From the plantation-style economics of modern NCAA athletics to the broken moral compass of programs like Penn State, there’s something rotten in a culture that was supposed to teach fitness, teamwork and healthy competition.
It’s hard to imagine those stories being eclipsed by behavior even more reprehensible — even more apparently criminal — but the NFL has managed to pull it off.
News broke weeks ago that former New Orlenas Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams allegedly paid his athletes to deliberately injure players on opposing teams.
An audio recording has now emerged of Williams instructing his players to target other players’ heads. “Kill the head and the body will die,” Gregg instructed, offering cash rewards to any player who carried out the hit-job.
He also instructs his players to destroy another player’s knee. “He becomes human when we (expletive) take out that outside ACL,” Gregg argued, according to a report in USA Today.
Americans have always liked our sports rough-and-tumble; and my own tastes are hardly cricket-and-croquet. I was a high school wrestler, I love football, and have been an on-again-off-again fan of mixed martial arts.
But there are moments when even a pass-time as central to our national sensibility as football warrants a good, no-holds-barred fresh look.
In order to clear the air, the sport needs to do three things.
First, the NCAA has to address the inequities in the college game, where (mostly white) coaches, administrators and media executives rake in huge bucks.
Meanwhile (mostly black) players are denied even the most basic professional compensation and protection, while they expose themselves to astonishing physical risk.
Secondly, the NFL needs to turn over all evidence of injury-for-hire schemes, like the one in New Orleans, to criminal investigators. This is, at long last, a job fo rthe police.
Last time I checked, it was illegal for anyone in the US to pay cash to a hit-man to deliberately injure or cripple someone.
The fact that this conspiracy allegedly occurred on a gridiron should not cause the proper authorities to hesitate in taking over this probe.
Finally, the medical profession needs to independently investigate growing evidence that football — at the high school, collegiate, and professional level — is severely damaging the brains of far too many athletes.
While this investigation is underway, the parents of young children who take up football should be warned far more clearly and explicitly that their kids can expect to suffer hundreds of potentially debilitating head injuries each season.
This from an article last year in Slate magazine:
[R]esearchers aren’t exactly sure what is happening to these players. But they believe that what we call concussions are only one of several kinds of head injury that affect players’ verbal ability, memory, and “vestibular system,” which controls spatial orientation and balance.
Many of the hits that produce “shell-shock” concussions involve blows to the side of the head, as happens with helmet-to-helmet collisions in the open field. The new group of injured players—the ones without visible injury—had suffered damage to the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls high-end “executive functioning.”
In the end, we may find that the overt brutality of alleged bad actors like Gregg Williams is a much smaller piece of the moral quandary that faces football.
The bigger dilemma may be that so many of us are prospering from, and being thrilled by, a spectacle of violence that really is as destructive as it looks.