This year in the National Football League, there have been 281 recorded concussions that players have suffered — spanning from the pre-season right up to the last playoff games. This weekend is Super Bowl Sunday. That is a macabre sort of record — it represents the most concussions in a season since the NFL started keeping track six years ago. The hits that these players take over and over during their careers can lead to very serious brain damage and a degenerative condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. When Boston University did a major study on the brains of 111 former NFL players, a stunning 110 of them were found to have CTE.
Donald Trump has made it a central passion of his to attack NFL players because of the take a knee protests and to bash them as unpatriotic spoiled rich people. He’s called black athletes sons of bitches and called for those who protest to be fired. He even used his State of the Union to attack the players.
We are doing this special episode of Intercepted to highlight a gut-wrenching new short film that The Intercept’s Josh Begley has directed. It is called “Concussion Protocol.”
Academy Award winner Laura Poitras and her team at Field of Vision oversaw this project. Josh recorded every single concussion from this season — all 281 of them — and he has presented them in the form of a stunning, violent ballet.
“I have been tracking these injuries all season. Using a variety of methods, including archiving daily injury reports from NFL.com, I maintained what I believe is the most complete dataset of individual concussions sustained during the 2017-2018 season,” Begley writes. “This film does not make an argument for ending football. Rather, it invites a set of questions. In the spirit of Saidiya Hartman, I am interested in ‘defamiliarizing the familiar.'”
In this special bonus episode of Intercepted, Josh Begley, The Intercept’s Shaun King and Donte Stallworth, a 10-year veteran of the NFL, discuss brain injuries, the #TakeAKnee protests, and Trump’s attacks on athletes.
Josh Begley’s video “Concussion Protocol” can be viewed here and the transcript can be read below.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is a special bonus edition of Intercepted.
Sportscasters: Up the middle, middle screen, Adams, ooh, he got popped in the face. Mouth guard comes out and they’re asking for help right away. And a flag. That looked bad.
JS: This year in the National Football League or the NFL, there have been 281 recorded concussions that players have suffered. These span from the preseason right up to the last playoff games. This weekend is Super Bowl Sunday.
These concussions represent a macabre sort of record. They represent the most concussions in a season since the NFL started keeping track six years ago. The hits that these players take over and over during the course of their careers can lead to very serious brain damage and a degenerative condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
When Boston University did a major study on the brains of 111 former NFL players, a stunning 110 of them were found to have CTE.
Donald Trump has made it a central passion of his to attack NFL players because of the Take a Knee protests, and to bash them as unpatriotic, spoiled rich people. He’s called black athletes “sons of bitches” and he’s called for those who protest to be fired. He even used his State of the Union address to attack the players.
President Donald J. Trump: Preston’s reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.
JS: We’re doing this special episode to highlight a gut-wrenching new short film that my colleague Josh Begley has produced with the team at Field of Vision. Academy Award-winner Laura Poitras and her team at Field of Vision oversaw this project. Josh recorded every single concussion from this season, all 281 of them, and he’s presented them in the form of a stunning violent ballet. Everyone should watch this video, and you can do that right now at theintercept.com/NFL.
Joining me now to discuss this video and the very serious issue of traumatic brain injuries endured regularly by NFL players are three people: Josh Begley who made this film, Shaun King who has written an excellent story to accompany this video and Donté Stallworth, he’s a 10-year veteran of the NFL.
Welcome, all of you to this special episode of Intercepted.
Josh Begley: Thanks for having me.
Shaun King: Hey, man.
Donté Stallworth: Thanks for having me again. I appreciate it.
JS: Josh, let’s start with you: What is the genesis of this project, collision protocol, that you’re releasing today?
JB: So, the project is pretty simple. It is a visual record of every reported concussion in the NFL this year, sort of stitched together as a short film, it’s about five minutes long and it’s really trying to think about the way we watch football and grapple with what it means to look at these kinds of images of people in pain alongside the beauty of the game.
JS: I mean I sort of describe watching this video that you put together as it’s like watching a violent ballet and you took footage from every single concussion that was reported by the NFL this year. What was it like to watch all of those hits over and over again as you were working on this video? What would it do to you as you were watching all of this over and over?
JB: It’s certainly a lot to watch. I think that it’s complicated, you know. I am a fan of football, I have watched too many games this year in order to make this film, but it makes me think actually about things like Fantasy Football, the way in which people are betting on who is going to do well in a game which is effectively betting on who’s not going to get injured — the folks who win Fantasy Football are the people who bet correctly on who’s not going to get injured.
And so, the news about football is very much injury news. And so, thinking about how that circulates, how the images of these moments circulate or don’t circulate alongside, you know, the sport that many people in this country love, what does it mean to watch? How do we see this sport? And what does it look like?
JS: Donté, you were ten years in the NFL. We’ll have to forgive you for playing for the New England Patriots, but I wanted to ask you Donté, we sent this video to you ahead of time to get your reaction and I’m hoping you can share what was going through your head as you watched this five-minute compilation of all of the concussions this season in the NFL.
DS: Ugh. It was gut-wrenching. I mean, when I was sitting there watching it and I seriously like almost called you and said, “Listen, I couldn’t get past the first minute.” My stomach was curling the whole time I was watching it and just to know that when players are out there playing, especially, you know, when I was playing, I was drafted in 2002 and my last season was 2012, right at the time when concussions started to come at the forefront of the nation’s attention due to the CTE and the studies from Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University, and players now I think have a better sense of concussions and kind of understand it, but I know guys, I talk to players, you know, I still have bunch of friends on a number of teams in the NFL, and it’s still a hard subject to deal with.
There are guys who when I send them things on concussions, whether if it’s like some of the research or articles, they don’t want to read it. You know, it’s, but that’s their life, you know? It’s how they support their family. It’s been most guys’ dream since they were children to play in the NFL.
But my reaction to that was, I think a culmination of everything, like, “How in the hell did I play this game?” But it’s also it’s a lot like you said, it’s like a violent ballet but it is also, it is a beautiful game but it also obviously has a lot of violence in it and that’s just something that’s not going to change. You can’t change that in the NFL — to a point, whether if there are people that are coming out with different technologies for different types of padding or different helmets, all that at the end of the day is really obsolete because you can’t take care of the brain in that matter. Human beings weren’t built to sustain that many types of headshots, and so we see now where a lot of the parents are starting to take their children out of youth football, I think: Who knows where football is going to be in 20 years? I have my doubts that it’s going to be as popular.
But just yesterday, NBC, I believe, signed a five-year deal with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, a huge deal, I believe worth $110 million or something to that effect, so the Make America Great Again bots would love you to believe that the NFL is dying. But you look at, I mean again, one of the things where the numbers are somewhat sustaining in youth football, they’ve dropped a little bit but it’s not big, as of now what we’ve seen. And college players are starting to understand, you know they’re not staying in colleges long — a lot of juniors are leaving early, a lot of underclassmen leaving early.
But again going back to that video, just something I couldn’t get out of my head: How my stomach was just curling for the first minute, where I couldn’t even feel like I could watch the rest of it. But I played the sport. I love it. It’s again, it’s a great sport. But it also has its violent downsides, unfortunately. And we’ve seen that again through Dr. Ann McKee’s work, she’s done some great work.
And the last research that she had, where she studied I believe it was 200 plus brains of people who had played football and 111 of them played in the NFL, and of those 111, 110 were diagnosed with CTE, and that’s a scary thing, man. I mean it’s — I’m five years removed from the game, I was blessed to play ten years, I never blacked out from a hit or anything like that but I took some tough hits. That’s, you know, the nature of the game. But it is a scary thing to think about, and I’ve thought about it a lot, and honestly, it’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t really pressed to continue playing after I was released by the Washington team in 2013. I kind of was like, “Alright, I’m good.” I was blessed to play a long time and really escape the game without any significant injuries so, you know, I kind of walked away from it.
And that was one of the factors, but it was an important factor. And I think more guys now are starting to make those types of decisions. You see guys that are really like, ballers that really are young and don’t really think about playing like guys back in the days where they played 10, 15, 20 years, Le’Veon Bell’s talking about he’s good, he can retire after this year if he doesn’t get what he’s worth. And I don’t know how credible the threat is, but I mean he’s talked about it enough to where you have to at least give him the benefit of the doubt. And he’s a great player, he’s like you know, like a Barry Sanders type of player where he’s unique in his own way, on and off the field but he’s talked about walking away from the game. And I could see him doing that. More players, I think, are content with doing that specifically because of concussions and the research that has followed.
JS: And we’re talking about this new video just out from Josh Begley. This is a joint project of Field of Vision, The Intercept, First Look Media and there also is a very powerful print piece that accompanies this video which is called “The Concussion Protocol.” And it’s written by Shaun King, my colleague, and I just want to share with you the opening line of Sean’s piece. It reads: “This, ladies and gentlemen, is the most important highlight reel of the NFL this season. It’s also the highlight reel that the NFL does not want you to see.”
Shaun, your thoughts on this video but also on the state of the NFL regarding this very serious issue of traumatic brain injury.
SK: I was deeply disturbed by the video. I echo Donté in the sense that I had a hard time watching it. And it’s haunting and disturbing, yet strangely beautiful as you see the athleticism of men who are literally putting their bodies and lives on the line for our entertainment.
And I had to get to the point where I felt like my entertainment is not worth someone else’s brain, and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with. When Donté says 110 of 111 brains that were studied from the NFL had CTE, we’re basically talking about 100 percent that guys are experiencing traumatic brain injuries.
And part of the metamorphosis that I had to undergo as a lifelong NFL fan. I’m 38, I literally can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t watch the NFL, all the way back to when I was a young child, that word “concussion” gives me permission, emotional permission, to see what happens on the field and not think of it as a traumatic brain injury. But if you look up any definition of what a concussion is, that’s what it is. It’s a traumatic brain injury.
And when we watch this video, we’re watching hundreds of men this season, as Donté said, with the best technology, hundreds of men this year had, in the preseason and the regular season had more concussions diagnosed than any season in NFL history.
JS: It’s 281 from the NFL preseason to right now, and we’re on the on the eve of the Super Bowl. Am I correct?
SK: That’s right.
JS: 281 registered with the NFL as concussions.
SK: Up until the very last game with its very best players, and so in spite of all of the technology because what we’re watching is orchestrated violence. And, you know, what I told you earlier was I’m ashamed that it happened for me this way, but even when I knew that men were getting concussions, even when I knew what the side effects of those concussions were with CTE that was bringing upon horrible memory loss, suicidal tendencies, violence, and the like. I, even as I would hear men and their families talk about the horrors of experiencing it, I still continued to watch the game.
And the switch was not flipped for me, and I imagine this is what a lot of NFL fans experienced until I actually got to know players personally. And in 2016, my entryway to knowing these players was through Colin Kaepernick, and as I got to know Colin, I came to know at least 100 different guys in the league.
And when I watched the first NFL game of last season, I was excited because for the first time in my life I knew dozens of guys that were out there on the field. And I kid you not before the first game was over I found myself struggling to watch it, instead of watching the game and enjoying it, I found myself hoping that my homies didn’t get crushed. And literally in that first game that I watched, I saw several guys that I come to know just get crushed on the field, and by the end of the night it was not an enjoyable experience, because it was no longer strangers, it was no longer men that were larger than life, it was no longer just bodies on the field. These were guys that I knew, and watching them get crushed, play after play, game after game, it was not palatable. And so, before I ever decided to boycott the NFL for social justice reasons, I got to the point where I was like, “Hell, I don’t know if I can watch this.”
And, one of the things I started noticing right away because as I got to know a lot of the guys, I got to know their wives, their mothers, their brothers, and sisters, I would notice that NFL families either weren’t watching the games, rarely are they coming to the games and rarely are they cheering on the games as they happen on Twitter. Like Josh said about Fantasy Football — NFL families aren’t playing Fantasy Football and Donté could talk about this, and I’ve talked to so many players who experienced it, for a lot of families, each game is a horrible, tense, stressful moment and they’re just hoping, and sometimes literally praying, that their loved one gets through that game unscathed.
And when I came to understand that, I was just disgusted, you know, that for so many years of my life I had enjoyed something, implicitly understanding its dangers, and it didn’t really matter to me until I came to know the guys personally. And now it’s a whole other thing for me. I can’t watch it. I wouldn’t watch it because of what it’s doing to them.
JS: Donté, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, in his State of the Union, also was attacking once again black athletes and was dog-whistling again, and was using this kind of bizarre juxtaposition of this 12 year-old kid who had raised the funds to put flags on the graves of dead American service members and those ungrateful NFL players.
But I think it’s an interesting opportunity, given that you were a decade in the league to ask you directly your views on the line that is now the dominant one from the president and from the MAGA people on Twitter, which is that these players are entitled millionaires who are essentially big, unpatriotic crybabies.
When I hear that I think, “Yeah, these guys may be making big bucks but one bad hit and the economic stability of not just their immediate family, but in many cases their entire family goes down the toilet.” But I want to hear your overall reaction to the way that Trump talks about NFL players and also the risks that they take for those millions of dollars, working in the service of ultra-billionaires who make the most money off of all of this.
DS: You know, I think the number one thing with the president when he, you know, from the very beginning talked about players not standing for the national anthem, when he even forgets to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem that they’re playing at the White House, I believe it was on Easter and Melania had to like tap him, like, “Hey dude, like, tune in! Hey, you’re the president, put your hand over your heart!” and he’s like “Oh,” and he forgets.
He’s all about this compulsory patriotism but he doesn’t have a patriot bone in his body. And I’m not even going to like discuss all his deferments and all that stuff, I mean, listen, Vietnam was not something that I applaud someone for or condemn someone for not wanting to go to fight, but it really bothers me with the way that he speaks about NFL players and then the way he talked about people in Charlottesville after the march. His ideology is based in white supremacy and until we can even understand that and know it, there’s factual evidence of this, of him actually being a white supremacist, and it doesn’t mean that he wears a hood, it just means that his ideology is that: White people are superior to others, including blacks, and immigrants, and even women.
And so, for Trump to come out and talk about all these things, you have to see where he’s coming from, where his heart is coming from. He even used Pat Tillman, and tried to — he retweeted something about Pat Tillman. He would stand for the national anthem and that’s like the epitome of like what Pat Tillman was not about, like that’s one thing that if you know anything about Pat Tillman, you know that he would not want to be used in that way in regards to some type of military hero or compulsory patriotism. He was a very open-minded dude.
JS: Just for people that don’t know this, Pat Tillman, of course, was an NFL player who, after 9/11, enlisted in the U.S. military and ended up becoming a Special Forces operator, an Army Ranger.
On Intercepted last season, we spoke to an Army Ranger who served in the same unit as Pat Tillman and knew Pat Tillman, and he [Rory Fanning] told the story of how Pat Tillman supported his effort to become a conscientious objector. And Tillman had had a correspondence with Noam Chomsky and seemed to be very much opposed to the wars that he believed he was fighting to keep the country safe. So just to give the context of Pat Tillman, as you were talking about him.
DS: Right. And, you know, so Pat Tillman was, he was one of those great people of justice, a great American hero, as you would call him, but not for the reasons that a lot of people would like to believe.
The players in the NFL I think are starting to understand the power that they actually wield, and I talked about Le’Veon Bell earlier, I think he’s pushing the issue for running backs to get paid what they’re worth. A running back is probably now one of the positions that sustains most of the hits, the hits to the head, definitely, in some of the top players that do sustain concussions, I would say, are running backs. And so, he is trying to push the needle forward as far as getting players what they deserve on the on the field through contracts and things like that, negotiations.
So, players are becoming more aware and more cognitive of what they can do and understand that when players do take a knee and they’re taking a knee for reasons that are something where they’re trying to speak out for people who don’t have voices. Right? They’re trying to speak out for the people in the communities who are experiencing and living daily with police brutality, with a number of issues and that’s been discussed throughout the time that Colin Kaepernick first began to take a knee, and then Eric Reid, his teammate followed, and then a number of other players followed by either taking a knee or some other gesture of a form of protest.
Now, these are all like peaceful protests. Right? But for some reason, there are people who just don’t want to see NFL players, you know, taking a stand for whatever reasons, whether it be contract negotiations. They blame the players, say the players are greedy and when the owners will cut someone early because they’re not playing up to their capability or they’re making too much money in the owners’ eyes or the guys that make the decisions in the front office, then that’s just a business decision. Players are starting to understand, that, listen: We’re here for your entertainment, but that is not the full being of our existence. And you’ll see that. I think players are starting to speak out more about these issues, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they were able to get a deal done with the NFL, and get the NFL more involved itself with helping players put out a message against police brutality, criminal justice reform, a number of things that guys care about.
And now they have the NFL on their backs and that’s more so obviously started because of Colin Kaepernick and other players following through, understanding the power that they wield in trying to push the NFL to get on the same page with them.
JS: And, on that front Donté, I wanted to ask Josh Begley: How do you see the relationship between this video that you’ve produced and the Take a Knee movement. What’s the relationship between what you’re doing here and that protest?
JB: I mean one of the things that I find fascinating is that we’re in this moment where black athletes are being chastised for kneeling in protest of police violence, and at the same time, sort of being called — being told to stick to football or get back on the field. And what that call actually does is, is sort of a call for them to subject themselves to the slower forms of violence that the field contains. Right?
I also think about the fact that for many of these athletes, right, it is something that they’ve grown up doing. Like, folks like Donté, I remember watching Donté when he was, you know, playing for the Eagles. It is profound to me that the only time it is acceptable for a player to kneel right now is after one of these moments happens. Right? After someone gets injured, someone gets concussed and then there’s a whole host of folks kneeling right next to them.
So, the gesture of the kneeling and the way in which it’s read in different contexts is just profound. And it’s very much about what Ta-Nehisi Coates called “controlled violence.” Right? He says: “It’s a beautiful sport, I love football but I can’t watch because it’s, the bottom line is that it’s about violence, it’s about controlled violence” and I just find that the way that kneeling is read in these different contexts is just fascinating to me.
SK: There are a couple things for me that come to mind, in the connection between this haunting video and this movement of players who are coming to realize they’re social power and their political power. I think where it resonated with me is just the sheer sacrifice that these players make every single day for America’s sport. And there is, and you referenced it in a question earlier, there is this popular notion that these guys aren’t working hard for what they get. That there is a level of privilege or that, or that their jobs are somehow easy and what this video shows is that this is a horribly difficult endeavor that these men undergo every single week and that they pay a price for their entire lives.
JS: You’re saying that they take bigger risks than executives at Goldman Sachs?
SK: (Laughs.) Right! Right. Well, there is —
JS: Which America do you live in, Shaun?
SK: (Laughs.) Well, there’s this constant refrain that “these are just athletes.” But when we all know that in the United States, the NFL is king. It’s everything. Even with all of our protests coming from the left and the right, it’s still the most watched thing on television. And even as Donté referenced with this new Thursday Night Football deal, which by the way, players did not want. Players over, and over again have said, “Hey, stop making us play now multiple days per week. We don’t have enough time to recover.” But the NFL and networks continue to disregard and disrespect players’ safety and player concern because this is about money.
And it also gets back to me, this notion of the reality that not a single black man or woman owns a team in the NFL, but that the league is getting blacker and blacker. And a lot of that gets to the reality and I referenced this in my written piece, that studies show the more privileged and the wealthier a family is, the less likely they are to allow their child to play football now. And so, what you get, and this is how there was a study done to show that in this past election, basically if you were black in the NFL, with very few exceptions, you voted Democrat. And if you were a white, with very few exceptions, you voted for Donald Trump.
And people said, “How is that?” Well, even that gets to: if you’re a white in the NFL, with, again, very few exceptions, you are probably from rural America, you probably come from a poor family in the South or in the rural Midwest. And so what we have now is a game of poor white people and black folk and a few other ethnic groups that come together to make money for rich white folks and older rich white men who own these teams. We can deny it or we can ignore it, but there is a horrible race and class component to who is putting their brain on the line.
And I almost would compare it to like that Erin Brockovich moment, where she has this glass of dirty water and she says, “Here,” to the executives, “you drink it.” And the proof is that the richer you are, the less likely you are to allow your children to play this game.
And now, I mean we heard that from, even from LeBron James, who some of our listeners may not understand, they may just know him as an NBA star, but he was a high school football star, high school football legend, who could have gone to play Division I football in any college in the country. Who said, “Nah, I won’t let my kids play this.”
And you’ll get, you’ll see that in the NFL as well: Fewer and fewer children of players are coming into the league and people are, you know, pointing their children elsewhere. So, this intersects, race and class and economics in so many ways, and that’s what taking a knee was all about. To say, “Listen there are things going on in this country that trouble me, that disturb me, and in a lot of ways those very things are baked into the very fiber of what the NFL is about.”
JS: What should the NFL be doing right now to address the fact that hundreds of players are having regular damage done to their brains while playing this sport for the enjoyment of the nation and the wealth of, as Shaun points out, a limited group of white people.
DS: There’s no way to really reduce, unfortunately, the number of injuries that we’ve seen in the NFL because by nature it is a violent sport. Basketball is a contact sport, football is a collision sport — that’s just the very nature of the game, unfortunately. But I don’t, honestly, I don’t know what else they could do. I mean, they’ve tried to get the best technology, they’ve tried to revamp the concussion protocol which sometimes it doesn’t fail often, but it does fail, the concussion protocol system.
And so, at one point do we get to where football is just going to become flag football? Because you’re fining these defensive players for these hits to the head, and listen I’ve played offense, and I’m all for of the game to be safe, but you’re making it hard on the defensive players when you do that because it’s hard for those guys to have an aiming point. And then as an offensive player, I know when the ball’s coming my way, or when the defender’s coming my way, my natural instinct is to make myself small, is to get low and to crouch. And so they may be aiming for my chest or my shoulders, but by me crouching then they hit me in the head unintentionally.
And so again, you can try to — you know you fine those guys and you end up suspending them for repeat offenders, but at the end of the day, until you really get rid of tackle football these injuries are going to continue to happen, unfortunately.
JS: Shaun you were a very prominent advocate for Colin Kaepernick, and one of the main people that spearheaded the campaign to boycott the NFL this season. Your thoughts on what the NFL should do, but also are you going to continue your boycott next year and how do you see the politics going forward, of CTE, Take a Knee, NFL.
SK: Yeah. You know, well, Donté said it well, that the way the sport is currently designed makes it very difficult to limit these concussions. And so, I don’t think that’s OK. I don’t think we should just say, though, this is just how it is. As wild as it may be, I think we should be open to other designs of the game, that technology is such, if it’s not a literal flag, maybe there are other ways to limit tackles or change the rules such that tackles are not an essential part of the game.
I don’t know what that would look like.
JS: Isn’t that why these white owners are making all that money, because of the violence? Like if you remove that, you’re going to hit that bottom line of massive profits.
SK: Yes and no. I’m double-minded about it, because we love the breakout runs, we love the wild catches, there’s a lot — we love the amazing passes and throws — there’s a lot to love about the NFL, being able to imagine it without the horrible violence.
Like, when I watched the game what got me excited was a breakout run where guys were juking in and out of holes. Like, all of that could still exist without the worst form of violence. And so what we’re dealing with is the key proposition is we insist it remain violent because it does make a lot of money this way. But I still think that there would be a huge number of fans if the NFL was willing to make a radical shift in a way, that it was — And here’s the thing: guys would be able to play longer careers, I mean, and the truth of the matter is it may ultimately be more and more litigation as new lawsuits continue to be filed from new guys who experience the trauma that they’re experiencing in the NFL that maybe eventually will shake this league into saying, “OK, we have to do something radical to shift it.”
I think, my closing thought is: I’m still disgusted that Colin did not get signed to a team this year, and I think in the United States there is a temptation to get used to the ugliness of how things are. Like, I see that happening with Trump. Trump you can hear him be horrible so often that it just goes in one ear and out the other. But what happened to Colin Kaepernick this year was awful, he deserved to be on a team. He, looking at who is in the Super Bowl now, he could have very well led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. He could have been on a great team and done very well, and I don’t think we should get used to the fact that a man was basically prevented from playing in the league for something other than football reasons.
So, for that, I will continue my boycott, but this discussion, this video, this film that Josh made has even just caused me to say: I don’t support the violence that’s in the game as well, and I’m double-minded about it, as I care about these guys who are making a living off of it. I can’t support it because I’m not OK with how it leaves them at the end of their careers.
JS: Josh, what do you want people to take away from this video and what should people be paying attention to on the specific issue of this traumatic brain injury that so many players are experiencing just by doing their jobs?
JB: The honest answer is that I’m not sure. There’s a lot of contradictions that are held in the game. I think that the science around CTE is increasingly like climate change, you know, 110 out of 111 brains, as Shaun said is pretty much 100 percent. And at the same time like you know the patience of Le’Veon Bell when he’s running, the agility of Odell Beckham, it’s beautiful right?
And so, for me as someone who has watched way too much football this year in order to make this film, I’m kind of torn because it is beautiful and it is terrible. And I think for me holding those two things at the same time to just be clear about what it is that we are watching when we watch this game, and what it is to play this game as folks like Dante have done for many years, I think it’s just, de-familiarizing the familiar for me is the project of the film, trying to look at how a lot of us watch this sport, and to maybe sort of pause for a moment and be like, “How are we watching this sport?”
I think that that’s mostly what I want out of it. I think making the film was just a way for me to try to think hard about how I watch the sport. I think ultimately it’s for the players to say what the game should be, because they’re the ones subjecting themselves to the violence of that game. And so, I don’t have a solution for it but I think, I think I just want to be really clear eyed about what it is I’m seeing.
JS: Donté, I’m going to give you the final word here. Would you advise young people today to aspire to be in the NFL, and would you, if you had to do it all over again, would you do it?
DS: I get that question often. For me it’s an unequivocal yes. I would definitely play football regardless of the consequences. But if — who knows? I was blessed to play 10 years, make a lot of money and meet a lot of great people and do a lot of great things throughout my career with a number of great people.
But there are guys who are out of the league in three years and looking for jobs at the ages of 24, 25 when all they’ve known is football. There are guys who have been injured so much that they can’t even walk right or sit in a car for a certain amount of hours. And I don’t have any of those issues, so it’s easy for me to say that I would do it again, but I think if the circumstances were different, it’s difficult to say.
But I do get asked often if, would I let my sons play or my future sons, I don’t have any kids, but would I allow my children to play football?
I don’t think I’d steer them towards football. I think I would rather them play tennis or golf or something like that if they want to play sports.
JS: That qualifies them to be president, if they play golf.
DS: Yeah. That’s, I mean, so, that’s another thing, too. You know, I thought that with the election of President Obama, I thought that you know I’d never see a person of color be the president. I thought maybe my grandchildren would, but you know now we have a reality TV show host who is now our president, so I mean anything is possible. But I think, you know, I’d let my children do what they want to do obviously, but I honestly, I wouldn’t steer them towards football.
JS: I think that’s an apt way of explaining the complexity of this issue, for the players, their families and all the people that depend on them doing this work because it ultimately is a very dangerous job that they’re doing.
Donté Stallworth, thank you very much for being with us on Intercepted.
DS: Thank you.
JS: Shaun King, thank you for all the work that you’re doing here at The Intercept and for your insights today.
SK: Thanks man.
JS: And Josh Begley, incredible work. I encourage everyone to go to The Intercept and watch this gut-wrenching portrayal of a very violent ballet that Josh Begley has done a great public service in pulling together. So, Josh, thank you very much.
JB: Thanks so much, man.
JS: Donté Stallworth played 10 years in the NFL, Shaun King is a journalist at The Intercept and Josh Begley directed this harrowing short film. It’s called “Concussion Protocol.” The film was produced by Laura Poitras and Field of Vision. You can watch this film by going to theintercept.com/NFL. I also encourage you to check out the related article by Shaun King.
JS: And that does it for this special episode of Intercepted.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.