Forever this time. And I mean it

Posted by: MBR on Wed Apr 4th, 2018 5:40 am
Forever this time. And I mean it (No. 27, published Feb. 25, 2018)by Bob Neal The songwriter Jason Isbell is getting his due, with two Grammies this year. In one of his most popular songs, he wrote: "I sobered up and I swore off that stuff/Forever this time." Audiences who know his story of drug and alcohol use always applaud that line. And now, I, too am gonna sober up and swear off that stuff. And, yes, forever this time. The stuff of this addiction, though, is professional football. Buh-bye, NFL. Like many recovering addicts, I have quit before. I kept a vow not to watch a second of the 2016-17 NFL season. It was easier than I had expected, and I resisted temptation even when the Patriots got to the Super Bowl. The Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs were my teams. I would have continued my boycott in 2017, but when players began protesting for racial and social justice by silent demonstrations during the national anthem at games, I thought I should watch for something to write about. You decide whether I rationalized. One can easily find reasons to shun the NFL. Its 32 teams are owned by unbelievably rich white men who persuade cities to build playpens for them using little or none of their own money. Those owners have the loyalty of a porn actor. If another city offers a newer stadium, they decamp. Dallas Texans to Kansas City Chiefs. Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona Cardinals. Baltimore to Indianapolis Colts. Cleveland Browns to Baltimore Ravens. Cleveland to Los Angeles to St. Louis to Los Angeles Rams. The beat goes on. The league is always willing to change its rules to grab a few million more bucks, too. Who knew that players and coaches needed to be "warned" when the clock for a half ticks down to 2 minutes? It wasn't players and coaches. Anheuser-Busch, maybe? Despite these reasons to look skeptically at the overlords of the NFL, it is hard to argue that they don't put a grand spectacle on the field and on TV for 21 Sundays a year. The reasons I'm done with the NFL, though, are not in the owners' suites but on the ground. The NFL fails at policing (literally) its players. Even guys who spend their days in the counting house should be able to understand that men who play a violent game are likely to be violent, to enjoy violence or to see violence as a way to solve problems. A study by the criminology departments at Florida State University and the University of Texas concluded that NFL players have higher rates of violent-crime arrests than the general population. The study also found that players have lower rates of other types of crime. Given that football players tend toward violence, one might believe that the owners and their bootlicker, Commissioner Roger Goodell, would have firm and enforced rules about how players behave off the field. They don't. Ray Rice, a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was photographed dragging his fiancée by her hair after he had punched her unconscious. (I cannot explain her reasoning for going ahead with the marriage.) The NFL suspended him for two games before the uproar forced the bootlicker to triple the suspension, and, eventually, his team to let him go, but only after remarkable gyrations by NFL people to wish away Rice's behaviors. After all, they knew he had been arrested earlier for assault. If the NFL is soft at managing players' behavior, it is even softer at protecting players' health. Specifically CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That's brain damage, and you get it by banging your head on the concrete that underlies artificial-turf fields and on the helmets of other players and by the shock when someone grabs your face mask and spins your head. The only way to diagnose CTE is to cut up the brain of a dead person. When Aaron Hernandez, late of the Patriots, hanged himself in his prison cell following a conviction for murder, docs said his brain was the most seriously damaged they had ever seen. Hernandez is Exhibit A for both of my counts against the NFL. Violent acts leading to a conviction for murder and a victim of what could be called NFL disease. In matters of CTE, he, too, is one of many. Patriots linebacker Junior Seau had CTE. He shot himself to death. Closer to home, Jovan Belcher played at the University of Maine, went on to the Chiefs. In 2012, he shot his fiancee to death, drove to the Chiefs practice field and shot himself to death. His brain, too, showed CTE. Belcher graduated from UMaine in three years with a degree in -- you want irony? -- family life studies. The NFL's response is intended to appear generous. It is $1 billion over the next 65 years to players diagnosed with football-linked injuries such as ALS. Divide that by 20,000 players likely to retire in that time and you get $50,000 per player. Is your brain worth more than $50,000? There are specific payouts for specific injuries, but -- here's a catch -- there is nothing for players with the symptoms of CTE, such as mood swings, memory loss and shooting people. And, of course, the NFL specifically accepts no responsibility for how players get life-shortening and life-ruining injuries. Where to turn after the NFL? While soccer has been touted, for 40 years or longer, as the next big sport, I just can't go there. How do you follow a sport that doesn't let an athlete use the entire body? Soccer players cannot use their hands. And you can look at the scoreboard clock and think it reads, say, 4 minutes and 19 seconds to go. But in reality, the only person who knows how much time is left is on the pitch. The referee keeps the official time in his pocket, on a watch. And, he can add minutes to the game at his whim. Sorry, soccer, but that's no way to run a railroad. Guess my Sunday afternoons next fall will go to reading. Let's see, six hours a week for 18 weeks, plus playoffs, comes to something like 130 new hours in my year. Even a slow reader like myself can get through a book or two in that time. In his teens, Bob Neal sold programs at University of Missouri football games. That's when he learned the game. He'll miss it. But probably not a lot.