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This isn’t the NFL I signed up for, While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

There was theoretically a football game last night. I mean, obviously, they will call it football. There was a winner (Pittsburgh Steelers) and a loser (Cincinnati Bengals). You can look up the score (23-20), there are stats for this game (Ben Roethlisberger went 24/40 for 290 yards with two TDs and one interception). The history books will record this as merely yet another run-of-the-mill 2017 football game.

And the history books are right. Much of what the world saw last night was, indeed, just your typical modern football game. There was violence, brutality, viciousness. All the things we want in our football, the qualities that built the NFL into the money-printing enterprise it is today.

But at some point, is this game going to go too far? I know, this is hardly a novel topic and I am far from the first to bring it up. I’m not going to bring up any new points and I’m not going to change anything. So why am I talking about it at all?

Well, to start with, I suppose, there was Ryan Shazier laying on the ground not moving his legs last night. It was a frightening scene. And yes, it hit closer to home because it was Shazier, a former Buckeye, but it was a moment you wouldn’t wish on anyone. As Shazier went in for a tackle, he led with his helmet and you could practically see the impact of the hit reverberate through his neck and down his spine. Shazier lay still for a moment before reaching for his back as he awkwardly rolled over, his legs still. It was scary and it set a dark mood for the game.

https://twitter.com/FootballPIayers/status/937945692127006721

Things would only get worse from there. The Bengals ended up with three players in the concussion protocol following the game. Dre Kirkpatrick, Joe Mixon, and Vontaze Burfict all suffered concussions in this game. Mixon would receive his concussion in the second quarter when he took a violent hit while carrying the ball.

Burfict may be one of the biggest villains in the NFL, the ultimate dirty player, and king of the cheap shot. He may not be a sympathetic figure in most corners of the NFL, but regardless, this cheap shot delivered to him from JuJu Smith-Schuster was extremely ugly, especially with the way the game was going.

After the game, as Smith-Schuster was talking to reporters and at least attempting to be apologetic and remorseful, you had Antonio Brown repeatedly shouting “karma” to the cameras, completely disrupting the apology. Of course, Brown has reason to be upset. Not only was he on the receiving end of the disgusting cheap shot from Burfict in the playoffs a couple years ago, but he also took another brutal shot to the head on this TD catch late in last night’s game.

https://twitter.com/thefanaticsview/status/937905930783678464

So what do we make of all this? Is it “just football”? I’m not really sure what to make of any of it anymore. I’ve loved football my whole life. I’ve played it a little at a young age, but I’ve followed the sport, I collected football cards as a kid, I’ve written about it plenty over the last ten years, and I continue to watch a good amount of football. I love the sport. But I don’t love watching it anymore and seeing these brutal hits is starting to take its toll.

I don’t have any answers or insights this morning and I’m certainly not here to preach. I’m just here to say that I, personally, am a football fan who is struggling with my own feelings about watching these players destroy themselves like this. Football has taken away players’ use of their legs, it’s left players broken and left behind, it’s ruined lives and families, and as more research into CTE, we’re finding out that the damage might run deeper than we even knew.

I want football to be saved. I feel like there has to be some way to better protect players. We’re never going to regulate away fluke injuries like Shazier’s, but the NFL could probably do more to curb all the cheap hits. Emotions run high when playing football. Guys are flying around the field at top speed trying to hit each other as hard as they can. When emotions boil over, sometimes actions get away from us. That’s how some of these things happen with dirty hits, late hits, and cheap shots.

But there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of remorse or awareness on the part of active players. When Smith-Schuster drills Burfict with a blindside hit, Smith-Schuster’s first instinct is to stand over him and insult him. You have Antonio Brown’s “karma” chants. You have countless players telling the media that the NFL doesn’t have a problem, that this is all just part of the game, and that all players know what they are signing up for. It’s the game they love. I think you have to hardwired in a certain way to play football on this level, and with that comes the ability to compartmentalize the violence from the skill involved to play at this level.

I know things aren’t likely to change anytime soon and maybe they don’t even need to. Maybe this is not a football problem, but a “me” problem. I just know I felt literally sick last night seeing Shazier lay there on the field and then carted off. Following that up with so much violence and brutality in the game was akin to drinking orange juice immediately after brushing your teeth. It’s just a bad taste. And I suspect the NFL didn’t exactly love the way that game unfolded as their showcase game of the week. I’ll be curious to see what, if any, punishment comes down from the league to the players involved in some of these questionable hits.

Either way, the NFL is still the most popular sport in America and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Ratings may be down, there is growing concern for the physical impact of the game and the potentially life-altering injuries involved, and in general, some are openly questioning how much longer the NFL can persist like this. But the NFL had such an enormous lead over the other leagues that they can afford to give back some of their popularity and still firmly hold their top spot. The drama surrounding Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell, the off-field incidents, the suspensions, the court appeals of Ezekiel Elliott and Tom Brady, etc, etc, etc. There’s a lot going on with the NFL. And I’m not rooting for it to fall. I just want to feel better about watching the sport again. I’m hopeful that eventually the players and owners will get together and try to come up with some better solutions.

  • Garry_Owen

    It isn’t the NFL you or I signed up for, but it is the NFL that they all signed up for – which is evident from the gloating, taunting, and preening.

    Shazier’s injury was a fluke, but then again, it wasn’t. It was a dumb, nearly suicidal, way to try to make a tackle (and a form of tackling that the Steelers appear to at least encourage, if not coach). Hope he’s okay, will fully recover, and will never do that again.

  • dimoko

    i know i’m just a lowly browns fan, but those types of hits and play are things that the bengals and steelers do. there are a lot of teams in the league who don’t play that way. these types of teams will find themselves on the losing side soon enough. this game can still be beautiful and relatively safe, but it starts with coaches/players who dont want to participate in this kind of stuff.

    the same type of retaliation happens in other sports, but being beaned in the side isnt the same thing as having someone knock you out with a blindside hit.

  • Chris

    “But the NFL had such an enormous lead over the other leagues that they can afford to give back some of their popularity and still firmly hold their top spot.”

    I can assure you, the league and the owners find no consolation in maintaining that #1 spot if they’re dropping 5-10% in ratings. Whether the financial impact hits immediately or over time as contracts are renewed, those owners cannot be too pleased. Similarly, this is not the NFL they signed up for.

  • RGB

    2018 Browns Draft Position Watch.
    Currently: #1, #7

    Teams to root for this week:
    NYG v Dallas
    SF @ Houston
    DENVER v Jets
    INDY @ Buffalo
    DA BEARS @ Cincy
    TAMPA v Detroit

    Week 12: #1, #7
    Week 11: #1, #11
    Week 10: #1, #8
    Week 9: #2, #7 (#2 is because of the bye week. Still a solid #1 due to sos.)
    Week 8: #1, #13
    Week 7: #1, #15
    Week 6: #1, #15
    Week 5: #2, #12
    Week 4: #1, #12
    Week 3: #1, #7
    Week 2: #7, #11

  • Chris

    Brooklyn Pick – #9 draft odds
    Cavs Pick – #27

    Dammit Brooklyn.

  • biggdbo

    It is “just football,” and it’s one of the reasons I have very little interest in watching or following football anymore.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi DIMOKO … there are no “lowly Browns fans” … the fact that you can even admit it at this time shows great courage.

  • tigersbrowns2

    GO 49ers !!

  • tigersbrowns2
  • tigersbrowns2
  • tigersbrowns2
  • mgbode

    https://twitter.com/RapSheet/status/938050941965791232

    That is a pretty gloomy picture. The Steelers flew in his parents too. And, agreed. The Steelers coach/encourage spearing as is evident from how they tackle. The Bengals decided to copy them…

    The NFL should never, ever, ever have their games on national TV because last night is normal for when they play each other & the NFL should at least pretend it isn’t that bad.

  • tigersbrowns2
  • tigersbrowns2

    … not much has changed … the only difference now is the players are bigger , faster & stronger.

  • CBiscuit

    Yes, the Steelers and Bengals are dirty teams of deplorables, but what happened yesterday is just us witnessing how the NFL sausage is made in up close, ultra HD fashion.

    Maybe our collective lenses have changed. Or maybe things have changed with the product. Likely both. But this is the NFL product and all its warts.

  • Eric G

    The ultimate irony for me is Steelers fans crying about Burfect, when they have done nothing short of enshrining James Harrison in bronze over his entire filthy career.

  • Jason Chamberlain

    I started watching football in 1980 with the Kardiac Kids. I was in the Stadium as a cold 7 year-old for Red Right 88. I graduated from Ohio State in 1995. I have a pretty rich tradition with football.

    It’s easier living in North Carolina and with the Browns being so awful, but I really have no interest in the NFL anymore. Part of it is the political grandstanding (on both sides), but it’s more about how it chews kids up and spits them out. My daughter is in her school’s marching band, so I go to the games. I remember seeing a kid get a leg injury in the first game of the season. It’s possible that this kid will walk with a limp his whole life because of a football game.

    Obviously injuries happen in other sports, but between CTE and all the leg injuries football seems particularly barbaric. Let’s be honest – we’re really not much different than the Romans watching gladiators in the Coliseum. We certainly don’t have any moral high ground over them.

    I’ve only watched two full OSU games this year – the Oklahoma debacle and the Michigan game (and i had to turn off the Michigan game at 3:30 because of a commitment). I’m sure I’ll watch the Cotton Bowl. After all, it’s an excuse to make and eat buckeyes. I really find myself only caring about the Michigan game because I just despise Michigan (easy being a serious Buckeye fan from 1991 on). I also think that a little bit of the old purity of the sport comes back for rivalry week for all the teams. It stops being such a big business and becomes more about the game itself. But it’s still brutal.

    I’m sure I’d watch the Browns play in a playoff game. I’d certainly watch them play in a Super Bowl. It’s like how I follow the Cavs in the playoffs out of civic pride. But this is coming from an Indians fan that catches at least a part of probably 125 games/year. It just boggles my mind that the Indians haven’t been able to draw better considering they are consistently good and also seem like extremely likable guys. As Terry Pluto says, people would pay $20 in May to see an orange helmet placed on the 50 yard line at FirstEnergy Stadium.

    My hope is that there will be more articles like this one reminding us of what we’re really consuming when we watch football. Can it be salvaged? I don’t think so because the players are so ridiculously big and fast that it’s just going to keep being a bloodsport. I bet that the NFL won’t exist in 30 years. This means it’s a race for the Browns to get good before there is no Next Year.

  • BenRM

    …Which is actually a pretty important difference.

  • RGB

    This is 2016. The players are well aware of what they are doing to their opponents, as well as themselves.
    They do it voluntarily.
    They do it for large sums of money.
    I find all this current trend of self aggrandizing outrage by the media that benefited for decades from the NFL totally ridiculous.

  • CBiscuit

    Totally agree. Today, as we sit here, it’s not about the players not knowing or any victimhood. With all of the info out there now, all of those guys are willing participants and risk takers, as far as I’m concerned.

    My piece is that let’s not pretend what we as fans are watching–we’re watching a brutal bloodsport here. And when the unpleasantness bleeds over into our consciousness, we shouldn’t be shocked. This is what we signed up for by viewing.

  • Garry_Owen

    I get where you’re coming from, but in terms of “moral high ground,” we are nothing like the Romans. They literally SLAUGHTERED slaves and prisoners for entertainment. There isn’t a soul that watches football for the injuries or rejoices when a player gets hurt. And if such a soul exists, such soul is easily carved out as a unique sociopath. These two spectator events are separated by vast moral and ethical differences as much as they are separated by millennia.

  • mgbode

    I’m going to not post what I initially typed and just leave this cryptic message alluding to something cryptically in our society.

  • Jason Chamberlain

    You’re right – I was too hyperbolic there. However, I admit that I never get tired of watching Zach Boren lay out Devin Gardner. Do I want for Gardner to be hurt permanently? No, but I don’t mind if he’s seeing stars.

    So while we’re not looking for actual blood or maiming, we are spending a LOT of money watching a bunch of guys beat each other up violently. From what I know of the rules (sketchy since I don’t keep up with the NFL) that hit on Burfict was a solid, legal hit. Was he penalized for it? I guarantee that if Burfict had a ball carrier lined up like that he wouldn’t hold back in the slightest.

    It’s very difficult to police the game in such a way where you say, “Play hard, but not too hard. Hit hard, but not as hard as you possibly can. We want to see big hits, but not so big that people get hurt.”

  • Garry_Owen

    Well, that’s not for entertainment, but convenience. Arguably much, much worse. But still not related to football.

  • JM85

    I could argue that the AFC North is the toughest division in football. Maybe the Browns will be that physical one day.

  • Garry_Owen

    With that clarification, I think we’re entirely in agreement – I just don’t think that football is the bloodsport that we want to make it. I also generally have no problem with clean, hard hits. Part of what makes football so compelling is that it has to do with getting hit and getting back up. I.e., “life.” But I still don’t think anyone wants to see injuries, even though they are a logical risk.

    The hit on Burfict I believe is illegal under current rules, which actually demonstrates that it is evolving. When I played in HS and college, it was perfectly legal, and coached. It’s a better game now that it’s not. (Again, on the assumption that it’s legal.)

  • Jason Chamberlain

    And this is why it’s pretty much only a 22 year-old diploma that keeps me at all interested in football. I came to this bloodsport realization a few years ago and that really changed everything for me.

  • Jason Chamberlain

    I also think that we’re going to see a widening social gap between the fans and players. As more and more data comes out about CTE fewer and fewer educated people are going to let their kids play football. This isn’t purely a racial thing – I’ve heard both black and white folks say that they wouldn’t let their kids play. It’s more of a social class distinction – educated, middle class folks are going to be less and less likely to have their kids play football because of the long-term injury risks. This means that the only people playing are going to be those who have nowhere else to go.

    We’re already there to a degree, but this is why I give my 30 year prediction. What we’re effectively saying as a sports-watching society is, “If you’re athletic and lucky enough you can make some money in the NFL and help yourself and your family. But you need to be really good and really lucky or we’ll just discard you. We’ll discard you when you can’t play no matter what, but hopefully for your sake you can make enough to live off for a while.”

    We’re chewing kids up and spitting them out for our entertainment. It’s a longer, slower process than the Romans to be sure. Folks always have a chance for things to get better as long as they’re alive. Again, the Coliseum is hyperbolic, but I do think we should consider what statements we’re making as a society by supporting the NFL the way we do.

  • Steve

    But if we are turning in for it knowing full well that this is what is it, how are we not signing up for it? And the NFL has been like this for years now, the concern is due to finally seeing the science behind these collisions demonstrating how awful they are. I’m not seeing a whole lot of difference between buying tickets/flipping on the tv and cheering on these big hits like we used to do and buying tickets/flipping on the tv and murmuring under our breath after them.

    As Andrew said, ratings have gone down, but the NFL is still king, and easily so. Maybe we’ll get to a point where people are turning away because of the unnecessary violence, but we aren’t close to it yet.

  • Garry_Owen

    I think there are some important nuances. The fact that football only advances the talented and healthy is no different than literally every other sport. The simultaneous fact that it’s also a violent game makes it “feel” different, but it’s not actually any different than soccer or tennis or basketball, in that regard. So, I don’t agree that “we” are chewing up and spitting out kids, or that “we” are discarding anybody. It’s the nature of sport. Yes, the fact that the long-term injuries are prevalent and serious makes it feel more problematic, but there’s not actually any more societal responsibility or shame in it than there is with promoting and “discarding” kids that want to play basketball, etc., if that’s what we societally do. I guess I’m just not going for the social guilt piece – but respect your perspective.

    I do generally agree, however, with your first paragraph. The demographics of football are changing. I question, however, how much of this change is material, and suspect that it is only on the margins. Children from wealthy, educated families have always pursued professional football (as well as other sports) to a lesser degree than the poor and “trapped.”

  • Jason Chamberlain

    I agree that it’s the same for all of sport. In baseball it’s kids in the DR who come with the hope to make it big. In soccer it’s all the middle-class families who spend small fortunes on travel teams that should probably put the money in a 529 fund if they think that the sport is going to pay for college.

    But the difference is how football destroys bodies and minds. I don’t dismiss this distinction like you do. Yes, all sports are inherently discriminating based on talent, but football gives you the best chance of ending up maimed physically and mentally. I think that gymnastics is more dangerous, but not many pursue it as a way out of poverty.

    Incidentally, I like how the world of sports discriminates. It’s one of the few endeavors remaining in our society where an objective view of reality is still meaningful. I can get a degree and fool an employer into thinking I can do a job, but there is absolutely no way I can convince the Indians to let me play for them.

  • Garry_Owen

    I don’t dismiss it; I just don’t think that the aspect makes us Romans. That’s all.

  • Chris

    They certainly know how to take a beating, so they’re halfway there.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post , JC.

  • Return of the (Alex) Mack

    AWL?

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