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Sunday, August 25, 2013

No Holds Barred: Concussions, the Media, and the Bubble of Combat Sports 

(Photo of (L-R) Arash Usmanee, Mike Tyson, and Argenis Mendez, by Tom Casino / Iron Mike Productions)

(Image credit for PBS Frontline's "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis" courtesy of Nick Veasey / Getty Images)

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman discusses the concussion crisis in contact and combat sports, the coverage given it in the sports and general media, and the bubble in which the combat sports in particular live on this issue.

This past Friday night, August 23, ESPN's Friday Night Fights aired as a main event an exciting but brutal fight, where IBF junior lightweight champion Argenis Mendez (21-2-1, 11 KOs) retained his belt with a controversial majority draw with challenger Arash Usmanee (20-1-1, 10 KOs). This took place at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, and was promoted by Iron Mike Productions in association with Greg Cohen Productions, with Mike Tyson prominently sitting ringside.

Earlier that day, the entire credibility of ESPN's journalism had been called into question. An article in The New York Times, entitled "N.F.L. Pressure Said to Lead ESPN to Quit Film Project" by James Andrew Miller, reported that ESPN had pulled out of a collaborative effort with PBS's "Frontline" series on a documentary film called "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis". According to "Frontline", this two-part documentary, which will begin airing October 8 and 15, would examine "whether -- as thousands of former players allege -- the NFL has covered up the risks of football on the brain." The Times' article said that after 15 months of collaboration with "Frontline", ESPN pulled out of the project Thursday after a "combative meeting" involving four top executive from ESPN and the NFL. While ESPN later denied that it had caved in from pressure from the NFL -- whose "Monday Night Football" on ESPN is the highest-rated show on cable TV in the USA -- few were buying this story, and a furor erupted online over ESPN's commitment, or lack thereof, to independent journalism.

Interestingly, as if to counter this outpouring of criticism, ESPN did air a brief discussion Friday afternoon on "Outside the Lines" about a new study published in the American Academy of Neurology's journal "Neurology" about these issues. The study, authored by Robert A. Stern, PhD, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine, said that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and repeated head injuries, including concussions and subconcussive trauma, in athletes, may adversely affect their memory, mood, and behavior. Dr. Stern was interviewed on "Outside the Lines".

The combat sports world, and in particular what calls itself its media, generally continued on, as if none of these controversies had taken place.

The bubble in which the combat sports live is thus discussed, including its seemingly inevitable bursting.

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