Saturday, January 14, 2017

Contact Concussions and the NFL

Stoners talk about the concept of a “contact buzz,” where people who aren’t smoking dope encounter those who are and start to feel and act like they themselves are stoned.  Well, if that concept is real, maybe the NFL has its own equivalent – the “contact concussion.”

For decades, the league ignored the effects of its violent nature on our fragile little brains.   Instead, it invoked euphemisms like “Oh, he just got his bell rung,” whenever players sustained possibly permanent damage to their minds.   NFL enthusiasts knew that when their faves took a shot near the ankle or the knee, that could mean weeks or months out of the lineup; by contrast, if they took a shot in the head, they’d likely be back on the field of play within minutes.   Much like the cigarette smokers of the 40s and 50s, the football fans of the 60s and 70s were all in denial.   We figured that the players assumed the risks of tackling a violent game.   And besides, it wasn’t like many of them had much a brain to lose anyway, right?   

Actually, that’s wrong.  Football players don’t tend to be nuclear physicists or philosophers.  But they enter the sport with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  As we are now learning, unfortunately, the concussions they sustain in this sport are depriving many of these gladiators of any semblance of joy – as you lose your memory, become chronically depressed, and start to develop suicidal or even homicidal thoughts, happiness becomes as real as a squared circle.  And yet, this is precisely the life trajectory of so many NFL players.  It truly is sad.   And those of us who are addicted to the game, myself included, must realize that when we watch, we are enjoying a vice at another’s expense.

I type those words this morning because among the most critical principles of Empathic Rationalism is “Thou Shalt Not Lie to Yourself.”  And I won’t lie: football can be disgusting.  And yet, this weekend is arguably the best weekend of the year in professional football, and I intend to watch every bit of it.  From 4:30 ET to the end of the evening both today and tomorrow, we will watch the eight best teams on the planet go after each other with finesse, violence, and passion.   And this year, in addition to watching the warriors excel on the gridiron, fans will be able to chuckle at one heck of a joke that was told by the league officials.  This joke was so funny that it can only be attributed to truly twisted minds.  It had to be inspired by contact concussions.  There’s just no other way to explain the stupidity involved.

Let me set up this joke as follows.   Los Angeles is the nation’s second largest metropolitan area.  It is a city that worships flash.  It has Hollywood, which is known for awards ceremonies and red carpets.  It has South Central, which is known for hip hop music and the styles that go with it.  And at least at one point, it had the Fabulous Forum, where beautiful people went to see and be seen – and what they watched was known, simply, as “Showtime” – the flashiest, most celebrity-packed sports package on earth.  In the late 80s, the Lakers owned LA.  Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Coop, Scott, Rambis, Thompson – they were glitzy and they were good.  And LA went bonkers.   The boys in Purple and Gold were the perfect team for their city.  

But LA is big enough for multiple teams.  And it is certainly big enough for a professional football team, which is something that the city didn’t have for two full decades.  Then, a couple of years ago, three suitors came knocking.  There was the Raiders – the Black and Silver, the one team who won a World Championship while playing in Los Angeles, the original Bad Boys, the Mavericks, the Autumn Wind, the Men with the Eye Patches.   And then there were the Rams and the Chargers – two of the most boring and nondescript franchises in sports.  The Rams’ nickname is the Lambs.  And the Chargers often play with power blue outfits; ‘nuff said.

How stylish are the Raiders?  Consider the immortal words of George Carlin.   "In football, I root for the Oakland Raiders, because they hire castoffs, outlaws, malcontents and f-ckups. They have lots of penalties, fights and paybacks, and because Al Davis told the rest of the Pig NFL owners to go get f-cked!  Someday, the Raiders will be strong again and they will dip the ball in sh-t and shove it down the throats of the wholesome, sh-tty, heartland teams that pray together and don't deliver late hits."

If you watched Straight Outta Compton, you’d see tons of Raiders gear.  Indeed, decades after they left LA, the Raiders have remained the most popular team in the city.  And when the league was considering which team(s) to bring back to LA, the Raiders were clearly on the verge of being “strong again” to use Carlin’s words.  This year, in fact, they were 12-4 – meaning that they won three more games than the Lambs and Chargers combined.   In one of those victories, the Raiders went to SoCal and beat the Chargers in front of a crowd that was almost entirely wearing Silver and Black.   LA would have loved to have had the Raiders back; it would have been Showtime all over again.   The Lakers may be have been really good, but the Raiders can be really baaaaad.  LA can embrace either.  What it can't embrace is boring.

But what did the NFL do?  It decided to bring the Rams to LA in 2016 and the Chargers to LA in 2017.   

Maybe I’m missing something.  Maybe I just don’t understand what makes the Rams so stylish.  Growing up, all I remember the Los Angeles Rams doing was going up to places like Minnesota in the winter and getting beat by the weather, let alone by the Vikings.  As for the Chargers, I don’t even remember them playing in the winter – their season is pretty much over by the end of the fall.  
Honestly, when I reflect on the league’s decision to leave the Raiders in Oakland and bring those two punch-line franchises to LA, I envision what the stadiums are going to look like during game day.  I don’t see fans with paper bags over their heads.  I just see rows and rows of emptiness – no screaming, no booing, no glitz ... just bupkis.   The good people of Los Angeles have better things to do with their Sunday afternoons than watch bad, boring teams get beat up.    

So, how do you explain the league’s decision to steal defeat out of the jaws of victory?  How do you explain the reasoning behind bringing non-lovable losers into a town that only roots for the coolest of winners?   How you explain why one of the NFL’s signature franchises must toil in Oakland despite the fact that it is far and away the most popular team in Southern California?

Contact concussions, my friends.  Those hits on the field are so hard that the owners feel them in the stands.  And believe me, they’re still in denial.  They think it’s only their players who’ve become stupid.

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