Wednesday, December 6, 2017

American Football, A Profitable Venture for Some, Physical Pain for Others

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

John Harbaugh , the Baltimore Ravens coach said they started a team meeting on Wednesday by praying for Pittsburg Steeler Bryan Shazier who was injured in Monday night's game against the Bengals. Pittsburgh plays the Ravens Sunday. They opened their meeting with a group prayer. This is the most important think they could think of.

Not sure if that sort of makes it hard for atheists but is that really the most important thing that should be said or discussed right now, praying? I don't mean to be irreligious (I choose to at times but not here) and I do have a suggestion for those who believe that praying helps. 

But first let me get something off my chest. I'm sick to death of constant "our prayers and thoughts are with the families"  after every mass killing, family annihilation etc. I'm sick of it after someone walks in to a church and blows away half the congregation or a racist Nazi type after receiving a warm welcome from black churchgoers wipes out nine of them.

Telling the world your prayers and thoughts are with people might make you feel good but it doesn't resolve a damn thing, it doesn't even begin to address the issues at hand.  If all you are going to do is that and nothing else I suggest you either keep quiet or just say you feel sorry for their loss, you offer condolences, whatever.

Now, back to American Football.  This is not a sport in the sense that sport and healthy competition is part of human culture. This is a business that brings together different forces in the process of profit making; on the one side the fans as consumers of all aspects of the game, food, drinks, apparel, tickets to watch it etc.  and the players as the attraction as the workers in that sense, the labor power that makes it work.

Professional American football is an extremely violent game like boxing. The children of the billionaires that own the teams and the media that propagates the sport will rarely, if ever end up playing it professionally; they have better options. There is a reason that so many players are black as well as sports are seen as an opportunity for black youth to make it in a big way-----maybe. The football clubs have a great pool from which to draw, the students at universities. Working class and poor kids hope for scholarships in to schools that supply the football clubs with players.

The sport also returns billions of dollars to the universities for doing this. The football departments of universities have inordinate influence at these colleges due to their money. I do not know enough about how this works so I can't go in to too much detail.

I remember during a football strike in the 80's I think it was. I discovered then that the career of a football player is very short.  In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, "From 2008 to 2014, the average NFL career dropped in length by about two and a half years."

The Journal points out that the same time period saw the "..average career across all positions falling from 4.99 years to 2.66.

And despite denying it for years, the NFL, which also never paid taxes for years, finally settled a suit in 2013 and paid $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries which included dementia, depression, and Alzheimers. Others have committed suicide related to the brain damage they incurred. In July of this year, a Boston University study found the following:

Of 202 former players of the U.S. version of the game whose brains were examined, 87% showed the diagnostic signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease associated with repetitive head trauma. Among former National Football League (NFL) players in the sample, that number jumped to 99%  

I don't know the extent of the injuries Shazier received but he was flown to hospital and has some sort of back injury. I watched  Daryl Stingley get hit in a New England game in Oakland in1978 by Oakland Raider, Jack Tatum and he never walked again.  He died in 2007. Jack Tatum prided himself in having the nickname, "The Assassin". I also saw the return of Steeler Lynn Swan after being hit by George Atkinson another Raider player. 

For years the NFL avoided the idea that the sport was so violent it caused brain damage. Beyond that, players' bodies were so damaged by the end of their careers they were practically made up of artificial parts. Jim Otto comes to mind.  Pain killers, steroids and other drugs were commonplace. If you haven't already, read the book or see the film North Dallas Forty, it gives a good glimpse in to that world.

Like the tobacco companies that paid off doctors to hold back the mounting evidence that the product they pushed on the population caused cancer, the investors that control professional sports, that own the teams and the mass media did the same. It is only recently that they have been forced to recognize the problem.

There is another aspect of  violence and football and that is war. The USA military has paid millions of dollars in to NFL coffers. We have anthems, flag waving, weapons of mass destruction flying over the stadiums that taxpayers pay for as the machismo is tapped in to and young working class men and women are enticed in to the military. It is a recruiting tool. "Nearly $5.4 million in taxpayer dollars had been paid out to 14 NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to honor service members and put on elaborate, “patriotic salutes” to the military." Between 2012 and 2015, the Department of Defense spent "$10.4 million on “marketing and advertising contracts with professional sports teams” according to a US government report.  Working people do not have to be cajoled and manipulated in order to defend our families, communities and democratic rights. That's what all these nationalistic and patriotic displays at sports events are for.

So rather than simply offering prayers that actually mean very little, that will not even make people think seriously about this issue and in the case of the copied tweet above, the object is to prevent people from thinking critically about this issue, when the inevitable happens to a player due to the nature of the sport and the business, might I suggest that they have some serious goals.  One might be to raise in their prayers an alternative way of experiencing sport. Taking the money out of sport and returning it to a healthy human pastime.   Make public the goal of your prayers to provide free and accessible education for all as a means of eliminating sports or the military as the only avenue to getting a decent education.  And pray to god to help you act to make these goals a reality.

Personally I wouldn't care if football was banned. We can't actually play it as a pastime, it's too violent. Same with boxing. The rich don't have boxing on their list of choices for their kids on career day. They own the contestants they don't fight themselves just like the wars they start.

Just a few thoughts about football.

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