PostBourgie: The Podcast | #20: Giving Up Football, And Losing A Language

The cloud of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — the concussion-related brain disease that can lead to mental illness and Alzheimer’s-like symptoms — has hung over the apparent suicide of Junior Seau, one of the N.F.L.’s great linebackers. The news was the final straw for Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic, who wrote that he could no longer find enjoyment in watching football with the increasingly grim prospects for its long-term practitioners, and so he was giving it up.

“I now know that I have to go. I have known it for a while now. But I have yet to walk away. For me, the hardest portion is living apart–destroying something that binds me to friends and family. With people whom I would not pass another words, I can debate the greatest running back of all time. It’s like losing a language.”

Nicole, Joel and I are all very serious football fans, and we asked Ta-Nehisi to join us on the latest podcast to hash it all out. How do you reconcile your love for a cultural institution with your own ethics? And what informs the personal calculus around abstaining from something that brings you joy? These are some pretty messy questions.



Joel, as it happened, played running back in college. And even knowing the risks, the pull is still there. “Joel, if you had it to do over again and let’s say you could either have the life you have now or just play four solid years of college ball — no N.F.L. or anything but just four solid years of college ball — what do you think you would do?” Nicole asked.

“Oh, I’d play football,” Joel said.”It’s not even close.”

Like I said: messy stuff.

Has the all the new data on the long-term effects of head injuries changed your opinion on football? Holler at us. And subscribe to the podcast.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.