This ESPN football analyst had a crisis of conscience. Then he quit.
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Ed Cunningham has one of the better gigs in sports journalism, as a longtime six-figure college football color analyst for ESPN and ABC. A former college star and pro player himself, he's good. But he's giving it up — and raising an intriguing question about journalists who cover an inherently violent sport.
He's splitting "because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus." (The New York Times)
“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”
So what about all the others who get paid to watch, report and analyze football? Is it too simplistic to see them as inherently legitimizing mayhem that, growing research shows, is deeply injurious?
Cunningham, who captained the national champion University of Washington team in 1991 before a five-year pro career as a lineman, says it's obvious the sport injures the brain. And, alluding to a former great Chicago Bears player, he says, "I don’t currently think the game is safe for the brain. And, oh, by the way, I’ve had teammates who have killed themselves. Dave Duerson put a shotgun to his chest so we could study his brain.”
I emailed Dan Bernstein, a thoughtful sports radio host at Chicago's WSCR while he was on the air and discussing Cunningham's decision. "As long as there is informed consent, I'm OK with them destroying each other for our amusement. It's a full awareness that what we are seeing is fundamentally inhumane, and an effort to reach an intellectual position that is consistent."
"I love pro football, and would prefer that it not change to accommodate cynical platitudes about safety. It's not safe and cannot be, but it can be far more honest about how inherently dangerous it is."
And then there was David Meggyesy, whose name isn't probably known to any current player but should be. He was a very good pro Syracuse University and NFL linebacker who gave it all up at his career's height and, in 1969, wrote a book excoriating the NFL, "Out of Their League," about its militarism and racism. It remains one of the best sports books and even changed attitudes, as noted in a terrific 1987 Sports Illustrated profile of Meggyesy by none other than David Remnick, now editor of The New Yorker. Yup, 30 years ago.
Meggyesy always loved the sport even as he disdained the league. An anti-Vietnam War activist, he later returned to the game as an official with the players union. He now lives on a small island, Marrowstone, in the state of Washington. And what would a passionate and insightful man, with a complex relationship to the sport, tell journalists?
"Realize what you are watching and promoting, and try to understand football’s attraction for YOU, why you like/love the game. Bottom line: football is doing physical violence, man against man, kid against kid. It is our American war game. When we glorify the violence we diminish the game. No judgement here. It is a terrific, complex game/spectacle. I loved playing it, and I loved the hitting."
"The elephant in the living room is brain injury in college, high school and pee wee football. No kid under 16 should be playing organized contact football. Pop Warner football is child abuse. Let’s see and own the game for what it is, including the casualties it produces."
"Can football be made ‘safer?' Possibly, but I doubt it. Then again ‘safety’ is not all that it is cracked up to be."
"Try to understand how and why football is so deeply embedded in our culture and what we are saying about ourselves with football being our national game. We are the only country in the world that plays American football."
A former Yahoo chief's new moderation
Bloomberg reports this morning that Tim Koogle, Yahoo's first CEO, is selling his four-bedroom Los Altos, California home for $19.4 million. He and his wife are "simplifying" their lives.
They are not heading to a 400-square-foot shack in Tibet, though. "The couple decided to give up their mini-utopia for a straightforward reason: They have at least six other houses, including a home in nearby Marin County, three homes in Mexico, one in Seattle, 'and a bunch of other properties,' Koogle said. 'We’ve started to realize that we don’t use all those very much, which is silly.'"
The morning babble
"Trump & Friends" underscored the magnitude of voluntarism in Houston, with a long line of cars and pick-ups hitched to boats trying to make their way to the city — as well as making clear there's been a lot of gun toting and looting, too. It segued seamlessly to a Republican congressman seeking to emasculate Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, claiming (of course) that Mueller's is a Democrats-driven probe.
"Morning Joe" was by and large back to its dry studio comfort zone of bashing Trump, heralding how "Trump Voters Troubled By Start To Administration." There was talk of his being a cyber bully, antagonizing Republicans, acting like a child, being his own worst enemy and a "flawed messenger of a message I hold dear," as one member of a Pittsburgh focus group put it.
CNN's "New Day" was justifiably still heavy on Harvey with wrenching stories of loss (a family of six drowning), inspiring ones of survival and looks at nervy rescue workers. Co-host Alisyn Camerota did nicely even with the glitches of live TV as she interviewed a woman introduced as giving birth after dramatic help from neighbors as she waded through water to get to a hospital.
Oops, the lady said, that wasn't her tale. She'd been in the hospital already before the storm. Oh, well. There was still reason to be happy for a healthy baby. And there was other news, including CNN's Will Ripley reporting from North Korea, apparently the lone American broadcast journalist in Pyongyang.
Google's money apparently talks
The New York Times' Ken Vogel disclosed how the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, canned a researcher after he praised the European Union's $2.7 billion fine against Google. The company, its parent company's executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Schmidt's family foundation have given the foundation $21 million since it opened in 1999.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the foundation president, comes off poorly in both her handling of the matter and initial response. It's also an inadvertent reminder of the general non-coverage of nonprofits and philanthropies, especially by local papers that tend to be utterly clueless about the sector in their hometown, with Vogel's story an exception that proves a general rule.
The price of FOIA stalling
"The government will be paying its opponent's legal fees after needlessly drawing out FOIA litigation, the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has decided [PDF]. The First Amendment Coalition sued the Department of Justice after it refused to produce documents discussing the legal rationale for extrajudicial drone strikes targeting American citizens." (TechDirt)
"Texas Need Us"
Media give Trump lots of justified grief over crappy spelling (the least of his failings). They might start tweeting Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey's late-afternoon press release titled, "Texas Need Us."
Giant goes after giant
"Facebook’s latest attempt to take on YouTube begins in earnest this week as various publishers begin to roll out Facebook-funded shows on the platform." (Digiday)
For example, "Business Insider’s lifestyle brand Insider is debuting two new shows, 'The Great Cheese Hunt,' which travels to multiple countries to spotlight different cheese-based dishes, and 'It’s Cool, But Does It Really Work?' which features unique tech and gadgets that have previously gone viral on the internet."
BuzzFeed goes Russian
BuzzFeed "is beefing up its Russia coverage by partnering with the Latvia-based online outlet Meduza, which has grown rapidly since its launch less than three years ago."(Nieman Lab)
"The partnership is editorial, and resources will be concentrated on joint investigations. BuzzFeed is paying for the investigations it commissions with Meduza…though the sites will trade stories and Meduza translate occasional stories of its choosing from BuzzFeed, free of charge."
Reason for anxiety at ABC News
"Disney-ABC Television Group will be reducing annual costs at the unit by 10% by the close of Disney’s fiscal year next month, with a restructuring of operations that is expected to include hundreds of layoffs." (Variety)
Plans for cost-cutting measures across the group, which includes the ABC television network, ABC News, ABC Studios, the ABC-owned stations division, and entertainment cable channels including Freeform and Disney Channel, are still being developed.
Headline of the day?
"Just When You Thought DeVos Was as Bad as It Gets for Education, Trump Outdoes Himself" (Law Newz)
Betsy DeVos appointed as the Education Department's chief enforcement officer for higher education a guy who was a dean at DeVry University. "Yes. That DeVry. The one that agreed to pay over $100 million last year to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Education that it committed the exact kind of fraud that Schmoke’s department will be in charge of policing."
Costas gets it right
On Sept. 6, Munich will finally unveil a 1972 Massacre Memorial, a tribute to the 11 Israeli Olympians and one German cop killed by the Palestinian Black September group during that year's Summer Olympics. The tragedy convulsed the games (I can attest, having worked at the basketball arena) and also inspired superb work by ABC, including the late sports anchor Jim McKay. The International Olympic Committee proved to be shameful on this topic for decades.
Sportscaster Bob Costas tells The New York Times that, yes, terrorist attacks happen. But what made this different was "not that it was more tragic or more significant than others, but that it was directly tied to the Olympics.” And it's taken 45 years to finally memorialize that reality. (The New York Times)
Amazon takes a bold, unsettling step
Here's one inexplicably missed by Bloomberg, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times:
"In what many insiders on the Street described as inevitable, a representative for the Federal Trade Commission has confirmed that Amazon.com, Inc.’s aggressive push to break into new and emerging markets has claimed another feather to place in its ever growing hat."
"Your younger brother, Daniel, a 16-year-old sophomore at Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will now be a fully autonomous subsidiary operating under the umbrella of the Amazon family of brands."
Well, the miss is explicable. Thanks, McSweeney's.