By: Dr. Elizabeth Matteo, assistant professor of psychology at Alvernia
As a psychologist I was especially interested in watching the recently aired PBS Frontline, League of Denial that chronicles the National Football League’s response to concerns raised by neurologists about the long-term impact of repeated head trauma. The report details the NFL’s response to cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found in their players. CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease that can only be definitively diagnosed after death. Individuals with CTE deal with symptoms of depression, memory loss, and dementia that take a tremendous toll on their day to day functioning. The manner in which the NFL is portrayed in the report is reminiscent of other historical examples of groupthink in which powerful organizations take on a collective persona of invincibility and try to silence whistleblowers.
Now this week the NFL is under more scrutiny concerning accusations of bullying within the Miami Dolphins organization. Richie Incognito was suspended for allegedly bullying his teammate Jonathan Martin. Media reports indicate repeated voicemails and text messages containing racial slurs and profane language sent by Incognito to Martin. Martin eventually left the team without citing the actual reason for fear of damaging his career and retribution. There has even been speculation that Miami’s coaches may have encouraged the bullying. Some have suggested that rookie hazing is commonplace within the larger NFL culture.
As someone who grew up in a family having to make weekly football picks, I find little satisfaction in hearing about wrongdoing within the NFL, and as a psychologist it’s certainly not a whole lot of fun pointing out the negative aspects of human nature. So, I have to confess I chose to use these newsworthy events for one simple point. Psychology, and for that matter, the liberal arts in general, help us to understand the conditions that make these human events possible, and in doing so we have the ability to potentially predict and prevent them from occurring.