2016 Sports, Health and Wellness, Small Newsroom finalist

Blood and Sport

About the Project

In order to bring more context and perspective to the growing reports of brain injuries in football, Retro Report, distributed by the New York Times, decided to make short documentary looking at the trajectory of another sport with a long and controversial violent history – boxing.

On Nov. 13, 1982, boxing fans tuned in for a championship bout on national television between Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini of Ohio and South Korean fighter Duk-Koo Kim. It was an epic, 14-round slugfest — and a fight the sport wouldn’t soon forget.

Featuring interviews with Mancini himself and Rick Gentile, who produced the fight for CBS, “Blood and Sport” recounts that fateful night, and examines its place within the American public’s complex relationship with violence in sports. George Lundberg, the former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, talks about mounting a subsequent campaign to ban boxing, while Gentile and boxing historian Kieran Mulvaney discuss how leery sponsors moved the sport off network television into the hinterlands of pay-per-view cable.

Today, as stories about brain injuries in football are making headlines with increasingly regularity, we raise the question of whether America’s most popular sport may ever reach its own inflection point. Former NFL linebacker Chris Borland, who abruptly retired earlier this year after a successful rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, talks about his decision to walk away, and the questions he gets from kids who are wary of playing. Others discuss football’s formidable role in society and whether it is just too powerful to ever be pushed to the sidelines and if there are lessons to be learned from the past.

Retro Report produces short, digital documentaries that look back at important news events to see how they affect us today. The historic Mancini versus Kim fight opened the door for Retro Report to explore concussions and their impact on the future of football. In order to fully explore this topic, “Blood and Sport” was released with two mini documentaries — one featured two aging boxers struggling with the aftermath of a life of boxing, and the other focuses on Chris Borland’s decision to leave football. In addition to the New York Times, “Blood and Sport” was also featured on NPR’s The Takeaway, Sports Illustrated, Bad Left Hook, Sports Freak and Real Clear Sports.