American Football and Absurdity

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune,--often the surfeit of our own behavior,--we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance;“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance; … an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!”

(King Lear, act 1, sc. 2)

I never watched a game of American Football and never intend to, but a piece of news related to this iconic, so-called mass-sport is worthy of comment. I say ‘mass-sport’ because, in an inversion of meaning,  the masses do not practice it. And rather than ‘sport’ it resembles un updated version of the gladiators’ spectacles. Spectacles defined by the words “panem et circenses”, bread and circus players – the recipe the crumbling Roman Empire used to mentally drug the masses out of reasoning.

I have been told by an American versed in football that the spectators’ thrill derives from witnessing the crushing collisions between players. In fact the slow-motion video-clips of these incredible hits of football players are the bread and butter of what the networks use to attract fans (and advertisers) to their broadcasts.

Collisions produce concussions and concussions are the forerunners of related mental and physical disorders, often leading to premature death, when not to immediate paralysis.

The National Football League has just reached a settlement with former players who accused the League of profiting from the sport’s violence, while “hiding the risks of concussions and repeated hits to the head”. The League agreed to a $765 million payout to all past players and to the spouses of those who already died.

The settlement follows a lawsuit filed by over 4,500 former players, some of whom suffer from brain injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

One of the spouses to receive part of the settlement is the widow (previously divorced), of a player who committed suicide in 2011 and left a note asking that his brain be examined for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease often found in those with a history of concussions.

According to a pathology expert in the field, players sustain hundreds if not thousands of hits, each equivalent to a small car-crash and the brain “starts falling apart”. Hence early memory and emotional problems eventually leading to dementia.

I venture to say that 99% of this blog’s readers would have suggested the same pathologist’s conclusion without any special knowledge of medicine.

A settlement of more than ¾ of a billion dollars is impressive. Equally impressive is the included specific language stating that “the agreement does not represent, and cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football.”

This is the equivalent of George W. Bush’s statement that he did not know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

But the reason for denying liability has deeper causes and implications. For the layman’s spontaneous question is, why pay up so much money if you don’t admit that the injuries were caused by football?

Because…. if the issue had gone to court and the verdict had been one of liability, meaning that the NFL knew of the danger, then the plaintiff could have filed another suit. They could have accused the NFL of negligence for not having informed the players of the dangers connected with the sport. And this would have led to a potentially much larger pay-out.

Turn it as you may, this is the slaying of common sense. We cannot but sympathize with the victims of the sport and their families. But no special information is required to determine that two players weighing over 200 lb and crashing against each other at a combined speed of 20 miles per hour or more, will sustain physical damage sooner or later.

The fact is that American football is celebrated as a symbol of manhood. Universities are often rated for the prowess of their football team. Attending a university on a football scholarship is the dream of many high school students and the football coach is often the most highly paid member of the university’s academic faculty.

Even in high schools the performance of the school’s football team is a key factor for public estimation. I remember attending a parental meeting at the start of my son’s high school year. I was expecting to hear information about the subjects taught, the methods etc. Instead the principal opened the meeting with a lengthy narrative of the football team’s performance in the past year and how it would perform even better in the year just beginning.

All in all, the NFL and the players are engaged in a tragic but still ridiculous farce. In this instance the players do not play by  “heavenly compulsion”. The injuries and the deaths are not caused by “the sun, the moon and the stars” or “by spherical predominance”. And the unwillingness to recognize what the sport is, cannot be laid “on the charge of a star”.

In the play. Edmund comments on a statement by Gloucester that attributed the unfavorable course of events to ‘late eclipses in the sun and moon’

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