I am writing to let you know about our latest “New Books in Sports” interview with Travis Bell, Janelle Applequist, and Christian Dotson-Pierson. We discuss their new book CTE, Media, and the NFL: Framing a Public Health Crisis as a Football Epidemic (Lexington Books, 2019). In our conversation, we covered public misconceptions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the media’s problematic connection of CTE with the NFL and concussions, and the league’s efforts to produce alternative histories of CTE.
In CTE, Media, and the NFL, Bell, Applequist and Dotson-Pierson use media theory to unpack reporting on CTE. They explain the long history of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, beginning with punch-drunk diagnosis among interwar boxers to the first female brain with confirmed CTE from a victim of domestic violence. Through a close reading of over seven hundred articles from six American newspapers, painstakingly coded for dozens of variables, they show how the media wrote about it. In these stories football plays a specific role in shaping American notions of masculinity, an athlete’s gender shapes reporting on their head injuries, and the celebrity framing the shape of the narrative.
The authors use earlier studies of the HIV/AIDs crisis and Big Tobacco’s battle to obfuscate the link between smoking and cancer to better understand the dangers of CTE coverage. They argue that the media’s framing of CTE as a health crisis, and the onslaught of incomplete information about the disease, has led to an availability cascade of problematic or wrong information. Most notably – CTE is linked with concussions in the reporting but is caused by all kinds of head trauma. The NFL’s efforts to muddle the science of CTE proved less effective than Big Tobacco’s and now the league may be over-connected to CTE to the detriment of athletes in other sports, military veterans, and even victims of domestic abuse whose stories are largely ignored.
The "New Books in Sports" network features discussions with sports scholars about their most recent books. It is a part of the "New Books Network," a consortium of podcasts exploring recent publications across a wide range of fields. The podcasts can also be accessed via iTunes where a free subscription option is available.
Please contact me off-list if you have any recent book suggestions.
Lecturer, Macquarie University