Bernstein: Bruce Arians Is Just Wrong

By Dan Bernstein

Bruce Arians, head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, must have felt he was in the perfect place to indulge his victimization fantasies. Standing in front of a group of high school football coaches, he probably imagined they shared his worst fear: that his beloved game was under siege.

Arians, clad in his signature Kangol hat, offered up what is becoming a signature line of misinformation regarding the danger football poses to the human brain. Three weeks after saying that parents who won’t let their kids play “are fools,” he doubled down last Friday, specifying which parent was at fault.

“It’s our sport, it’s being attacked,” he said from a stage. “We have to stop it at the grassroots. It’s the best game that’s ever been [bleeping] invented, and we have to make sure that moms get the message, because that’s who’s afraid of our game right now. It’s not dads, it’s moms.”

When video of the speech at the coaching clinic leaked to local television, Arians tried predictably and unsuccessfully to walk back what was a very clear statement.

Clear, and completely wrong.

First, he’s wrong about his sport being “attacked” by medical data and increased awareness of the irreparable brain damage caused by the accumulation of multiple sub-concussive hits, not to mention the bigger blows that receive more attention. While Arians clearly feels personally threatened by the more mainstream understanding of the game’s inherent risks, there is no crusade to destroy the sport. Reasonable people want the best information as they decide what is tolerable risk exposure for their children. And that concept seems to frighten him.

Second, dads are just as involved in steering some kids away from football, if not more so — particularly those who may themselves have played. It would be impossible to have objective data showing which parent wields more influence. But anyone involved in these conversations has years of anecdotal evidence from which to draw. We have all spoken to many dads who express more concern with each next study or headline. Arians makes a lazy assumption based on gender alone.

What’s more, the coach also believes in the hokum of teaching a safer game. He espouses the canard of special tackling techniques that somehow keep the brain from sloshing around inside the skull and prevent heads from smashing into anything else beyond the first contact of ballcarrier and tackler.

“When I was taught how to tackle and block, it was on a two-man sled,” he said, “and you did it with your shoulder pads. That’s still the best way to do it.”

Great, but that has nothing to do with the fundamental issue.

The NFL has floated this ridiculous idea as some kind of cover, but none of it withstands even the simplest examination. It has been rightly decried as cynical propaganda by former NFL players and coaches alike, with even John Madden saying “I don’t believe in it.” So Arians is wrong about that, too.

I’m surprised he didn’t hit the fourth and fifth talking points that coaches parrot to reassure youth coaches and parents — the myths of magic mouth guards and space-age helmets being peddled by amoral hucksters. But wrong on three points is plenty enough for an NFL coach only exposing his own, deep insecurities.

He’s right about one thing, that football is a great game. He just can’t bring himself to reconcile that his great game causes brain damage.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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