Each week, the NFL injury report arrives just oozing with medical reports, an update of biblical proportions for the fantasy football and betting communities.
There are concussion protocols, torn ACLs and MCLs, separated shoulders and sprained ankles, a hamstring here and a pulled groin there, a plethora of training room activities, the leftovers of the previous week in this wonderful activity we call football. Prominent new additions this week are Odell Beckham, Jr. (broken ankle) and JJ Hardy (broken leg).
The report can be chilling for the average fan, upset that his favorite player has to sit out of Sunday’s rock’em-sock’em game with an injury. Football, remember, is a collision sport and collisions often produce injuries. What happened to the good, old days when you rubbed some dirt on the injury and went back in the game?
It took the NFL a long time to acknowledge the cumulative damage football can do to its participants. Maybe it was the epidemic of CTE-related suicides. Maybe it was seeing icons of the game struggling through their later years with dementia. Only recently has the league tried to protect its players with stricter rules. And this decision has offended one prominent fan.
President Donald J. Trump decided first that owners ought to fire players who dare choose to exercise their First Amendment right of free speech. Then, he doubled down on those new wimpy rules.
“Today, if you hit too hard? Fifteen yards. Throw him out of the game. They’re ruining the game!’’ the president announced.
“That’s what (the players) want to do, Right? They want to hit. They’re ruining the game (with the new rules)!”
Evidently, the president views the players as cannon fodder, faceless gladiators whose lone purpose is to entertain the masses. And if a bone, or maybe a brain, gets broken, why that’s just peripheral damage.
There is an epidemic of concussions among teen-age athletes, most of them in football. University of Michigan researchers found one in five teen-agers who participate in sports have been diagnosed at least once with a concussion and nearly six percent reported multiple head traumas.
Boston University researchers published a study that reported youngsters who play tackle football before the age of 12 were found to exhibit more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life. And at each Super Bowl, the NFL proudly parades winners from its Punt, Pass and Kick competition, designed for kids aged 6 to 15. While this is a non-contact activity, it is conducted under the tent of a sport that celebrates contact. Flag football is a logical substitute and many schools have embraced that as an alternative to protect young players.
Occasionally, the debris of all those collisions is more serious. Sometimes, people die. Usually they are obscure players, often high school athletes. A couple of weeks ago, cornerback Robert Grays of Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas, zeroed in for a tackle in a game against Texas A&M-Kingsville. He injured his neck on the play. He died two days later.
Grays was not a high profile player, just a 19-year-old kid, anonymous in the world of bigtime college football where hundreds of thousands of fans pack stadiums every Saturday, where bigtime coaches earn more than prominent faculty members
And now Robert Grays is dead, another casualty of America’s favorite sport. His last play on the field would probably have satisfied the president, who loves to see players delivering big hits.