TEXT ON SCREEN: Oct. 15, 2023

ARCHIVAL (NBC, 10-15-23):
MIKE TIRICO (SPORTSCASTER): Damien Harris is in at running back for the Bills.
MIKE TIRICO: Big hit by–on Harris, but past the 35-yard line.

ARCHIVAL (NBC, 10-15-23):
MIKE TIRICO: The worst scene you can imagine as an ambulance has come on the field to look at Damien Harris and we know how heroic and great they were in the situation on January 2nd with Damar Hamlin.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Ten Months Earlier

ARCHIVAL (1-5-23):
JOE BUCK (SPORTSCASTER): To midfield, and lowers the shoulder. And now another Bills player is down. Damar Hamlin is the one who was in on that stop.
TROY AIKMAN (SPORTSCASTER): Not what any of us want to see.

NARRATION: In recent years, the National Football League has faced an onslaught of concerns about the brutality of the sport.

LESTER HOLT: Star 49ers linebacker Chris Borland says he’s retiring from the NFL after just one season.

CHRIS BORLAND (FORMER LINEBACKER, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, 2014 SEASON): There was an incident, just a mild concussion and it kind of changed the way I viewed the risks of the game.

NARRATION: But this isn’t the first time that the inherent violence of a sport has made viewers uneasy. Decades ago, it was boxing.

RICK GENTILE (FORMER CBS SPORTS EXECUTIVE): 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 are going to want to see action sports, we replaced it with boxing.

TIM RYAN (SPORTSCASTER): Mancini is enjoying being a world champion.

NARRATION: In 1982, Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini, the pride of Youngstown, Ohio, had won his first world lightweight championship.

RAY MANCINI: I worked so hard to get it, I’m not about to give it up now.

RICK GENTILE: Ray Mancini was a very, very popular champion. His whole persona was of being just this nice kid from Ohio. The ratings for Mancini fights were great, our highest ratings of any fighter we were doing.

NARRATION: 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 ¼ pounds. Here is Duk-koo Kim.

RICK GENTILE: We had never heard of Duk-koo Kim before that, but we would look at film, videotape, whatever we could get of him fighting and we knew he was a very tough guy. We didn’t want a guy who was going to run. We wanted somebody who would stand there and exchange. And that was Kim’s style.

TIM RYAN: And there’s the bell and we are underway…

RAY MANCINI (FORMER WBA LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPION): Kim built a coffin and he put it next to his bed, and he told his people, “Either Mancini’s going home in that or I’m going home in that.” He put on his lampshade, “Kill or be killed.” To him it was a live or die situation.

RICK GENTILE: It was a brutal fight. In fact, Kim was the aggressor more than Ray, for 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 stepped in.

TIM RYAN: Duk-koo Kim. You may not have heard of him before, you will remember him today. Win or lose.

RAY MANCINI: I was hitting him with shots, but he was still moving and making me miss, too. He still had the wherewithal to move his body, slip, bob and weave. You can’t stop a fight when a guy has the wherewithal to do that.

TIM RYAN: There’s 21-year-old champion Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini.

RAY MANCINI: It was a great punch. I hit him with the right shot and he went down. We just jumped. It was glorious because it was a great win. Nobody knew the–what was going into it. Nobody knew.

RAY MANCINI: 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.

RICK GENTILE: 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 going to happen. You know, he wasn’t coming out of this.

RAY MANCINI: I was stunned, I was like in a dream world, you know, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

ARCHIVAL (ABC, 11-14-82):
DIANE SAWYER: A professional boxer lies near death tonight. He is Duk-koo Kim, a 23-year-old South Korean lightweight.

ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 11-17-82):
DAN RATHER: The boxer’s mother pleading with him to “please wake up” and “open eyes” before she was led from the room, weeping.

RAY MANCINI: When you fight fighters from another country, they’re fighting for more than themselves. They’re fighting for their whole country. They’re carrying the dreams and hopes of their countrymen on their backs. That’s a load to fight. That’s a hard load to fight.

NARRATION: Kim’s death was far from boxing’s first black eye. In the early ‘60s, fighters Benny Paret and Davey Moore died in back-to-back years after major fights broadcast across the country.

KIERAN MULVANEY (BOXING ANALYST): At that point there was a sense of, well, is boxing even really a sport? Then in the mid-70s 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.

GEORGE LUNDBERG (FORMER EDITOR, JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION): And then, two weeks later I’m watching and there’s this fight with Randall “Tex” Cobb and Larry Holmes.

ARCHIVAL (ABC, 11-26-82):
HOWARD COSELL (SPORTSCASTER): 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?

GEORGE LUNDBERG: Cobb was a punching bag. I mean, his head was just bobbing back and forth, on, and on, and on.

ARCHIVAL (ABC, 11-26-82):
HOWARD COSELL: From the point of view of boxing, which is under fire and deservedly so, this fight could not have come at a worse time.

GEORGE LUNDBERG: 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?

ARCHIVAL (CBS, 1-14-83):
DAN RATHER: 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.

ARCHIVAL, (ABC 1-14-83):
NEWS REPORT: The AMA Journal says that boxing is an obscenity that should not be sanctioned by any civilized society.

ARCHIVAL (ABC 1-14-83):
GEORGE LUNDBERG (AMA JOURNAL EDITOR): 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.

RICK GENTILE: I don’t think fight fans said, okay, that’s it. I’m never going to watch another fight, just as they didn’t say, okay, I’m never going to 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.

RAY MANCINI: Before the Kim fight, I was being offered all kinda endorsement deals. After that, everything went away, man. It just vanished. I understand that now. I understand now. But at the time I was like, I was a kid. I was heartbroken. I didn’t know why. You know? It just, it all went away.

NARRATION: For decades, stories of young boxers from blue-collar backgrounds fighting their way to fortune had captivated the public both in real life…

ARCHIVAL (NBC, 5-11-84):
CHILD BOXER: I do it because I’ll leave, I’ll leave the ghetto.

NARRATION:…and on the big screen.

ARCHIVAL (NBC 5-24-1984):
TOM BROKAW: The American Medical Association…

NARRATION: But before long, the medical community began to make inroads in their fight against the sport.

GEORGE LUNDBERG: 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.

NARRATION: And on television, beer companies were soon the only marquee advertisers still associated with boxing.

The WBC heavyweight championship fight is being brought to you by Budweiser. For all you do, this Bud’s for you.

KIERAN MULVANEY: 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 learn about it even less. It becomes this feedback thing, and before you know it, suddenly it’s a niche sport.

ARCHIVAL (CNN, 10-7-96):
ANNOUNCER: The legendary Julio Cesar Chavez returns to the ring, Saturday, October 12, on pay-per-view!

KIERAN MULVANEY: 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 the prevailing feeling about football, then the discussion changes.

ANNOUNCER: Well, it’s Monday night and we’re ready to strike!

CHRIS BORLAND: For 99.9 percent of the people in America, football’s just entertainment. But the guys on the field are real. They’re humans, and so I think it’s important to remember that. The mounting evidence and anecdotes of guys who went through hell. By the end of the year, I had a good idea of what I was going to do. 

JONATHAN MAHLER (STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE): Look, at this point, we know how dangerous football is. Anyone who continues to believe that professional football players aren’t potentially shortening their lifespan by playing this game is sort of living on another planet.

ARCHIVAL (ABC 5-4-12):
NEWS REPORT: More players are suing the N.F.L., claiming the league failed to properly protect them from concussions and brain injuries during their careers.

NARRATION: Faced with medical evidence about the health risks posed by the game, the NFL started paying up to $1 billion to retired players who suffered brain trauma – and were later forced to abandon a practice called “race-norming” that gave less money to Black players by assuming they had lower initial cognitive function.

The league also promoted its efforts at making the game safer.

Changes were made to the kickoff this year, important changes.

NARRATION: All aimed at addressing the criticism of a sport with more money and power than any in American history.

CHRIS WALLACE: You now make about $10 billion a year in gross revenue. You said that by 2027 you would like to see $25 billion.
ROGER GOODELL: We don’t want to become complacent.

RICK GENTILE: The N.F.L. 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, a managing entity. Football has the N.F.L. to solve its problems or at least attempt to solve its problems. It 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.

NARRATION: 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.

JONATHAN MAHLER: There is certainly a double standard. 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 by watching it, are you necessarily condoning it? It’s so ingrained in our culture that it does take a kind of real act of protest and resistance to turn away from it.

NARRATION: Compared to the swiftness with which boxing was relegated to the sidelines of American life, football still holds its appeal.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Sept. 15, 2022

ARCHIVAL (CBS, 9-15-22):
KEVIN HARLAN (SPORTSCASTER): Tagovailoa, they bring pressure. 

ARCHIVAL (CBS, 9-15-22):
KEVIN HARLAN: And Tua, oh, he’s woozy.

REFEREE: Personal foul.
KEVIN HARLAN: Oh my, oh my goodness.
ARCHIVAL (9-26-22):
PAT MCAFEE: All signs pointed to him being knocked out, he comes back, they win the game and we just hope Tua is OK.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Four Days Later

ARCHIVAL (9-29-22):
AL MICHAELS (SPORTSCASTER): Down he goes! Slung down at his own 48-yard-line, and…uh oh.

ARCHIVAL (9-30-22):
ROB NINKOVICH: It was a head issue on Sunday, they say it’s a back issue. He plays Thursday night, four days later and gets a massive concussion where he’s froze up.
The NFL has to do a better job.

KIERAN MULVANEY: 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 the 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.

ARCHIVAL (9-24-34):
KEVIN HARLAN (SPORTSCASTER): And Tua, down the middle he goes!