What are we watching on Saturday and Sundays? Controlled carnage, where our modern day gladiators are carted off the field with fractured extremities and shredded ligaments, and we move onto 3rd and 7 like nothing even happened. What’s the tipping point? Does someone have to lose a limb on the field? Do we have to have a fatality on the 50 yard line before we start putting in safeguards to protect our young men? Current NFL and college players won’t advocate for themselves, because for most of them, battle is all they know, and if they decide to take themselves off the field they know they’ll be chastised by their teammates, coaches, front office and owner. We celebrate Hall of Famer’s like Ronnie Lott for having the top part of his pinky amputated in order to stay on the field, but we castigate Jay Cutler for not going back into the game with a grade 2 MCL tear in sub-zero temperatures? What other part of society is that acceptable behavior? Cutler wasn’t just criticized by “mouth-breathers” on social media, but commentators like Trent Dilfer, Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk, Warren Sapp and others.
We love football, we need football, and we can’t live without it. Football is ingrained in American culture, from the games themselves, to the gambling, and all the way down to fantasy football. We all feed at the troth of pigskin, but what are we really watching?
The owners have sold the Thursday night football package to CBS for an ungodly sum of riches, giving players only 3 days to recover from the wreckage they put their bodies through the previous Sunday. Whether it’s Marcellus Wiley telling us that he had to sleep with an apple juice jar by his bed because he knew that on Monday mornings he wouldn’t be able to pick himself out of bed and walk to the bathroom, or Jason Taylor telling us he was in so much pain from getting leg whipped, once his Toradol wore off, that he had to sleep standing up on his stairs. However, Taylor didn’t realize that his blood pressure had spiked to dangerous levels and caused “compartment syndrome”, and he almost had to have his leg amputated. Taylor also spoke of having to bite down on a towel due to having to endure excruciating pain killer injections in his foot, just to be able to get on the field, to take more punishment. What are we watching?
At what point does the NFL become boxing? A niche blood sport, which only the truly underprivileged participate in out of sheer desperation. When does our society at large turn its back on football, the same way it has on boxing, which used to be a huge American pastime? When will fretful parents stop sending their young boys onto the football field, just as the previous generation of concerned parents stopped sending their children to the boxing gym? Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is a form of encephalopathy that is a progressive degenerative disease, which can currently only be definitively diagnosed postmortem, in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. And only a few weeks ago the NFL finally admitted that there is a direct correlation to playing in the NFL and CTE, which was a big moment but it doesn’t stop there. What about all the NCAA football players that suffer from CTE that don’t get a pension from the NFL? Even worse, what about our youth, some who don’t even receive proper coaching and training, and suffer horrible injuries? Who’s protecting them? It has to be the parents, who may decide that the risk isn’t worth it.
Football has their golden boys. The Tom’s, the Peyton’s, the Drew’s and the like, but we all know they traffic in the inner city. If you’re a college coach you know you have to go into the “environment” and get guys to keep your team’s engine firing. These young men receive scholarships as remuneration for giving their mind, body and soul to the game, with the chance of being drafted by an NFL franchise the dangling carrot held in front of their face. At what point does the “worm turn”? When do as a society ask the question “should we be sending our children to play pop warner at the tender age of 6, so they can learn how to play this violent game?” By the time a player has reached the NFL at age 22 how many concussions has he sustained, and how much wear and tear has he put on his body? How warped is his mind, how conditioned is he to violence off the field, is he able to turn the violent edge needed to compete on the gridiron off when he walks out of the stadium? What part of our society molds these modern day warriors, men who like they were forged from concrete and steel? We all know about the “golden boys” who follow Hall of fame careers with cushy broadcast and front office jobs, but what about the men who get chewed up and spit out by the game? They leave the league with very little saved in the bank, a broken body and a mind that has been pummeled to the point that they can no longer function in our society.
Will the NFL fall off in the next 10, 20, 30 years? Doubtful, we love our gambling, fantasy football and controlled mayhem far too much for that to happen. It’s not quite the Roman coliseum, but we still need our Sunday ritual to make us forget about our own problems and issues, even if it’s just for a few hours. We love football, we need football, and football is now as American as apple pie. But at what cost? Maybe I’m overreacting; maybe football will keep on churning like a high speed turbine. Does someone have to get decapitated on the field? Farfetched? The players keep getting bigger, stronger and faster, which is why they keep tweaking the rules, which many feel is making the game softer. We’re angry because they’re trying to make the game safer? Yes US, the angry mob who needs our controlled violence like a heroin fiend needs their next hit form the methadone clinic, or we will start having angry withdrawals. I’ll be there Sunday at 1PM, watching my patriots, ready to feed at the troth of the NFL. I’ve watched players like Wes Welker for years, take punishment, and then give interviews, slurring like a punch drunk fighter at the end of his career. And at that moment I look back at all those hits and my mind starts to race and goes back to the same place when I’m watching a player get carted off the field, what are we watching.