As spectators we rarely see the young people die in either volunteer legion.Restrictions during the Bush years on journalists filming combat deaths or even showing returning caskets kept the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a comfortable remove until they became distant and routine. Old news. Maybe even a little boring for people without loved ones on active duty.
On NFL broadcasts, players with broken bones and torn tissues are quickly carted off lest their teammates lose heart. For those of us watching on TV, the collisions seem almost like cartoon hits. How can those players just pop back up? Is it the pride, the adrenaline, that allows them to pretend they are made of steel? Of course, the real damage, the dementia brought on by head trauma, is years, even decades, away.
It’s hard to believe how recently the concussion discussion began in earnest, as if players hadn’t been hit in the head for more than a century. It was launched several years ago by the revelation that former pro football players were being diagnosed with dementia, and even dying from suspected long-term brain trauma, at disproportionate rates for their age. It was helped along by a number of workers’ compensation cases and the superb reporting of Alan Schwarz of the New York Times.
The concussion discussion has replaced steroids as the NFL health topic, although the issues are joined: larger players seem to be at greater risk for early death, and bulking up via steroids probably contributes to harder hits. The discussion has also raised the question of whether parents should allow their children to play the game -- years of small, unreported traumas to the head can’t be good for developing brains. It even occasioned a rare but telling ESPN column on abolition.
Lest you consider this enough piling on the all-American game, labor troubles loom with a lock-out possible in March. Because the main issue is money -- the teams want to share less revenue (currently 60%) with the players -- the media tends to characterize the conflict as “billionaires versus millionaires.” Actually, most owners are rich from other businesses and would not have been allowed into the NFL unless they were financially secure, while few players survive more than about three years in the league. The owners also want to increase production (adding two games to the regular season) without taking more responsibility for health-care costs.
If any of this sounds depressingly like real life, how could you not watch what might be the last Super Bowl, the endgame of empire, the two-minute warning before America finally beats itself?
Just so. There's no bigger circus in America than the Super Bowl each year, and considering NFL cities are going to be facing massive budget shortfalls this year, the looming lockout over the league, the global economy on the edge of disaster and food prices rocketing up as resources become more scarce, by the time the next Super Bowl rolls around, who knows where we will be.
Here's a hint: it won't be a better position than we're in now.
Enjoy the game.