Robert Griffin III is a marvelous athlete, an electrifying performer. Let’s hope the mishandling of his knee injury only temporarily detains him, and his fans’ enjoyment of him on the field.
But I’m a little bored by the controversial apportioning of blame for the fiasco that allowed him to continue in a Washington Redskins playoff game past the point where sidelining him would have been the competitively prudent, not to mention the humane, thing to do. Does the lion’s shame of the responsibility go to the heartless coach? To the stubbornly persistent player? To the dangerously unmanicured turf?
Well, how about to the culture of football? In case you’re wondering, that’s a fancy way of saying “all of the above.”
In a piece today on ex-Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor, the Miami Herald‘s Dan Le Batard fills in some blood-curdling novelistic detail on the real life of a National Football League gladiator. As I will explain below, even this powerful article misses what I think is the public health punchline. But first go read Le Batard:
“Jason Taylor’s pain shows NFL’s world of hurt,” http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/01/13/3179926/dan-le-batard-jason-taylors-pain.html
“… [A]s the rules change but the culture really doesn’t … we think we know this forever-growing monster we are cheering on Sundays. But we don’t. We have no earthly idea.”
Amen to that, and to Taylor’s poetically graphic answer to The Question:
“Would I do it all again? I would,” Taylor says. “If I had to sleep on the steps standing up for 15 years, I would do it.”
The few readers of this blog and other viewpoints like it, and the many who refuse to face the factory-processed ingredients of their obsessive entertainment sausage, believe the conveniently unreflective Taylor solves their moral dilemma — that the ongoing commitment of national resources to the development of thousands of Jason Taylors a year, on NFL and college football rosters, is just the way it is, a human inevitability, a social contract for metaphorical mustard gas and neutron bombs.
But there is another way, other than the catchall “choice,” of looking at this version of certified American virility and the death-and-disability sentence it imposes on our population’s health, happiness, and productivity. For too long, football-think has dominated, even monopolized, soulcraft in our sports literature. It does not have to be so forever.
After taking note of Taylor’s self-image and that of the world he inhabits (“His mentor, Dan Marino, has a quote up on one of the walls in [the injury treatment section of the team facility], something about how being in the training room doesn’t make you part of the team”), let’s take inventory:
painkiller shots on the bottom of the foot — more than one before every game if the first one misses the sweet spot and simply causes more pain. (Not so much as to completely numb the foot — otherwise you couldn’t run on it — but enough to enable you to play on it “better than my backup would have.”)
regular epidurals for a herniated back disk. (Wait! I thought only “weak” women, not manly men, subjected themselves to epidurals, and only when they were giving birth….)
pre-game hits of Toradol. (‘Cause you have to mask the pain from the injury, and from the injection to mask the pain of the injury. Le Batard notes that the types of painkillers Taylor used are linked to causing injuries he didn’t know he had, or simply knew about and doubled-down on masking, such as the compounding foot injury plantar fascitis.)
surgery for “compartment syndrome.” (Nerve damage and a life-threatening blood-pressure jump followed an unfelt kick to the calf. Could have required amputation of the leg if the operation had not been done on an emergency basis. But it was — happy ending!)
post-surgery staph infection requiring the insertion of a catheter in armpit. (And infecting and endangering the skin surface where the catheter resided a half-hour a day by practicing and playing through the condition.)
(Where is Jim Mora Senior when you need him?)
The crisis in the feeder circuits of our football system — pee-wee leagues and public high schools — won’t be solved with more medical personnel, with more ImPACT tests for phony return-to-play decisions following concussions, with more EMR units diverted to this “game’s” calculated and ongoing emergencies, and away from all the spontaneous ones in our daily private lives.
No, the football crisis will be solved when every single league and team, at every level, is sufficiently funded to replicate the measures of the $10-billion-a-year NFL. Hand out as many painkillers, oral and needle variety, as it takes. Provide as many epidurals and catheters as the traffic will bear. Let no space-age helmet technology at the top not be subsidized in bulk at the bottom.
Maybe then the parents of youth football — not the adults of pro football who were programmed from an early age to skew the definition of manhood into Jason Taylorism — will tote up the real human and economic bill of their way of life. Maybe then they will exercise their … ahem … “choice.”