Hatin’ the Player Over the Game – Repost (w/ On Ex-Gladiators)

May 4, 2012

Junior Seau (New England Patriots linebacker at the time) during a game against the Oakland Raiders, December 14, 2008. (JJ Hall via Wikipedia/Flickr.com). In public domain via cc.-Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I originally wrote the post below in May ’10, with off-the-field incidents involving Ben Roethlisberger, my man Lawrence Taylor, and Brian Cushing in mind. Not to mention our secret (or not-so-secret) lust for violence in professional football in mind. I post it again, now shocked, saddened and even mortified over Junior Seau’s suicide on Wednesday. As Paul Daugherty wrote in his SI.com column yesterday, most of us “don’t know athletes. We like to think we do,” but “we just don’t know.”

The fact is, given all we can and should know about neuroscience and brain chemistry by now, it’s clear that not only is professional football right on par with hockey as the most brutal and violent sports on the planet. It’s that the sport itself can and does alter an individual’s brain chemistry, their long-term neurology, especially if played for a serious period of time. It’s the American empire’s equivalent of a gladiatorial sport, where the stars play for keeps, live hard (albeit in the most dark and secret of ways sometimes) off the field, and obviously die even harder as well. And like the gladiators of ancient Rome, there are substantial rewards that come with the life of the NFL, including the ability to craft an image that’s larger than oneself.
The problem for NFL stars is that the career does end, begrudgingly and relentlessly so. But the violence that the mind becomes accustomed to — along with the accolades — does not and cannot, at least, not without help. For whatever reason, Junior Seau didn’t have that kind of help in his life. Seau, like so many of us, couldn’t reconcile his image with his reality, and obviously took his life in no small part because of it. As a fan, I can’t allow this to continue without saying or doing something, hence this repost.
———————-

Lawrence Taylor

Let’s see now. Big Ben Roethlisberger, the great LT and Brian Cushing have all found themselves in trouble in recent weeks. With the law, with the NFL and with fans from all over Football Land. The Fourth Estate and the 4.5 Estate (bloggers) have gone on, and on, and on about how these guys lack discipline, are entitled whiners and complainers, and believe that they can get away with anything. These pop-psychology ruminations are much more pop than social psychology, with some being down-right idiotic. The bottom line is, at the bottom of their tax returns, where the IRS asks for your profession, these players (or their tax preparers) write or type “Football Player” in that spot. And that’s all the explanation you need when it comes to criminal behavior, criminal-esque behavior, and just plain bad behavior.

To be sure, many of these players — and not just in the NFL — are spoiled, entitled, whiny, and do think that they can get away with more than an ordinary American. Sure, some of our reaction to think is colored by race, as the majority of players of two of the three major team sports in this country are Black. But while race is a factor in perception and entitlement a factor in general, the real problem with professional football players is the nature of the game itself, especially in terms of violent crimes.

We somehow expect people who’ve spent a significant amount of their time playing a sport like football to somehow turn off all of the intensity, adrenaline and violence that comes with playing the game and then act like normal everyday people. Most players in the NFL have been playing the sport at least since the age of thirteen or fourteen, with many starting as early as six or eight. Then, with college and the pros, tack on at least eight years of play with hits that would put the average person in the ICU. Yet, once their career is over, or at least, during the off-season, these same players must then become model citizens. Are you kidding me?

For most Americans, few things in our lives are more violent than watching a football game. Police officers, soldiers in combat, and boxers are the only ones who may well experience more violence. And all available research shows how difficult it is for a human being to constantly engage in violent acts and then adjust to a normal life setting (whatever that means). So it should be obvious that a professional football player would have the same kind of troubles, as say, a retired boxer or an undercover detective in

Donte’ Stallworth Hit

transitioning between his world and ours.

In many ways, the most popular sport in our country gives us as much of a fix as it does for the players engaged in the sport. In this sense, there isn’t much of a difference between being an NFL player or being a gladiator during the times of the Roman Empire. Both celebrated, both reviled, both part of our societal hypocrisy over their criminal acts (alleged and actual). Ben will be forgiven once the Steelers start living again, while Cushing’s use of HCG will be forgotten by training camp. LT will at least be defended by many until actual proof is provided of guilt or innocent.

Brian Cushing (Houston Texans)

I’m hardly condoning anyone’s actions, on or off the field of play. But, as long as we keep buying the tickets, jerseys, cable packages, and the beer, all we’ll be doing is supporting the violent and sometimes bloody business of professional football. We can’t have our cake and then eat it too, especially in these cases, even though we’re trying to.


Hatin’ the Player Over the Game

May 17, 2010

Lawrence Taylor

Let’s see now. Big Ben Roethlisberger, the great LT and Brian Cushing have all found themselves in trouble in recent weeks. With the law, with the NFL and with fans from all over Football Land. The Fourth Estate and the 4.5 Estate (bloggers) have gone on, and on, and on about how these guys lack discipline, are entitled whiners and complainers, and believe that they can get away with anything. These pop-psychology ruminations are much more pop than social psychology, with some being down-right idiotic. The bottom line is, at the bottom of their tax returns, where the IRS asks for your profession, these players (or their tax preparers) write or type “Football Player” in that spot. And that’s all the explanation you need when it comes to criminal behavior, criminal-esque behavior, and just plain bad behavior.

To be sure, many of these players — and not just in the NFL — are spoiled, entitled, whiny, and do think that they can get away with more than an ordinary American. Sure, some of our reaction to think is colored by race, as the majority of players of two of the three major team sports in this country are Black. But while race is a factor in perception and entitlement a factor in general, the real problem with professional football players is the nature of the game itself, especially in terms of violent crimes.

We somehow expect people who’ve spent a significant amount of their time playing a sport like football to somehow turn off all of the intensity, adrenaline and violence that comes with playing the game and then act like normal everyday people. Most players in the NFL have been playing the sport at least since the age of thirteen or fourteen, with many starting as early as six or eight. Then, with college and the pros, tack on at least eight years of play with hits that would put the average person in the ICU. Yet, once their career is over, or at least, during the off-season, these same players must then become model citizens. Are you kidding me?

For most Americans, few things in our lives are more violent than watching a football game. Police officers, soldiers in combat, and boxers are the only ones who may well experience more violence. And all available research shows how difficult it is for a human being to constantly engage in violent acts and then adjust to a normal life setting (whatever that means). So it should be obvious that a professional football player would have the same kind of troubles, as say, a retired boxer or an undercover detective in

Donte' Stallworth Hit

transitioning between his world and ours.

In many ways, the most popular sport in our country gives us as much of a fix as it does for the players engaged in the sport. In this sense, there isn’t much of a difference between being an NFL player or being a gladiator during the times of the Roman Empire. Both celebrated, both reviled, both part of our societal hypocrisy over their criminal acts (alleged and actual). Ben will be forgiven once the Steelers start living again, while Cushing’s use of HCG will be forgotten by training camp. LT will at least be defended by many until actual proof is provided of guilt or innocent.

Brian Cushing (Houston Texans)

I’m hardly condoning anyone’s actions, on or off the field of play. But, as long as we keep buying the tickets, jerseys, cable packages, and the beer, all we’ll be doing is supporting the violent and sometimes bloody business of professional football. We can’t have our cake and then eat it too, especially in these cases, even though we’re trying to.


Banning the Term “Legislate Morality”

April 23, 2010

I love Michael Wilbon’s work as a sports journalist, columnist with The Washington Post, as a commentator on the NBA on ESPN/ABC, and as co-host of Pardon the Interruption (PTI) on ESPN with Tony Kornheiser. I’ve loved his work for a bit more than two decades, certainly in comparison to Pope Lupica and the other holier-than-thou sports reporters and columnists out there these days. I find him refreshing as a journalist and writer, and an unabashed and unafraid host when it comes to how sports and American society intersect.

But I found myself bitterly disappointed in Wilbon’s “can’t legislate morality” comment on PTI on Wednesday, April 21. Wilbon said this in response to the NFL’s six-game suspension of two-time-Super Bowl-winning-quarterback and Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger for the latter’s violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. The NFL “shouldn’t legislate morality,” Wilbon said, as Roethlisberger “hadn’t committed a crime.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league, and the Steelers ownership were all “overreacting,” according to Wilbon. Well, Wilbon has certainly earned the right to be entitled to his opinion. But, as my wife has said to me on countless occasions, Wilbon’s also entitled to be wrong.

Societies, governments, employers and families “legislate morality” every single day, and have been doing so for as long as there has been a human civilization on this planet. Murder, stealing, banking regulations, adultery, and certainly sexual assault and rape are all examples of us “legislating morality” over the past five millenia. Now, I’m not totally naive — I know what Wilbon was attempting to say (I think). That because Roethlisberger wasn’t arrested, indicted or convicted, that the issue of his alleged encounter with a twenty-year-old White college student whom he helped become incredibly intoxicated is now a moral one, not a criminal one. Yes, this is true. But what would ESPN do to someone like Wilbon in the same situation? What would the University of Maryland system do to me in that situation? Would ESPN let Wilbon continue to show up for work without a reprimand, a suspension, or a quiet termination? Would I continue to teach classes, or would my employer consider not renewing my teaching contract?

We as a people legislate morality in ways that none of us really think about. Like Wilbon, most of us think that crimes are crimes and morals are morals, as if passed down from Moses or Hammurabi completely unchanged for the past 3,800 years. But moral issues have led to things that once were not crimes becoming crimes. The whole notion of illegal drugs or illegal immigrants didn’t exist in this country a century ago. Someone could’ve been a pot-smoking Polish immigrant “without papers” in 1910, and that immigrant wouldn’t have gone to jail. The folks in favor of making marijuana illegal or shutting off immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe didn’t end their crusades (however misguided) by saying, “Well, we can’t legislate morality!”

Or, to use much more recent examples, those White supremacists who said, “you can’t legislate morality” after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For nearly twenty years, those opposed to Black civil rights argued that the issue of Black equality was a moral issue, not a legal or human rights one. Or those from the Religious Right who said, “you can’t legislate morality” when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973 or in the wake of the growing Gay Rights Movement in the late-1970s. Of course, in both cases, those in leadership who were influenced by what we now call the evangelical movement have engaged in legislating morality since the early ’90s, attempting to roll back Roe v. Wade and putting laws on books defining marriage as only between a heterosexual adult male and a heterosexual adult female.

On the issue of civil rights, desegregation, reproductive rights and gay rights, what is and isn’t moral isn’t just a matter of perspective. It’s also a matter of power and bias and the people who are wielding that power in order to reflect their bias. I’m not saying that Roethlisberger actually committed a crime, or that he didn’t commit a crime. Yet we cannot say that what Roethlisberger engaged in was simply a violation of the generally accepted morals of American society either. Even if seen in the most optimistic light, Roethlisberger brought significant embarrassment to himself, his team and teammates and the NFL. An executive at a Fortune 500 company could no more get away with going on a bender and attempting to have sex in a public bathroom — an incident that somehow becomes public — than Roethlisberger could. So for Wilbon or anyone else to rally around the “can’t legislate morality” flag is somewhere between idiotic and shameful.

The issue with Roethlisberger isn’t that the NFL’s engaged in legislating morality. Nor is it that the district attorney in Georgia wanted to bring a case to trial but couldn’t because of insufficient evidence. The real issue here is that we as a society have made a thick distinction between what is and isn’t moral behavior and what is and isn’t criminal behavior, because they aren’t mutually exclusive. For progressives and libertarians, the distinction is whether one’s behavior is detrimental to the health and lives of other people. Black civil rights, gay rights, and smoking weed are among the things that most would assume would not harm the lives of other citizens, at least in 2010. Having an encounter in a bathroom that leads to another person going to the hospital with bruising and bleeding, however minor, is detrimental to that other person.

In light of this being Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, maybe folks like Wilbon should be more careful when choosing words like “can’t legislate morality.” Not only do we legislate morality, societies will engage in this kind of activity as long as there is such a thing as a society. So I ask that everyone with a microphone and a camera pointed at them to stop talking about legislating morality as if moral values are as set in stone as the Earth orbiting the Sun. You’re merely reflecting your own bias, against women, gays, Blacks, drugs, science. Or in Wilbon’s case, a need to stay out of the judgment fray that moves us from one scandal to the next, a need to get to the day when Roethlisberger throws three, four or five touchdown passes in a game. On that part I fully agree. But say that, Wilbon, because that’s what you’re good at. Don’t say you can’t legislate morality, because last I checked, this isn’t your area of journalistic expertise.


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