Dave Zirin

Why the Movie ‘Concussion’ Spells Trouble for the NFL and Moral Angst for the Rest of Us

Why do I believe the film Concussion will deliver a teeth-rattling blow to the NFL? Why am I sure this Christmas-release Oscar hopeful will raise far-reaching questions about the price we collectively pay for loving football? Why can I guarantee it will it even further erode the already-subterranean reputation of league commissioner Roger Goodell? Because Concussion has something most “message films” do not possess: It’s expertly paced and one hell of a film. If you didn’t really give a damn about the tobacco industry but found yourself riveted by Michael Mann’s The Insider, then this is your film—whether you watch football or not. The pacing, the acting, the kinetic athletic sequences, the use of familiar names, stories, and uniforms, give Concussion an accessible verisimilitude that does not only educate. It shocks.

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Why the Head of the NFL Is an Accomplice to the Ray Rice Abuse Scandal

The abuser and the savior: In instances of intimate-partner violence, these roles are often two sides of the same coin—both destructive to a survivor attempting to assert control and escape the cycle of violence. In the case of Ray Rice vs. Roger Goodell and the ruling by Judge Barbara Jones, which has voided the NFL commissioner’s ban of Rice for the entire 2014 season, you see the two sides of the coin on full display. And with this ruling, it has to be said: In the story of Ray Rice and Janay Rice, we have seen Roger Goodell play the role of both “abuser” and “savior,” to ruinous effects, without any consideration for the self-determination of Janay Rice.The role of Roger Goodell as abuser can now be seen with utter clarity. For those who have not been following the case, here is the narrative Goodell put forward that was just summarily shredded by Judge Jones. The commissioner says that he heard about Ray Rice punching Janay Rice and knocking her unconscious and called Ray Rice and Janay Rice into his office to hear what happened from both of their mouths. (This month-old revelation—that Goodell had a survivor tell her story to her abusive partner’s boss in front of her abuser—alone should have triggered his immediate dismissal.) The NFL commissioner then determined that “both were at fault” and suspended Rice for two games. Outrage ensued, so Goodell, in full damage-control mode, hurriedly announced a new sweeping set of guidelines. These new rules—not applicable to Rice, who had already been punished—would include a six-game suspension for domestic violence for a first offense and then a lifetime ban for a second infraction.Then the videotape of Ray Rice punching Janay Rice dropped, and the NFL’s world stopped turning. The Baltimore Ravens released Rice, and NFL media sycophants became born-again firebrands. As for Roger Goodell, he not only announced more sweeping changes but said that the videotape revealed that Ray Rice had lied to him about what had taken place in that elevator, and in light of this “new information,” Ray Rice was now suspended for the entire season. To believe this, one would have to believe that Roger Goodell, despite a paper trail to the contrary, had never before seen the videotape. You would have to believe that the bottom-feeders at TMZ have greater resources than the team of former FBI and Secret Service agents who work for NFL security. You would have to believe Roger Goodell over a slew of witnesses who say that Rice described in exacting fashion what had happened on that video. Judge Jones chose not to believe the commissioner. She has said instead that Goodell’s story is simply not credible, and the inference is that he suspended Ray Rice indefinitely out of public relations anxiety or, if one is being profoundly generous, out of a guilty conscience.Now Ray Rice is looking for a team to sign him and Roger Goodell is exposed as a liar. He has also exposed himself to the world as someone who has flipped from being a domestic violence enabler to a self-proclaimed savior. By having an NFL that now says it will end the careers of those suspected of domestic abuse, Goodell has chosen to wear the incredibly ruinous “savior” hat—a hat that flows from the same logic of toxic masculinity that led to years of cover-ups of abuse. That means he has created a new revictimizing system that takes the power away from survivors about how to seize control of their own lives and map out a plan to be safe and end cycles of abuse.Instead, the power rests with Goodell to end the careers, the economic opportunities and the public lives of those suspected of abuse. This will not only disincentivize some survivors from coming forward, it could also create dangerous situations for those figuring out safety plans and strategies to leave abusive partners. The survivor needs to figure out—with assistance if desired—how to best remain safe: either by staying in or ending these relationships. That is not the job of Roger Goodell or the NFL. And frankly, given the track record of a man who continued a practice of covering up instances of domestic violence until the videotape was released, why would anyone trust Roger Goodell to save anyone or anything other than his own career?Ray Rice released a statement through the NFLPA where he said, “I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions.” We should all be waiting for Roger Goodell to take full responsibility for his own actions, as both cover-up artist and wanna-be savior. The NFL a place where toxic masculinity not only festers but is valorized every single Sunday. The commissioner’s office should ideally be a place where that toxicity is countered, not where it originates.(This could not have been written without the assistance of former intimate-partner violence counselor and survivor’s advocate Anais Surkin.) 
Dave Zirin is sports correspondent for The Nation. He is the author, most recently, of Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down and Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy.

NBA Hypocrites: Why Did So Many Put Up With Donald Sterling's Bigotry for So Long?

This article originally appeared in The Nation, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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Men on the Edge of Panic: Boomer Esiason, Mike Francesa and Toxic Masculinity

This article originally appeared in The Nation, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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The Shocking Truth About Joe Paterno, Penn State and Governor Tom Corbett

“It is very simple: Joe Paterno was a criminal.”   —Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports

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Should Football Fans Feel Guilty for Enjoying Bone-Crunching Tackles?

With each passing week, I hear from football fans saying that it's getting harder to like the game they love. They've spent years reveling in the intense competition and violent collisions so central to the sport, but this is the first time these NFL diehards feel conscious about what happens to players when they become unconscious.

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Movement To Get All-Star Game Out Of Arizona Keeps Building

On Sunday in DC, I attended the seventeenth ballpark protest of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2011 baseball season. As in the other actions—in cities from Houston to San Francisco to Milwaukee—people chanted a loud and clear message to Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig: move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona and make the state pay a price for enacting legislation that sacrifices immigrant families at the altar of election-year politics. But this demonstration was also deeply different from the sixteen others. It was a day of rain, risk-takers, racists and rancor. And it couldn’t have been more terrific.

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"This World Cup Is Not For The Poor": The Ugly Truth Behind The Celebrations

At long last, soccer fans, the moment is here. On Saturday, when South Africa takes the field against Mexico, the World Cup will officially be underway. Nothing attracts the global gaze quite like it. Nothing creates such an undeniably electric atmosphere with enough energy to put British Petroleum, Exxon/Mobil and Chevron out of business for good. And finally, after eighty years, the World Cup has come to Africa. We should take a moment to celebrate that this most global of sports has finally made its way to the African continent, nesting in the bucolic country of South Africa. And yet as we celebrate the cup’s long awaited arrival in the cradle of civilization, there are realities on the ground that would be insane to ignore. To paraphrase an old African saying, "When the elephants party, the grass will suffer." In the hands of FIFA and the ruling African National Congress, the World Cup has been a neoliberal Trojan Horse, enacting a series of policies that the citizens of this proud nation would never have accepted if not wrapped in the honor of hosting the cup. This includes $9.5 billion in state deficit spending ($4.3 billion in direct subsidies and another $5.2 billion in luxury transport infrastructure). This works out to about $200 per citizen.

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Christopher Hitchens' Bizarre Attack on the Olympics

Nuance is the mortal enemy of essayist Christopher Hitchens. Whether it's his rapturous support for Bush's Iraq invasion or his best-selling dismissal (God is NOT Great) of religion, Hitchens will always eschew a surgical analysis for the rhetorical amputation. Beneath the Oxford education, he has become Thomas Friedman in an ascot, with all the subtlety of a blowtorch.

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