Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Bowl of Meat

Posted by olvlzl.
It would be good if some of the ink and outrage spent last month over the rather odd looking deal between the Disney and Pop Warner corporations would be spent on what the playing itself does to the children who may have been shaken down by these big businesses.

The case or the retired football player, Ted Johnson*, is a disturbing story of the possible results of the cult of toughness and the callous indifference to athletes’ personal welfare that is known as “team work”. The story shouldn’t stop with him.

He dates the decisive incident of brain damage, they’re using the milder term, “concussion”, in 2002. He was an adult. If an adult was unable to resist the peer and corporate pressure that led him to go back to practice instead of retiring which would probably have saved him and his family a lot of confusion and pain, how can children be expected to? As has been mentioned here before, children who are encouraged to play football** and risk the only brain they are ever going to have are not adults. They don’t have the maturity or sufficiently developed personalities to resist the pressures to conform. They are at the beginning of the regime of conforming to the entirely artificial and unnecessary devotion to “the team”. They are at the age when it is instilled. They are at the beginning of the process that can end in catastrophic and permanent brain injury. Which is the more important thing that needs the protection of adults and the media, children’s brains or their money?

In one of the stories about Ted Johnson deciding to break the wall of silence on brain damage in football, one of his former team mates, who asked to remain anonymous, had this to say:

“I’m not saying what the team did was right. But if Ted thought his health was in danger, he never should have put on that blue jersey, You have to be your own advocate.”

His coach, Bill Belichick, said:

“If Ted felt so strongly that he didn’t feel he was ready to practice with us, he should have told me,”.

Let’s start with the fact that while he was supposed to be making these decisions he was, in fact, already suffering injuries that impeded his thinking. He was also being subjected to the direct peer pressure of his team mates, including in a massively ironic twist, one Tedy Bruschi, who very famously suffered a stroke. During the period when he was supposed to resist the pressure to put the team before his damaged brain he was also threatened with the suspension of his contract if he didn’t return. I’d say that his union did more than just let him down. So, a man schooled in the culture of football, suffering confusion and fuzzy thinking, perhaps expecting to end up entirely incapacitated and perhaps broke, was expected to “be his own advocate,” in face of what can only be called an onslaught of pressure to risk more damage. Be his own advocate. It’s always interesting to see the power of a cliche to entirely eclipse reality even for those living through it.

There seems to be some resentment of Ted Johnson for making this story public. The stories and reports about him keep mentioning how beloved Ted Johnson was with the fans and his team mates during his playing days. Where did the love go? And what does “love” mean in this context? Football players aren’t dead meat to be consumed by the football industry. They shouldn’t be pressured into treating themselves that way.

I hope that Ted Johnson makes a recovery. I wish other athletes would talk about what they’ve lost due to their participation in the sports industry. I wish more would show his courage and break through the wall of silence. I wonder what this tells about us as a country.

I’d planned on doing a humorous post about the homoerotic language of football but reading this story this week sort of put me out of the mood.

* I couldn’t get a link but this is based on the reporting in the Boston Globe beginning with the story “I don’t want anyone to end up like me” on Friday, February 2. Not being a sports fan I probably wouldn’t have read it if it wasn’t for the look of anxiety in his picture. Some of the comments are from TV and radio. Yes, in fulfillment of my duties here I went so far as to listen to sports reports.

** Brain injury is also a feature of other sports, soccer, hockey... As someone pointed out the last time I posted on this subject.