the premiere of 'State of Play: Trophy Kids,' December 4, 9:00 PM ET/PT, executive producer Peter Berg spoke with a room of journalists about the film, the documentary series, and his own experiences as a youth football coach. The questions and answers that follow have been edited for length and clarity.
Is the subject of 'Trophy Kids' a personal one for you?
Having coached my son's football team, there were moments I could really relate to. It's a universal, polarizing subject. Certainly any parent whose kids are getting involved in athletics can understand it. It's a very real example of where we are as a culture and what we're doing with our kids today.
How is this different than other documentary series you've worked on?
When we talked about doing a series, the idea was to distinguish ourselves from other sports documentary series. 30 for 30, which I worked on, it'd be hard to find any weakness in. But a lot of what they do is focused on a very specific moment in time - like the Gretzky piece I did, or SMU football getting the death sentence. 'Broke,' a great doc about the challenges athletes face in holding on to their money, is more in line with the kinds of things we want to do: More thematic stories that speak to the larger issues that will hopefully serve as a catalyst for conversations.
How many do you plan to do?
50! [laughs] Right now we're doing four. But since we're already on our third, we're going to come back and ask for more.
What's the next film you have planned?
The next one is called 'Culture Shock' and it's about football. Everyone concedes that football has problems. The question is, can you bring down the speed limit to 50 from 75? The sport has just gotten too big, too fast, too strong, and they're trying to slow it down. We've gotten unprecedented access to the NFL and the Players Union as we dive into how the game can actually be made safer. There's an argument that the game of football won't exist in 50 years the way it's played now. There are signs everywhere, whether it's in the NFL, whether it's Under Armor's football sales dropping 30 percent, or whether it's youth football seeing a decline of 28 percent in participation. We've reached a tipping point, and we're looking at how we're going to save the game.
How did you get that kind of access to the NFL?
Everybody realizes that something has to be done. Roger Goodell is a good guy. And you can quote me on that. He doesn't like seeing guys getting hurt, breaking their necks, or killing themselves. It is not Roger Goodell's fault. The NFL is trying to do whatever they can in a complex and legally-fraught environment.
What's the next film after that?
The third film we're doing is called 'Broken,' and it's a look at athletes who have broken their necks and become paraplegic. It's a look at what happens to a human being whose entire life has been about his body and his physicality and what happens to him when that gets taken. It's a story of resiliency, family, love, and how somebody survives the unimaginable.
How did Todd Marinovich get involved in the film's panel discussion?
Todd Marinovich is such a fascinating guy. One of our editors knew him, we sent him the film and evidently he saw the film and couldn't sleep for two days. He's kind of dropped out of society; he lives in the Pacific Northwest. He seemed shy at first, but once he got comfortable, he really had a lot to say. We talked for a while and he talked about how he's going to encourage his kid.
We could've loaded up the panel with 10 people, but one of our feelings is that sports shows have gotten too competitive. Everyone is fighting to get their sound bite in. Everyone is so bright and loud and slick. We wanted to slow it down.
What's the biggest difference in kid's sports today?
I used to play football in my friend's yard, with dogs biting us, and we'd come home dirty and bleeding. And we'd play for it hours-it was fun! And you actually learn how to play. In the winter, we'd all skate or play basketball. Now, kids have to declare their sport at age seven. That's it, I'm a lacrosse player. The idea of play is at risk.
Has the film had affected your personal approach to parenting?
My kid is 13 years old and, as a parent, it can sometimes be difficult. You watch your kid be lazy, or put in what you perceive to be a lack of effort, and it can be frustrating. Being part of this film has actually made me a better parent. It's relaxed my expectations for my son. After hearing Marinovich say that if he could say anything to the kid in the film he'd give him a hug -- well, I've hugged my kid a lot since then. I've been that dad in the car, asking him why he did this or didn't do that. I won't do that anymore.
Do you think successful parents are more hands-off?
There's no rule of thumb. I've seen successful parents be very intense with their kids, and I've seen them back off. What I find interesting is looking at the parent of the really successful kids on the field. On the surface they might seem very laissez faire, but if things go wrong, they're vigilant, they're intense. Not every parent is as intense as Steve the basketball dad. "C'mon man! What are you looking at!" Sometimes it's the quiet parents who are actually on their kids with a wolf-like intensity.
Is youth sports a worthwhile investment?
One area where it's really intense is the business of personal coaches. Steve Clarkson, "The Dreammaker," is making a fortune teaching kids how to throw a football. These guys get into the ear of a parent who might have delusions about their kids having an athletic career that they're never going to have. Most high school players aren't going to play Division I, and most of the ones that do aren't going to the NFL, and most of those have a three-year average career. It's not a smart bet.