Sport has always been an extension of warfare. And warfare has no room for weakness.*
Athletics(Track and Field, Gymnastics) were created during peacetime to cultivate a populous that was fit in body and mind so as to act as a standing army in case of war.**
As sports began to evolve military nuance became more and more engrained. Different classes of game developed to help young future soldiers develop skills for war. Target games (archery, bowling) helped with hand eye co-ordination and projectile accuracy. Combat sports (Boxing, wrestling, fencing) taught hand to hand and armed combat. Net/Wall (tennis, squash) games helped with hand eye co-ordination, agility, quickness, problem solving and spacial awareness. And Invasion games (Rugby, Football, Lacrosse, Hockey) took all of the skill of target games, the physicality of combat sport, and strategy and athletic ability of net/wall games and put them onto a simulated battlefield.
Football is patterned after simulated warfare, there is no way to deny that fact. Teams battle over space on the field. To score points is to dominate your opponent through physical prowess, misdirection and strategic planning. The military underpinnings of the football were always subtextual until after 9/11. That is when there was a shift in the way we approached sport as warfare from being subtextual to overt. Metaphors were being used by those who had no business using metaphors, linebackers became warriors, quarterbacks became generals. Football which was being used as an overt media recruiting tool of the United States Armed Forces, went into overdrive, post 9/11. The story and death of Pat Tillman, a competent defensive back turned soldier, was exploited by both the NFL and the United States Armed Forces until it turned out he was killed by friendly fire, and that he has major doubts about the US’ involvement in Afghanistan. Now nary a word is said about Pat Tillman on a NFL telecast. Was Pat Tillman weak for questioning his mission, or is his accidental death just unpalatable for those trying to sell war?
So where does weakness enter into the picture, when it comes to sport? Well, there are those who will have you believe that there is no place for weakness in sport. Anyone who chooses to act in the interest in one’s health is branded selfish or weak***. Would an injured soldier leave his fellow men in the brink if he could still continue to fight? Of course not, if that man could fight he would fight, because war is life and death and to sacrifice one’s own well being for one’s fellow soldiers is virtuous. Because the NFL has cultivated a culture that includes the idea of their sport as an extension of war, again we see a complicity to the negligence regarding player safety. You teach young men that they are warriors and a culture fear of weakness is engrained in them. Is it such a surprise that concussed players try to hide their symptoms so that they can return to the game? You’re not going to see a “stay down” campaign in the NFL. You’re never going to see a, “know your limits” campaign regarding concussions because it goes in directly against the image they have carefully created for their corporation.
At what point does one groups idea of weakness become strength? I feel it’s when you start to question those who protest safety regulation in one breath while also protesting those who are seeking help in the aftermath of their careers in another. That denial of the cost of one’s entertainment is the most disgusting part of this whole equation. I would agree, that sitting out of a game because your brain is bruised isn’t something with which you can sell a pick-up truck. I would also admit, I enjoy seeing a hard hitting football game, even in spite of the cold streak sent down my back when you see a player’s body go limp after a headshot. I am willing to forego some what I enjoy about football, if the NFL chooses to not ensure the future welfare of those who’s bodies and minds have provided my entertainment. I can see that it’s not an equation where I can have my cake and eat it too, because as soon as you start looking at how ugly this thing gets, it’s hard to ever defend the NFL.
*Insert false syllogism here.
**Shot Put, Javelin, and Discus were modifications of common field weapons in Ancient Greece. The Marathon hailed from a man who ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to warn of an incoming army who planned to sack the city. The Olympic Games were actually just one in a series of games which happened all over the Hellenic empire. They were sold as tributes to the patron gods of each city state within the empire, who hosted their own version of the games. One could argue that the games were opportunities for non-violent posturing and diplomacy between the city states.
***ie. Derek Rose taking extra time to rehab a major knee injury and being lambasted for it(yes I know he is injured again). And on the flip side Robert Griffin III choosing to come back to early on a bad knee and essentially getting a free pass for being borderline terrible at playing quarterback.