By Jason Keidel
At the risk of sounding like a savage, folks need to calm down over this concussion business.
The duplicitous hacks in Bristol are swathed in coverage. For a few hours a week, ESPN flashes its soft side, running “Outside the Lines” as a way to sprinkle faerie dust on their sins, denouncing the very conduct they promote. On Friday they wax pastoral, painting a solemn portrait of the wreckage that football creates, then run the “Jacked-Up!” style Sunday moments where the host cheers as a linebacker preens over the trembling wideout he just blasted.
Today, the player knows that playing football is risky. He didn’t know that yesterday. How sanctimonious of an already pompous media to be stricken with sudden regret over a sport they pay billions to broadcast, and the galling assumption that all athletes are too dumb to know they play a perilous game.
The anointed need a target. Football will be this year’s boxing. Glue a warning label to the helmet. Give football some demonic moniker, say, “I told you so!” when you don’t know what you’re saying.
Soon there will calls to ban football. And that’s what most of this will become, using science as a wedge to control the athlete’s life. We need more equipment. We need less practice. We need better technique. You need to be quiet.
Ever notice these cries generally come from folks who don’t play sports? Their mantras are hatched from a utopian world where everyone wins. (How’s that going?) Once they drain the docket we’ll be reduced to tennis and curling.
Companies will promote products to do what cannot be done – blunt the physical inevitabilities of huge men colliding at top speed. Notice technology hasn’t decreased the injuries, but only improved our ability to repair them.
“Paying the price” has many mutations. The football player’s plight is far more glaring because it’s widely tasted by the public’s palate. When a dozen coal miners get trapped a mile underground you don’t hear indignant calls to end coal mining. Fishermen teeter on those mountainous waves trying to catch crabs, and if one of them falls overboard we chat about it on the way to Red Lobster.
And now we’re supposed to be ashamed by the fact that part of football’s art is in its violence OMG! Not sure about you, but I’m sick of these specious prerogatives imploring me to apologize for loving a clean hit that renders a running back a little wobbly.
Pick your analogy. I don’t jump out of planes because my chute may not open. There’s a guy on the ground handing you a piece of paper to sign before you board the aircraft. Distilled, it reads, “Dude, this might not go too well, so don’t blame us.” And thus I don’t need to tell you why I’ll never be eaten by a shark.
Who can explain why Meldrick Taylor can hardly talk while George Chuvalo (who took far more punches) speaks with the lucidity of a 20-year-old? How could Nolan Ryan throw high heat for a quarter-century while Dave Dravecky’s arm literally fell off? It seems some are more predisposed to injury and disease. No amount of imagination or legislation can change that.
A Steelers fan since childhood, I remember watching Lynn Swann stagger off the field after Jack Tatum took a forearm to his forehead – one of many concussions Swann suffered. Swann, who recently ran for governor of Pennsylvania, seems just fine.
You can’t be moderately fabulous. Enough free people have decided that the reward of stardom is worth the risk of suffering. For centuries humans have made these decisions. No need to pretend we don’t know about consequences.
Moderation is not an appendage of the human condition. Did the Jets sign Braylon Edwards for his civility? Did the Steelers keep Big Ben for his big brain? Edwards, who was flagged by a ref on Sunday for excessive celebration, was flagged by a cop on Monday for the same. Roethlisberger played “Spin the Bottle” with a drunken, underage girl in the bathroom of a bar. There’s your moderation.
Small portions are more of a mandate for those with dwindling choices. The older we get the more aware we are that we can’t work or play as we used to. Sadly, the immutable truth while we live is that we die. And how we do both is often up to us. And it should be.
To the extent that doctors can properly warn young men about the hazards of football, the research is useful. Make an informed decision, but the decision is yours. You want a safer work environment. Fair enough – as long as we make the distinction between safer and safe. The latter is inherently impossible.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com