As we come off of an offseason headlined by busted bounty programs, concussion lawsuits, player suicides, and replacement referees, the world is immediately reminded that even after all of the fuss, the NFL is still the NFL. Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten will be playing tonight with a lacerated spleen, but it represents the underlying problem with the game of football and the culture it creates.
For seven whole months, fans have been told about the harsh realities of the game. We have heard the stories of players forgetting the names of their own children. We have heard the stories of players that were saved by the game of football from an otherwise inevitable early death. We have heard the stories – the unfortunate stories they are – about former players like Seau, like Duerson, like Easterling that tragically took their lives because of the pain that the game had caused them. It is the same pain that lingered on through their final game and haunted them every single day of their retired lives. Maybe the NFL cares about player safety. More than likely the NFL cares about money a lot more.
Regardless of the NFL’s priorities, these are humans playing the game of titans. The culture of contained violence, of Sunday warriors, of myths and legends alike are all fostered within the rules and promotion of the game. The NFL has put up the front that they are trying to change these sorts of plights, but in reality they are spending money to figure out how to continue it and to put up intricate smoke and mirror public relations rouses in the meantime.
The culture that the NFL has created has social media sites calling Witten a “beast” and a “warrior” and a “man”. That’s precisely the problem. Our society reveres acts of mythological-esque strength, or at least the appearance of it all. Is there a way to change the current culture? Not under the pretenses that the game is currently played, and who knows if that would ever change. Certainly the NFL is in no hurry to change anything given the $9 billion in annual revenue pouring through the league office doors.
Through the offseason that began to truly bring the unfortunate truth of head injuries to light, which led to the deeper issue of overall player safety, we have all learned absolutely nothing. Of course the NFL was basically helpless in the situation of Witten playing with his lacerated spleen, but it represents a part of the game that the NFL will likely never be able to control. Until the fans and the players stop valuing the hero quality of the players playing injured, all of the research, the university funded studies, and the knowledge in the world will not change the culture of inherent danger in the NFL.
Are you ready for some football?