American Man, American Issue

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So, I’m a huge sports fan, particularly of football, and I have admittedly been adamantly against a great deal of the restrictions implemented into the game over the past few seasons.  I have always taken the stance that it was affecting the essence and tradition of football, which has always been the American embodiment of toughness and grit.  These alterations to the sport have been somewhat of a hot button issue in the NFL world over the last few years, and if you are a regular viewer of ESPN, then you have seen the push that former players have made for better exposure on health issues in retired players.  On the other side, I knew very little about Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) beyond that it seemed to be rare and was debilitating. I have never personally known anyone with ALS, and I can pretty much pinpoint my prior exposure to Gehrig’s famous farewell speech and the book Tuesday’s With Morrie.

I went into the film American Man expecting the push for awareness toward former players, and in a sense I was both right and wrong.  The film does highlight the link between ALS and former players, but at the same time, it doesn’t play the “player aid” angle as much as emotionally observing the actuality and prevalence of the problem.  The film is wholly debate-inducing, and in that capacity it is a complete success.  I found myself seriously questioning whether or not I would allow my kids to play, and with Kevin Turner himself and Steve Smith portrayed so vividly on screen, you have to ask yourself the question: is it worth it?  After the film, I had to take a look within and evaluate where my priorities were concerning the sport and the players. Yes, some of these men have been my heros.  Yes, I love watching my Titans play every Sunday, and yes, I love the primal, gladiator, Spartan, 300-esque culture of the game.  But is any of that worth the life of a man?  We have that place inside us that knows that it’s not, but in this film, upon viewing the potential hazards of playing the game hard and the right way, that feeling is bolstered and looms over your very outlook of the sport.

Overall, what American Man successfully did for me was to open my eyes to the harsh effects and reality of the disease, and that the new American pastime subjects our youth to the increased probability of some form of atrophy later in life.  I was a football player.  My friends were football players, and we were no different from young men like Kevin Turner who were passionate about the sport.  The film gets the mental cogs cranking about whether or not the thoroughbred money-maker that is American Football is worth the risk it places on its participants; a point that is played out in the dialogue about whether or not he should let his kids play.  To me, this was the most intriguing aspect of the film: that the sport that he loves, that gave him his purpose, and that he left a legacy in is also the principal cause of his condition.  You can see that he still loves the game and his alma mater, but that he also has a mission that could alter the public’s perception toward it; the point is emphatically made that the link of ALS to football probably leans more toward the epidemic side than to merely increased chances of contraction, and with bigger, faster, stronger athletes, it could get worse.

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