The Smell of Blood and Money

Professional sports in America have never before been as lucrative and expensive as they are today. Piles of money are being made by the owners, the athletes, and the media that cover them. At the same time, as with all commodities in our capitalist system, the prices paid by consumers have risen higher and higher while the prices paid to keep the performers fit and the insurance premiums paid have likewise increased. Gladiators who are broken in the process now have the advantage of attaining a measure of financial security that in times past, when the big money was not there, was denied.

Young people have always been willing to sacrifice their bodies and perhaps their souls as well when they believe that the opportunity to raise their fortunes exists. Kenny Stabler, the free spirited quarterback who starred for the University of Alabama and the the Oakland Raiders in the glory days before that organization fell to shit, died from colon cancer last July. Stabler’s family donated his brain to science, and it is now revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease believed caused by repeated blows to the head. Those of us who have played organized football are acutely aware of what pleased our coaches and the fans in the stands:big hits. If you are going to knock something or somebody down, no love taps,please. Hit that son of a bitch as hard as you can or else you will be the one going down. I know that there have been rule changes about using the helmet as a weapon. I know that the types of blocking and tackling that were once considered sportsmanlike even while dangerous have been modified by the rules even if not by spirit. I will also confess that I gave up on the NFL (National Felons League) and the rest of football several years ago and that I don’t give a rat’s ass who wins the Super Bowl or any other football game. I gave up football mostly in favor of soccer long before all this concussion stuff began to come out for other reasons. Kill the quarterback is not my idea of a fun pastime; when I played, I was fine with blocking and pretty good at it but tackling and hurting people did not interest me much, particularly after the big testosterone buildup era faded.

Boxing is another “sport” that does not interest me. I have admired individual boxers, especially Muhammad Ali, but it is a slave owners’ game that has the object of inflicting permanent damage to human beings in exchange for cash. Fuck that. Americans, and a lot of other people as well, apparently don’t have enough violence and bloodletting in their personal lives and need to experience it vicariously to satisfy the craving.

We cannot and should not expect to live without danger and pain and we should train to be as physically strong as we can be. We need also to be mentally and emotionally strong enough to avoid hurting each other just for fun or for money. Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner can buzz me at 90 miles per hour on the inside if they like just to keep me honest. That’s fair. And they had better be ready as well if Paul Goldschmidt rips one right back up the middle. When coaches and fans are screaming for linebackers and pass rushers to put somebody out of action, however, that is a different repulsive thing.

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