Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Pain, Injury, Violence and Why This Conversation Needs To Be Had

I don't know if this is the week the inescapable issue of NFL violence reaches its tipping point. I don't know if we all just obsess over it for a few days and then allow it to recede into the background, as Drew Magary so coarsely espouses here. I don't think we will, because there will be other hits on other days, and as a fan with something resembling a conscience, this is the first thing that goes through my head anytime I watch a football player lie dazed on the ground after a helmet torpedoes them directly under the chin. And maybe Magary's right, and maybe I'm still in the minority when it comes to that viewpoint, but I don't know, and I don't think that's going to be the case in the future, especially when the worst happens (which it will, and sooner than we think).

As usual, Posnanski captured our ambivalence over this issue about as well as anyone could. I mostly point you to him, but I'd like to add one thing, which is that football itself may need to undergo some changes, but changing the game itself is only a small part of the equation. You read James Harrison attempting to delineate the difference between "hurt' and "injure," and you read Brian Urlacher ranting about the prohibition of helmet-on-helmet assault as being the equivalent of flag football, and you realize it's the culture that needs to change.

Football has always been the realm of tough and stern and violent men, and that will never go away unless football goes away. But at some point--and this may take a generation, and it may take longer than a generation--people have to realize that the reason they play the game, and the reason many of us watch the game, is for the moments that happen between the hits. Sure, there is something that appeals to our primal instincts about watching two men collide with nihilistic impunity, but there's something much more beautiful about watching Adrian Peterson run a sweep, about watching Drew Brees throw deep, about watching Darrelle Revis blanket Brandon Marshall. I would rather see those things in a less physical and more prohibitive league--hell, I would rather have flag football--than lose the game altogether.

And I know there's an inherent element of physicality to each one of those actions, but toning that down or attempting to mute the impact of those hits--just having this conversation over the course of several months, or several years, until we strike the proper balance--will not somehow cheapen the game itself. The only thing that cheapens the game is the notion that devastating violence is somehow inescapable.

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