroused only by kneeling black players?

Why does nothing else?

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.