Salon.com Blasts ESPN for Caving to ‘Balance’ and ‘Objectivity’ in Airing Breitbart War on Football ‘Agitprop’

Steve Almond, who resigned an adjunct teaching position at Boston College because the school refused to rescind a commencement invitation to Condi Rice, wants an ESPN blackout of yours truly.

In a piece at Salon.com, Almond asks: “why did ESPN’s most intelligent show provide a guy like Daniel Flynn a platform for his agitprop?”

Last Friday, I debated Almond on ESPN’s Outside the Lines. His Mr. Bean-like facial contortions suggested that he disliked the experience. So, too, did his impromptu impersonation of a Black Lives Matter mob to my Bernie Sanders through repeated interruptions, at least in the untelevised web segment. But even after a weekend to unwind, Almond continues to whine.

“It came as something of a surprise,” he complains at Salon, “when I was informed, a few minutes before air-time, that the other guest on the show would be Daniel J. Flynn, the author of a 2013 book called ‘The War on Football: Saving America’s Game’ and the sports editor at the right-wing website Breitbart.com.”

It came as something of a surprise to me, too. ESPN waited two years after the publication of my book to invite me on their network despite CNN, Fox, C-SPAN, JT the Brick, and Rush Limbaugh interviewing me about it. That Outside the Lines appeared forever poised to change its name to Concussion Update suggested that a book outlining the exaggerations of football’s critics remained unwelcome on its airwaves.

But the invitation, perhaps lost in the email, finally came last Wednesday. I accepted. Mr. Almond displays difficulty accepting not only that a different person could see the question of football differently, but that ESPN would dare afford the dissenter three minutes of airtime to preach his heresy.

Almond complains that the Worldwide Leader in Sports invited me because the cable network wanted “conflict,” a prerequisite for a debate that my debating partner somehow sees as an affront to an intellectual back-and-forth. Giving “balance” and “objectivity” the scare-quotes treatment, he compared ESPN providing me a forum with the idea of producers inviting “climate deniers” (Do people really question the existence of temperature, precipitation, and the like?) on their programs to discuss “science.”

Almond joylessly writes:

The producers were probably also concerned about ‘balance.’ If someone’s going to question the morality of football, we need that voice on the other side to defend it. News programs use the same logic when they invite climate deniers to comment on climate science. Or lobbyists hired by billionaires to hold forth on campaign finance reform, or income inequality. The pursuit of ‘objectivity’ becomes the enabler of propaganda.

Herbert Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance,” to entertain no speculation about psilocybin, apparently influenced him deeply. One gleans that, despite representations in his essay to the contrary, he never read The War on Football. The absence of a direct quote from the book suggests that. So, too, does the weird description of a work mired in medical studies and historical material from the archives of Harvard and Yale as “largely paranoid he-man propaganda” (Does this make his tome Skeletor disinformation?). More so than all that does an easily refuted canard that concludes the Salon piece.

Citing the annual football fatalities and serious injuries study by the University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, Almond bizarrely writes, “To Flynn, none of this inconvenient data exists.”

Alas, I base a whole chapter of The War on Football called “Safer than Skateboarding” on the study, specifically cite the research he says I bowdlerized in sixteen different endnotes, and even obliquely referenced it in the close of our televised debate.

The data certainly presents an inconvenience—to Steve Almond. Aside from mistakenly writing at Salon that the University of North Carolina research shows 18 direct deaths from football in the last two seasons (the document plainly says 14), the study illustrates a decrease in gridiron collision deaths by more than 80 percent since the 1960s. In 1968, 36 players died from football hits. The last decade has seen an average of about four players killed annually from collisions, making such horrible events literally one-in-a-million phenomena.

Between 1931 (the year the study began) and 1977, football experienced fewer than ten collision deaths in just two seasons. Since the 1977 season, just one football season witnessed double-digit fatalities from hits. Despite the downward trend in the most serious football injury possible, Almond mocks the idea that “football is safer than it’s ever been!”

It is—36>4. Right?

One death from a mere game may understandably strike some as one death too many. But every human activity carries risk. Bicycling, skateboarding, and swimming all claim the lives of many, many more children every year than football. When does the author of Against Football publish Against Bicycling?

Steve Almond, a guy who tried to silence Condi Rice on graduation day and blacklist me from Outside the Lines, wants to take our ball and go home. His crusade against football is a cultural tic masquerading as a public health crusade.

Football is healthier than fascism.


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