There are more than a few dangerous sports in which people lose their lives every year.
Mountain climbing, race car driving, hang gliding and a great many other sporting and recreational endeavors can be fatal attractions, at least to some degree. Football is no different; between 1990 and 2010 there were some 243 football fatalities in the United States.
The National Football League is well aware of these facts, yet since the organization has long since become experts as selling sizzle rather than steak, the hypocrisy swirling around the public relations ballyhoo rolled out in the wake of Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin’s injury during this week's Monday Night Football game is palpable.
The American public has seen this sort of doubletalk before from the NFL, and precious few people are swallowing whole this latest image campaign being rolled out in order to protect the NFL brand.
And, protecting the brand is the prime objective of the NFL; nothing is allowed to get in the way of that. Even the national anthem, we’ve seen recently, is negotiable — for a time shunned at football games, the nation’s flag itself surreptitiously scuttled into unseen corners of stadiums until the ruckus died down and it was safe, and profitable, to bring it back out.
When too many NFL players became involved in domestic violence and the matter rose to the level of a nationwide topic on the public forum a few years ago, at that moment and not a second sooner was the NFL magically transformed into the foremost and most vocal guardian of wives and girlfriends from coast to coast. Female inviolability only required the potential of a drop in ticket sales and television revenues for women to become sacrosanct.
What the NFL truly thinks about player safety is apparent: the modern game is built upon the direct threat of serious and life-threatening injury hovering over the spectacle at every moment. That’s what the audience expects, demands and pays for, and what the NFL delivers.
Otherwise, American football would be something else, something a bit saner, more like rugby for instance.
Very few people die playing rugby — a dozen or so fatalities in the last decade. But rugby players aren’t clad in uber-sophisticated gear engineered to allow superbly trained athletes to be converted to human missiles, to be launched at each other with bone-crushing, tendon-snapping, heart-stopping ferocity.
American professional footballers play with a frightful abandon beyond any restraint because they’re suited up to do so, expertly coached to accomplish it, and paid enormous sums to accept the risk.
What we’ve all seen in these last few days is the NFL rushing to paper over and camouflage one of their great fears: the reality that such a horrifically violent game can’t be played without, sooner or later, very serious injuries and worse, fatal incidents. Owners, commissioners, fans and players knew this day would someday come, and the NFL, without missing a beat, is dutifully repeating their “we’re not to blame” mantra, all wrapped up in thoughts and prayers and plenty of crocodile tears.
But the NFL is to blame; this is their game. Yet it all could be fixed and quite easily.
Remove the helmets, pads, cleats and the rest, and change the rules so that the game returns to being a sport rather than warfare. Or, there’s always flag football, exponentially less dangerous.
Fans shouldn’t hold their breaths though. When all the politically correct and convoluted blather will have been repeated ad nauseam, and the hand-holding and candle-lighting come and gone, the ultimate feel-good activity for the NFL will be reinforcing the reality that the acronym might well stand for “not financially liable,” and the gladiatorial combat will most assuredly go on.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("The Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many newspaper and magazine Op-Eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio globally. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. Read David Nabhan's Reports — More Here.
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