A History of Hard Risks for Athletes | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS

– The number of people who
say they would discourage their kids from playing football
has been steadily rising. Nearly half of all Americans,
according to one poll. The worries stem
from a growing body of recent research about
the dangers of concussions and the drumbeat of reports
about the brain damage sustained by professional
football players, but, could concerns
about violence ever really diminish football’s
hold on America? (dramatic music)
(crowd cheering) – [News Anchor]
Every autumn Sunday, football’s bone
shattering hits unhinge NFL players across the country. – [Narrator] Over the
past several years, the National Football
League has been shaken by the controversy over the
long-term impact of concussions. – In a surprise announcement,
star 49er’s linebacker Chris Borland says he’s retiring from the NFL after
just one season. – Around training camp,
there was an incident, just a mild concussion,
and it, kind of, changed the way I viewed
the risks of the game. The mounting evidence
and these anecdotes of guys who went through hell. By the end of the
year, I had a good idea of what I was gonna do. For 99.9% of the
people in America, football was just entertainment. ♪ Well, it Monday night,
and we’re ready to strike ♪ ♪ Our special forces– ♪ – But new guys in
the field are real, they’re humans, and so, I think it’s important
to remember that. – [Narrator] Since Borland’s
abrupt retirement in 2015, other players have
followed suit. But, this isn’t the first time
that the inherent violence of a sport has raised
questions about its future. 35 years ago, it was boxing. – In the old days, you might
turn on the television, on a weekend afternoon, and three networks
have a boxing match on. In ’82, particularly, there
was an NFL strike and, figuring NFL fans were gonna
wanna see action sports, we replaced it with boxing. – [Announcer] Mancini is
enjoying being a world champion. – [Narrator] In 1982,
Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, the pride of Youngstown, Ohio, had won his first World
Lightweight Championship. – No, I worked so
hard to get it, I’m not about to give it up now. – Ray Mancini was a very,
very popular champion. His whole persona was
of being this just, this nice kid from Ohio. The ratings for Mancini
fights were great, our highest ratings of
any fighter we were doing. – [Narrator] In
November of that year, in a Las Vegas stadium,
before a live CBS audience, Mancini was set to
defend his title against a little known
Korean challenger. – [Ring Announcer] Fighting
out of Seoul, Korea, weighing 134 and 1/4
pounds, here is Duk-Koo Kim. – We had never heard of
Duk-Koo Kim before that, but we would look
at film, video tape, whatever we could
get of him fighting, and we knew he was
a very tough guy. We didn’t want a guy
who was gonna run. We wanted somebody who would
stand there and exchange, and that was Kim’s style. (dramatic music)
(bell rings) – [Sports Announcer] And there’s
the bell, we are underway– – Kim built a coffin and
he put it next to his bed, and he told his people, “Either
Mancini’s coming home in “that, or I’m going
home in that.” Put on a lampshade,
“Kill or be killed.” To him, it was a live
or die situation. – It was a brutal
fight, in fact, Kim was the aggressor
more than Ray, for the most of the fight, but there was never a point
where you thought one guy was beating the other
guy to the point where a referee should
have stopped it. – [Sports Announcer]
Duk-Koo Kim. You may not have
heard of him before, but you will remember him today. Win or lose. – I was hitting him with shots, but he was still moving,
making me miss too. He still had the wherewithal
to move his body, bob and weave. You can’t stop a
fight when the guy has the wherewithal to do that. – [Sports Announcer]
Champion of the world, and there is 21 year
old champion Ray
“Boom Boom” Mancini. – It was a great punch,
and with a right shot, he went down, we just jumped. It was glorious, because
it was a great win. Nobody knows what was
going into, nobody knew. – I planned on a long fight, everybody didn’t
know about that. I saw films, the guy was
very, very impressive, tough, rough,
hungry, determined. Those are the worst kind. – The next morning, I called
and said, what’s going on? And he was still in the
hospital, and in bad shape, and then it was pretty much, we all knew what
was gonna happen. You know, he wasn’t
coming out of this. – I was stunned, I was
like, in a dream world, you know, from the
highest of the highs to hit the lowest of the lows. – A professional boxer
lies near death tonight. He is Duk-Koo Kim, a 23 year
old, South Korean lightweight. – The boxer’s mother
pleading with him to, “Please wake up,”
and, “Open eyes,” before she was led
from the room weeping. – When you fight fighters
from another country, they’re fighting for
more than themselves, they’re fighting for
their whole country. They carry their
dreams and hopes of their countrymen
on their backs, (exhales) that’s
a load to fight, that’s a hard load to fight. – [Narrator] Kim’s death was far from boxing’s first black eye. In the early 60’s,
fighters Benny Paret and Davey Moore died
in back-to-back years, after major fights broadcast
across the country. – [TV Announcer] To the
canvas, and look at him there. – At that point, there
was a sense of, wow, is boxing really even a sport. In the mid-seventies you
have the sense of impropriety that has been an aspect of
boxing’s DNA for many decades. And then, in ’82, you had
Ray Mancini and Duk-Koo Kim. – And then two weeks later,
I’m watching the news’ fight with Randall “Tex”
Cobb and Larry Holmes. (crowd cheering) – [Sports Announcer]
It’s just terrible. I wonder if that
referee understands that he is constructing
an advertisement for the abolition of the very
sport that he’s a part of. – Cobb was a
punching bag, I mean, his head was bobbing back
and forth, on and on and on. – [Sports Announcer] From
the point of view of boxing, which is under fire,
and deservedly so, this fight could not have
come at a worse time. – And I just said to
myself, “This is crazy. “How can I, as a physician,
possibly admire this, “enhance it, support it,
and not work against it.” – Boxing attracts big
television audiences. It has drawn the attention
of writers from Virgil to Hemingway to Norman
Mailer, but today, the American Medical
Association came out swinging against the sport. – [Reporter] The AMA journal
says that, “boxing is “an obscenity that
should not be sanctioned “by any civilized society.” – The purpose of the boxing
match is for one person to injure his or her opponent. Now, when one knocks somebody
out, one damages the brain, one tears brain cells. – I don’t think fight fans
said, “Okay, that’s it, “I’m never gonna watch
another fight,” just as they didn’t say, “Okay, I’m never gonna
smoke another cigarette,” when they put a
warning on the pack. But, sponsors started
to pull back and say, “You know, you’re asking
us for a lot of money, “you networks, to pay for
your exorbitant rights fees “on football, and
basketball, and baseball, “and with all the bad
publicity boxing is getting, “you know what, we just
as soon not do it.” – Before the Kim fight, I was being offered all
kind of endorsement deals. After that, everything went
away, man, it just vanished. I understand that
now, I understand
now, but, at the time, I was a kid, I was heartbroken,
I didn’t know why, you know. It just all went away. – [Narrator] For decades,
stories of young boxers from blue collar backgrounds
fighting their way to fortune had captivated the
public, both in real life– – I do it because I’ll leave,
I’ll leave the ghettos. – [Narrator] And
on the big screen. ♪ Trying hard now. ♪ – The American
Medical Association– – [Narrator] But before long,
the medical community began to make in-roads in their
fight against the sport. – The American Academy
of Pediatrics came out with a formal position that
children shouldn’t box. I took a position that,
for any parent who put their child into a
boxing situation, that should be
considered child abuse. – [Narrator] And on
television, beer companies were soon one of
the only marquee advertisers still
associated with boxing. – [TV Announcer] WBC
Heavyweight Champion Fight is being brought to
you by Budweiser. For all you do,
this Bud’s for you. – Sponsors withdraw so
network TV doesn’t want to broadcast it, so people
don’t see as much boxing, so they don’t know
as much about it, so sporting media doesn’t
write about it as much because they say people
don’t watch boxing, they’re not interested in it. And, because media
isn’t reporting on it, people learning
about it even less, and it becomes this
feedback thing, and before you know it,
suddenly, it’s a niche sport. – [TV Announcer] The legendary
Julio Cesar Chavez returns to the ring Saturday,
October 12th on pay-per-view. – There’s something fundamental
and primal about boxing. But, as society shifts, there
are legitimate questions of, “Well, do we still
want to do this?” It’s that drip, drip, drip. That constant sense that
that is what boxing is about. If that becomes a prevailing
feeling about football, then the discussion changes. – Look at this point, we know
how dangerous football is. Anyone who continues to believe that professional football
players aren’t, potentially, shortening their life span
by playing this game is, sort of, living
on another planet. – [News Anchor] More
players are suing the NFL, claiming the league
failed to properly protect them from concussions and brain injuries
during their careers. – [Narrator] Faced
with medical evidence about the health risks
posed by the game, the NFL has started making
payments to retired players who have suffered brain trauma. Payments that could total as
much as one billion dollars. – [ TV Announcer] If there’s
a way to do it better– – [Narrator] The league has
also promoted its efforts at making the game safer. – [Man] Changes were made to the kick=off this
year, important changes. – [Narrator] All aimed at
addressing the criticism of a sport with
more money and power than any in American history. – You now make about
10 billion dollars a year in gross revenue. You said that by 2027, you
would like to see 25 billion. – We don’t want to
become complacent. – The NFL has a big
issue in the concussion, the head injury
situation, huge issue. But, there is an entity called
The National Football League. There’s a controlling entity,
there’s a managing entity. Football has the NFL to
solve its problems or, to at least, to attempt
to solve its problems, that has a PR machine
to tell the public that, “We’re working on this.” Boxing was controlled
by promoters and the networks
back in the day. So there was no such
thing as boxing, it had no ability
to defend itself because there’s no organization and that might have been one of the biggest
problems they had. – [Narrator] The future
of football is playing out on local fields
around the country where flag football
is gaining popularity after news stories
about concussions in
high school players. – There is a certainly
a double standard when, if you support football in
the sense that you watch it and then turn around and don’t
allow your child to play it, the question is kind of
like about by watching it, are you necessarily
condoning it? It’s so ingrained in our culture that it does take a kind
of real active protest and resistance to
turn away from it. – [Narrator] Over three
decades have passed since the Kim/Mancini fight stoked
medical concerns about boxing. Then, in one week in July 2019. – Max, I’m gonna stop it. – For what? – Max, you’re
getting hit too much. – [Narrator] Two boxers died
from injuries suffered in the ring, but, compared
to the swiftness with which boxing was
relegated to the sidelines of American life, football
still holds its appeal. – If somebody were to
die during an NFL game, being broadcast live, the
massive social media response, would that cause a greater,
perhaps long term response? Or would it mean that everyone
went through their cycle of grief and outrage
in a couple of days until Kim Kardashian
did something else? I don’t know. I’m very curious to see
what happens in society over the next decade or two.

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