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Are You Not Entertained?

May 6, 2012

Earlier this week, the news broke that former NFL superstar defensive player Junior Seau was found dead in his home, victim of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Since then, the medical examiner in California has confirmed that, despite the absence of any sort of note, suicide was, in fact, the cause of death.  Seau,  just 43 years old, had shot himself in the chest.

Last month, 62-year-old retired Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling killed himself after a long post-career battle with early onset dementia.

Last year, former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson, age 50, also committed suicide.  And like Seau, a gunshot to the chest was the chosen method.

And these are just the latest, and most widely covered, of past and present NFL players suffering major neurological issues, presumably (not scientifically proven…yet) the result of years of violent and repeated head trauma.  In addition to a remarkably high suicide rate, Dementia, Depression and other various brain disorders run rampant through the ranks of the league, most often in retired players.  So at what point do we start to question what we find entertaining?

For those who may not have figured it out yet, I live and breathe football.  I read about it.  I write about it.  I follow the game all year round.  From the beginning of training camp in July, through the Super Bowl in February, I’m there.  Free agency in March, the April draft, the late Spring training camps?  Can’t get enough.  My football addiction is a major part of my life.  So I am not here to cast judgement on the sport or the rabid observers that scream at their TV’s every Sunday in the fall.  In fact, I am one of you.

However, the news of Seau’s death this week forced me to question what it is I am rooting for.  I like aggressive play.  I love big hits.  I go insane watching opposing QB’s get absolutely fucking leveled on third down in the fourth quarter.  I can admit it.  But what does it say about me that I have no regard for the human beings who are providing this entertainment?  How am I different from a Roman citizen lusting for blood and cheering uproariously for the lion to devour the Christian?  Or for the Emperor to order the slaying of a fallen gladiator?

Does it make me a more palatable human being because the NFL gladiators death is delayed, occurring years after the competition, rather than right there on the arena floor?  I don’t think there can be any more doubt that the competition is the cause of so many of these premature deaths.  So aren’t we now just talking about a matter of timing?  Is it OK to cheer the big hit if the death and destruction it causes takes place ten years later, rather than ten seconds?  Is “out of sight, out of mind” making all of this more acceptable?  Society now looks back in disgust at the gruesome blood lust of our ancient ancestors.  What will future generations say about us when they look back at what we considered “sport”?  I know people have made the argument that NFL players are not forced to play, and are eager to take on the risks that such a violent game brings.  But so were the Gladiators.  These men were regarded as “champions” and were honored to die for their “sport”.  ( I know this because I have seen all three seasons of “Spartacus”, so clearly I am an expert)  Yet we still mock those that supported and promoted it.

I do not think of these players as victims and do not support the lawsuits that have recently popped up against the league.  I look at these lawsuit with the same cynicism as the ones where fat people sue McDonald’s because their four Big Mac-a-day habit made them obese.  But does that mean I should be supporting, both emotionally and financially, their endeavor?  (Quick aside:  My opinion of these lawsuits will change if it is proven that the league did anything to deceive or mislead the players in regards to their medical conditions.)

Take Wayne Chrebet, for example.  Chrebet was one of those players that I hated passionately.  Mainly, because he was a gritty, determined, overachieving classy player, which I love.  But he was a lifelong New York Jet, which I hate.  And I hate when classy, likeable players play for the Jets, because I am much more comfortable when they are lazy, classless imbeciles, like most of them are.  Chrebet was a Jets wide receiver, meaning I spent a decade rooting for a Dolphins Safety to knock his fucking head off, time and time again.  Which they did. Often.  Chrebet retired after suffering his eighth known concussion (reports are that he could have had as many as 15, including the undiagnosed ones), and has been suffering from dementia that has gotten progressively worse.  Chrebet is 48 years old.  Can I honestly say that I am not the least bit partially to blame for his condition?  I can’t say that with certainty.  And that makes me uncomfortable.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, these players are choosing to shoot themselves in the chest so as to preserve their brain for scientific research, hoping that future generations of football players will not succumb to the various ailments they themselves have suffered.  One more valiant, selfless act before they die.  Good teammates to the end, I suppose.

This will pass for me, I’m sure.  By this time next week, I will have moved on from this brief lapse in fanhood and will once again be following every Miami beat writer, fascinated by every nugget of team information they can provide.  In July, I will count down the days to the beginning of training camp (In fact, I already am), and in September I will refer to the first Sunday of the NFL season as my favorite day of the year.  But today, if only just today,  I can’t help but feel like one of those irrational blood thirsty Romans that society likes to pretend it left  behind centuries ago.

Let’s go Dolphins…

  1. I feel you on this one. I always liked Junior even though he never played on “my” team. I didn’t know much of the others so his death had a much bigger impact on my thoughts even though they are all tragically sad. I do hope the game does become safer and there have been some measures to that end but it likely isn’t enough yet. We need some brilliant mind to invent a concussion proof helmet.

  2. Same thing is happening in hockey. No Wonder/Super helmet will ever be able to prevent this sort of brain injury. Newton’s law, objects in motion stay in motion. So even if the body stops the brain keeps moving and slams against in the inside of the skull.
    Id say that rather than change the game you instead make sure that players are aware of the risk, given proper post-concussion care, i.e. No return to play during the game and proper rest time (even if it is a whole season) and proper brain injury rehab for those players who are not able to play again.
    Because who wants to watch a hockey game or football gave without a hit?

  3. Siobhan permalink

    Very well said. I agree, & while the hits are part of the sport, I always hate seeing people getting the kind of hurt where they’re taken out of the game. I do hope they can figure out a way to do more for the players long-term to treat these kind of things, and in my mind it makes what the NE Saints did with their “bounty” system all the more disgusting. I hope, truly hope, that this sort of thing (bounties etc) isn’t as rampant as I’ve heard people say it is.

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