Monday, September 23, 2013

"Hopeless Cause"

If it were up to me, I would get rid of football completely.

(Hence the title, “Hopeless Cause.”)

(And don’t talk to me about hockey.  Just don’t.  Until there’s a three hundred and twenty pound hockey player with the speed of an Olympic sprinter.)

Okay, L.A. doesn’t currently have a football team, so my “rooting interest” deficit if it went away would be zero.  But that’s not the point.  Though it could be an explanation of why I am less resistant about letting professional football take a hike.  Where I live, it has already took one, so there’d be no

“I miss the team.”

You don’t have a team.

“Oh yeah.”

There’d be none of that nonsense goin’ on.  My team done up and moved in 1995. (Sorry for the jargon.  I am listening to a blues CD while I’m writing this.)

Be fair here.  Does having no home team disqualify me from having an opinion on this matter?


Let’s say the answer is “No” and keep going.  I can do that.  On my blog, I am the entire Supreme Court, and not only do I rule in favor of my right to an opinion on this matter, the ruling is unanimous.  One to nothing.

Resulting from a combination of pressure from NFL veterans, public relations exigencies, and (hopefully a modicum of) corporate guilt, after a concerted effort to get them to do so for years, pro football has finally agreed to pay out over $765 million in compensation money to settle lawsuits filed by players who’d been irreparably injured (the most irreparable injury being premature death, including suicide) after playing of football in the NFL.

The central concern involved brain injuries as a result of repeated head trauma from violent contact, leading to dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and other incurable conditions.  There are also issues involving arthritis in the joints resulting from repeated surgeries, severe neck injuries and a overall inability to bend over and tie your shoes. 

Nobody is immune.  Not the biggest football stars.  Not the short-termer “no names” who give up their bodies playing on “special teams.”  Every former player, I imagine, endure some residual damage,  But thousands of them are really hurting.

Does anybody care about these guys?  And by “anybody” I mean us, the fans.  The answer to that question would seem to be…


We want our football.  And the fact that it destroys the minds and bodies of the athletes who play it…

It’s just the price paid for playing the game.

And watching it.

The difference is, the fans’ bodies aren’t ravaged and their brains aren’t scrambled.  It’s just the players.

If you’re honest, you cannot ignore our part in the equation.  Fans are the reason they play.  Think about it.  If the fan base goes away, do you think they would unilaterally continue to do themselves injury?  And even if they did, do you think TV would broadcast the games? 

“Despite the massive erosion of the audience, our network will proudly continue our commitment to bringing the game to whoever still has the stomach to watch players give up their brains and their bodies for our entertainment.”

No audience and they keep showing it?  In what universe would that happen?   That’s not commercial television.  That’s PBS where they continue broadcasting Celtic music concerts whether anyone watches them on not.  I guess there are a few Celts who tune in.  But how many can there be?  

If the audience went away, football would be gone, or at least exiled to pay-per-view, like boxing, for diehards to continue watching two men punching each other into “greeters” jobs in Las Vegas casinos.  And that’s for the winners.  The losers go home, living out their shockingly shortened lives, fingering through scrapbooks, and watching their brain cells shutting down.     

Football is an enormously lucrative business because the audience, despite their awareness of the toll that “bigger, stronger faster” is taking on the game’s participants, still wants to watch it, if anything, more enthusiastically today.  Because the players are bigger and stronger and faster.

There are lots of reasons to watch.  The team has your home town on their jerseys.   There is a massive amounts of betting on games.  There are Fantasy Football Leagues.  And – and this is what inevitably hooks me – there are incomparable moments of excellence under pressure. 

But we’re watching the players now.  We’re not there when they can’t find a comfortable sleeping position and they’re gulping handfuls of painkillers.

There’s the point that playing football is voluntary, and actually the players’ enthusiastic choice.  It’s true.  Check them out on “Draft Day.”

“I’m a ‘First Round Draft Pick.’  I’m gettin’ my head kicked in for sure!”

Is this not, in fact, a free country?  Can Americans not do what they want to?  Well, no, not entirely.  They can’t take drugs if they want to.  They can’t ride motorcycles without helmets (in most places), or drive cars without seat belts. 

You argue that the players love to play, their participation in NFL football being maybe the high point of their lives.  Point taken.  But there are soldiers who claim combat was the highest point in their lives, and yet, we do not deliberately arrange wars for them, so they can feel maximally fulfilled. 

So what are we going to do?  Football is a huge moneymaker.  The fans love it.  They players aren’t complaining.  Until later.  There’s been some pressure to change the rules, but you can never take risk of serious physical injury out of the game.  It’s inherent in the process.  The rule changes are just band-aids.

AIR CRASH VICTIM:  “We hit the side of a mountain, and the plane blew up.  But since I was wearing my seatbelt, I did not get whiplash.”

The game is the game, and the fans, whose support fuels its phenomenal success oppose almost all risk-reducing changes. 

Here’s a thought, though.  Since we are insistent that football remain the way it is, why don’t the fans chip in and help pay for the injuries?  I mean, the guy got paralyzed for our enjoyment?  Do you not think we at least owe him a couple of bucks?

If that seems too much, what about signing a simple waiver, that says:

“We, the fans, are aware that football players regularly sustain irreparable damage playing the game, and we are pretty much okay with that.”

Football is never going away, and the ex-players will continue to suffer until they die.  But that’s okay.  They’re tough guys.  Tough enough, I am sure, to accept the fact that, though we appreciate and cheer like crazy when they’re on the field, we do not really care what happens to them afterwards.  

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Not just football. Horrible injuries can and do happen in gymnastics - and until about ten years ago when they brought in age rules, the top female gymnasts in the world were often under 18. I believe the damage to the players is very substantial also in boxing (not good for the brains to be banged on all the time) and, as laughable as it seems as competition, wrestling.