Thursday, January 10, 2013


Read This First
At this time there is a considerable debate over a coach allowing a player to play, despite the possibility of injury.   The player played, further injured himself, and might be lost to the injury for a long time, if not the rest of his career.    People have said, in print, on television, online, that the coach should be fired for allowing the player to play, or, in a view more darkly of the coach's actions and motives, for FORCING his player to play.

 Painting by Jean-Leon Gerome

 Peter McDermott Getty Images

                                             Aztec/Mayan ball court

But, if you ask me, we are not dealing with a player injury and a coach's negligence or plausibility in the player's injury.    We are dealing with a change in culture.  In the past, considerations for injury, for increased payment, for taking a game off for the delivery of a baby of a player's spouse or partner, would never have happened.   The players were part of a legacy of sport where individuals did not matter, only the team mattered.   And for better or worse, violent sport as part of culture has existed for as long as humans had cities and societies.   The viewing of a player injury is difficult, but it is only so since we, in the present era, view individuals as having worth, beyond the field.  In the past a loss might mean a loss of life, or being sent to work as a slave in a less opportune setting.   In the present it means a player might lose an chance to make more money, or the owner has to spend money to change his product on the field.  

This isn't to say I approve of injuries, players should play whatever the risks, or that I don't care about the consequences of sports, as entertainment.   I do care, and think RG3 made a fateful choice and the coach made a fateful choice that have consequences.   But it is a true arrival of a culture that the player health is more important than his team's chances for victory.   Professional sport IS entertainment for the masses, in some ways its own form of reality television, and as such I wonder if you can perceive what I do, as a historian, that society has truly changed, and the gladiatorial arena has now been closed for business.

What will replace it I have no clue.   Perhaps I am wrong seeing this shift as being new or different.   But there are ways to measure change, and the outcry for a player's safety is one measure that shows something:  player's are no longer cogs in the machine.  And perhaps we all can take solace in this, that our grinding gear society of silent apathy has a heart.  


Jack Goodman said...

An interesting thing to ponder as someone that once played and was a rabbid football fan. I think the thing I would say is different from past to present as well though would be a the level of respect that came from being in that family of a team. And it was a family. As I've seen compensations grow for the player pushing a ball down the field or a court, we have also seen a growing sense of singularity amongst players and coaches. In turn it has led to a level of disrespect that I think has pushed the coach to become little more than that barking CEO concerned only about the bottom line. I'm not fooling myself to believe that there ever was a time when it was all rainbows and ponies in football, but coaches like Lombardi, Madden, and Landry all were shining examples of this agreement that they provided sound leadership while the players in kind gave their all for the team. In all honesty though I know that isn't realistic anymore which is why I don't watch anything but college ball. Professional football has changed so much that where in the past the player would be glad to put forth for a team he loved, there is no commitment or honor in the unit, only where their next inflated paycheck is coming from.

alex-ness said...

very nice comment thank you.

I think you hit on many accurate points.

kurt wilcken said...

Commentator Ian Sholes once said that football players and prostitutes are both in the profession of ruining their bodies for the enjoyment of others.

My good buddy Fredd Gorham once told me how he used to play football in high school until an accident on the field left him with a fractured spine. It was just a hairline crack, not enough to disable him, but enough to scare him. He quit playing football.

His friends, naturally, called him a wuss.