Funky Winkerbean vs. The NFL [CORRECTED]

The National Football League is moving inexorably toward another brain-wrecking season with scant resistance from the mainstream media or the ethics-blind public. It is heartening, therefore, to see comics section stalwart (since 1972) “Funky Winkerbean,” drawn and written by cartoonist Tom Batiuk, try to educate society, especially children, regarding the perils of football.

One of the rare comics that allows its characters to age and even die, “Funky Winkerbean” is beginning a 10 week story involving the deterioration of a regular character who once played in the NFL, as the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, take over and destroy his life.

Such enlightening of the nooks and crannies of our culture is vital if the public is ever going to stop enabling this unconscionable sport, in which, on the professional level, the disabling of young athletes is monetized by paying them to risk a slow, early, horrible death that is far enough in the future that they can rationalize their choice to accept the deal.

The New York Times article about the strip’s latest story arc is odd, as well as suspicious. It never mentions the NFL. It refers to CTE as the result of “sports-related concussions” that “in extreme cases, can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of degenerative dementia.”

I classify this a deliberate misdirection, and I wonder why the Times would stoop to it. This is primarily a football problem that also can affect those who play soccer, hockey, boxing, lacrosse and baseball, but the CTE threat in pro football is hardly restricted to “extreme cases.” There is evidence that the condition may begin at the high school level of football or even earlier, and that nearly all NFL players may suffer from it to various degrees. Is the Times burying the lede here because its readers are passionate NFL fans, and in denial over their beloved barbaric sport? New York City does have two NFL teams.

When a comic strip shows more responsibility and candor than the nation’s “paper of record,” there is a problem.

11 thoughts on “Funky Winkerbean vs. The NFL [CORRECTED]

  1. I’m trying, so far unsuccessfully, to find an online list of the Funky Winkerbean characters and their fictional biographies. If I succeed I’ll update this reply. If you have a link to such information which shows I’m wrong, please correct me.

    Perhaps the National Football League is never mentioned because Jerome “Bull” Bushka never played in the NFL. If I remember correctly he was a star high school player and earned a college scholarship in the early days of the strip but after a knee injury ended his playing days he never signed a pro contract. Instead, he returned to the site of his youthful glories as football coach at his high school alma mater.

    You could make an argument this makes the story an even more damning account of the effects of CTE by showing how it affected someone who, like millions of other young people, played at a lower level of violence than the NFL.

    • I expect that a lawsuit against the NFL will end college football. If I were the NFL and sued over CTE, I would use logic. The NFL has the best equipment, the best medical care, and the best concussion protocols of all levels of football. The average NFL player only plays 5 years, but plays 8-10 years before that without such precautions. Given those numbers, why would you think that the CTE was caused by injuries sustained during their employment with the NFL and not somewhere else?

    • Oooh, but the strip the Times included in the paper this morning (not online) has Bull wife saying, “But our application for the supplementary disability plan with the NFL might fail because he didn’t play long enough.” Doesn’t that suggest that he played with the NFL? What else could it mean?

      • Yeah, it does. I never did find a detailed description of the Funkyverse anywhere online. (But I did find that term for the strip’s universe which made the search kind of worthwhile) but a quote like that certainly indicates my memory was faulty.

  2. 1) I assume you mean “ethics BLIND public,” but honestly the phrase “ethics BLAND public” is probably equally accurate.

    2) I’ve seen studies summarized that suggest the real danger of football isn’t the show-stopping concussions that lead to a break in the game and an in Detroit protocol. Instead, the damage is more readily done by the consistent low- level knocking around, no single hit really seeming to matter, but repeatedly doing just a little bit of damage over and over and over.

    Anecdotes aren’t proof, but in my varsity football career I came out of a game exactly once because of a hit that staggered me. I also ended EVERY game with blood -red eyes, my head having gotten rattled around enough to start breaking blood vessels. It never hurt, but I strongly suspect it did more harm than one big unlucky head – knock.

  3. Big city newspapers are joined at the hip with their NFL teams. All these holier than thou newspapers — The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle — fawn over their pro football teams, and their hockey teams, come to think of it. If they start talking about CTE too much, their reporters will loose access to the teams that provide the fodder that draws a huge percentage of their readers. Sports page readers have to vastly outnumber any other readers.

  4. Your conservative bias is showing….
    If the NYT article had been about Lisa’s death from cancer would you have insinuated that they were in league with big pharma? Your snide remarks at the end of your OP-ed smack of Trump’s fake news media tirades.

    • Huh? The Times wrote an article about a character’s death from CTE, and never mentioned the NFL, choosing to be intentionally vague. CTE is a potentially existential problem for pro football, and the NFL is the only reason we know about it. You tell me: how do you explain that? It is either incompetent, or deliberate. Your analogy, meanwhile, stinks. If a heavy smoking character died of lung cancer and the Times didn’t mention the tobacco connection, I’d be suspicious of that, too.

      How does any of the post show a conservative bias? I don’t trust the Times; the Times has shown itself to be untrustworthy, biased, and intermittently incompetent. Any fair and objective observer—which I am—would come to the same conclusion. It is those incapable of seeing such obvious bias that are flagging their own bias.

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