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FENNO: NFL’s ‘evolution’ commercial opens window to ex-players’ pain
Lost amid the stain resembling Joe Montana and tattooed old folks out on the town and a man who pondered selling his soul for a Mercedes was a 30-second reminder of the problem the NFL can’t escape.
The slick NFL advertisement during Sunday’s Super Bowl called “Protecting Our Game” never mentioned the word that’s roiling football. Instead, a man’s gravely voice narrated a kickoff return that started on a muddy field in Canton, Ohio, in 1906 and ventured down the field through changes to rules and equipment and eras.
The feel-good message during the third-most-watched television broadcast in U.S. history was clear: Football is safer, but the game’s essence hasn’t changed.
That’s only part of the story. Three players featured in the NFL’s own advertisement pushing safety advances are among the more than 4,000 former players suing the league over head injuries.
There’s Ollie Matson.
There’s Rick Upchurch.
There’s Mel Gray.
Twelve seconds into the commercial, an actor portraying Matson during his days in the blue and gold of the Los Angeles Rams spins onto the screen with a single-bar facemask. Sentimental music and clever transitions and choreography straight out of “Friday Night Lights” — Peter Berg directed the movie and advertisement — can’t hide the uncomfortable truth.
Matson, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who also won two medals in track and field at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, died of complications from dementia in 2011. Illness left him bedridden and unable to speak during the last four years of his life. In December, he was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the devastating neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated brain trauma.
Researchers at Boston University told Matson’s family the case was the most severe they’d encountered.
“Understand this,” Bruce Matson, one of Ollie Matson’s four children said by telephone Monday from his office in Houston. “My dad probably had CTE for the last 25 years or so. People just didn’t know. We didn’t know what it was. It changes their personality to be more reclusive.”
The commercial was first introduced during last year’s Super Bowl, before the head injury litigation swelled to an estimated third of all former players (at least 40 plaintiffs are deceased). Before Matson’s four children joined the litigation in August in a lawsuit that claimed their father suffered multiple traumatic head injuries. Before the December study was released in which Boston University researchers found 68 new cases of CTE, including 33 former NFL players.
The commercial didn’t change.
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About the Author
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