Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"An Almost Victimless Problem"

I once wrote that football was a neck injury waiting to happen. I was wrong.

Football is a head injury waiting to happen.

Recently, there’s been an increasing number of devastating, what they call “helmet to helmet” collisions on the football field, resulting in seriously injured players being carted off the field, and the National Football League agonizing over what to do about this. You can almost feel the urgency.

“We have to do something!”

Harrumph. Harrumph.

In response to the problem, the league has decided on a tighter enforcement of the rules regarding tackling, the most the egregious versions garnering suspensions and fines.

“Football is a wonderful game,” we are reminded. “But no one should have to risk permanent injury playing it.”

Harrumph. Harrumph.

It’s hard to disagree with that assertion. Although some call football a “Gladiator Sport”, there’s a difference.

“Hey! That gladiator just got killed!”

“What do you think this is? Football?”

That’s the difference.

(Plus, gladiators were slaves whose careers ended when they were slaughtered, and football players make millions of dollars, and they can walk away whenever they want to. You really have to be careful with your analogies.)

Though hardly gladiatorial in their consequences, the situation is, nonetheless, undeniable – players regularly suffering concussions, and brain damage. This, however, is nothing new. I saw a 60 Minutes on the subject thirty years ago. “We’re on it!” the league P.R’s, when the spotlight nudges them to action. They tighten the rules. They refine the equipment.

But the injuries continue to occur. More than they used to? Less? I have no idea. But you see it every Game Day. It’s real.

The victims themselves here are hardly leading this Safety Crusade. Some of them can’t, because they’re unconscious. But football players, in general, are not whiners. It’s not in their nature, and their options are limited. If they complain, they get cut, and they have to find a job that doesn’t pay nearly as well, because they’re not qualified to do much, because they didn’t study in college, because they were too busy playing football.

Former players sometimes complain. But they’re lobbying for financial support for their residual incapacitation. They shrug off the injuries themselves, if their shoulders still work. When retired players are asked, “Knowing what you know now, would you have reconsidered your decision to play football?” their response is an immediate,

“Not for a second.”

They’re proud they played football. And their proud of their injuries, what they might call “war wounds”, although there’s a difference between football and war.

“Hey! That guy just got his legs blown off!”

“What do you think this is? Football?”

That’s the difference.

(Plus, the millions of dollars in salary.)

When the new tackling guidelines were announced, it was the players and former players, now commentators – the precise people the new guidelines were designed to protect – who spoke out the loudest against them.

“You fundamentally alter what we do so,” they insist, “and it won’t be football anymore.”

Athletes are notoriously conservative, especially when it comes to changing how they’ve been trained to perform. They kneekjerkedly react against them – that is, if their knees still work – even when those changes have been instituted for their benefit.

So there’s that. The athletes don’t want the protection.

The fans? The fans adore the “hits.” The harder the better. I imagine there are videos: “NFL History’s Hardest Hits.” I bet they really sell. No one wants the players to get hurt, of course. But the heart of football’s popularity lies in the violence and potential danger. Curtail those elements, and what have you got?


So there’s that. The fans love it the way it is.

“We’re against brain injuries. But come on, Boys! Let’s crack some heads!”

The owners? They’re outraged. Or, more cynically, perhaps, “outraged.”

“The current situation is unacceptable!” they noisily proclaim. But secretly? I’m not so sure.

It feels like the baseball owners who were “shocked” by the discovery of the rampant use of steroids, despite such reliable evidence providers as, I don’t know, their own eyes?

“Did you notice Barry Bonds wore a size nine shoe, and now he wears a thirteen?”

“He had a growth spurt.”

“In his thirties?”

The football owners may complain about excessive violence “for the record”, but up there in those luxury boxes?

Ma boy just ate your boy’s breakfast! Look at ‘im. He ain’t even movin’!”

Okay, so the owners, the fans, and the players themselves – nobody’s really complaining. So why all the tumult?

Because there’s a major victim in this is turbulent scenario. And that victim is…

“The Game.”

It turns out, some times a product can be too good. Football is a soft drink the world is nuts about, but it rots your teeth. You could alter the formula, but

It wouldn’t football be anymore.

Still, you have to do something. So you insure the players’ safety, whether they want you to or not. And you risk losing fans by diminishing their chances of witnessing an actual fatality on the field. And the owners are deprived of some bragging rights.

Nobody’s hurtin’ nobody anymore!”

In the end, there’s only one concern. Whatever it takes, you have to protect

The Game.


Because that’s where the money is. *

* The word “Fool!” is understood.


Moopot said...

Ummm... something weird has happened to your paragraphing, Earl. Between every line there is some text that reads:

I don't know what is going on.

Good post, though.

Moopot said...

Huh. When I copied and pasted the text that was between each line, it just left an extra space. Now I am really confused.

Gnasche said...

I'm sure the owners are the ones that are pushing for less injuries. Because of a California law, players can sue the owners for medical expenses related to playing football. All NFL players had to do was play at least one game in California.