Today, in America, is Groundhog’s Day. It is an American rural-holiday-weekend, this 2013, as some consider Super Bowl Sunday, the day of professional football’s championship game, an unofficial holiday. The only thing I find interesting about the latter is that two siblings (brothers) happen to actually be competing against one another as the two teams opposing head coaches—which I don’t know has ever happened in the history of professional sports.
I still like playing virtually any sport, but not so much following much of any of them anymore. Basically, the deal-breaker is getting tired of hearing the competing hype. I am largely referring is the number of former players, how they can appear brawny in business attire yet woeful when trying to carry over the hype from the action on or around the field into their analysis. The two factions feed off of one another in order to stimulate competition, in general, but it is really more often than not sheer, ahistorical crap being spun by these ‘analysts’. (Personally, hearing the name of the sport I am watching persistently being used as an adjective, as if I would forget what I am watching, I wish could stop.) Not to mention, I can never forget the time whether ESPN still airs their Sunday morning show, “The Sports Reporters”, seeing an episode where Bob Ryan literally, vehemently stood from his chair to pointedly denounce fellow sportswriter, Mike Lupica, as to how aging Bernie Kosar is still worthy of being a starting quarterback in Dallas! The fact that these guys appeared in suits instead of regular clothes was pompous, apart from these two almost appearing to nearly come to blows over something which nobody really cared about.
Having been a longtime Sox-Yankees and Carolina-Duke fan, (favoring the side listed first, here, of course) I still sneak a peek at whatever the standings are every now and again. But I have come to understand that life goes on and a game is just a game. A team wins any game, for the day, so that they and their fan-base can have bragging rights for the day. Tomorrow, and everything that comes with it, always begins anew.
Yet with football, now: wow. What a mess. Tickets to see a game for a group of four, including the price of parking, in some stadiums, the home-team better not only win but I would insist on a LOT more entertainment for my buck, to boot. Who is or is not using performance-enhancing drugs, determining whether the physical body can be built to endure the current level of punishment courtesy of the physical demands being placed on the players, the commissioner of the NFL addressed these among other concerns in his state of the league address, yesterday, ahead of tomorrow’s Super Bowl game. Commenting on what has become a part of the national conversation, on the subject of concussions—which specifically includes CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) as well as what is tentatively being called second-impact syndrome which affects people under the age of 25, and PCS (post-concussion syndrome)—I think he was more or less thinking of sales when responding, at one point, when it comes to tackling, “to take the head out of the game”. Is this not monstrously unrealistic? I mean, the head is not just involved in tackling. For one, we might as well consider taking the run out of the game as lineman’s heads in particular are constantly colliding in order to block. Considering the overall context, we are probably years and millions of dollars away from medical research developing a drug or hormone to reduce the effects of concussions, developing scanners for physicians to detect poison-tau in the deep-brain folds in advance, and to better understand the genetic variability of concussions from athlete to athlete. Teenagers are dying, or their overall potential is being hindered in some way as a result of how every hit matters from their youth on up. Better cushioned helmets don’t matter so much as kids are getting bigger and faster yet lack mature muscle in and around their necks to withstand the whiplash of the brain hitting against the skull, even if they can see the hit coming. “The best helmets in the world don’t stop rotational forces, where the brain whips around and snaps back,” says Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (from “This is Your Brain on Football”, Rolling Stone, January 31, 2013).
Most brains heal themselves after prolonged physical and cognitive rest, but when it comes to parents seeking the grail of scholarship for their children, this is the most serious concern, altogether. CTE, SIS, and PCS are not of course exclusively related to football, as it naturally impacts soldiers in combat, as well as hockey, field-hockey, boxing, even soccer, and what is statistically ranked second to football in sport head-injuries: cheerleading. If you want to teach or learn strategy, learn chess, play cards, consider learning the value of competitive sports where physical contact is not nearly as severe. Yet, Americans have vicariously invested a lot of time in a ‘game’ that underpins that which culturally prides sacrifice.
The Animal Planet channel continues to stage, every year, what they call the Puppy Bowl: just a bunch of puppies, really, romping around a small, made-up field. It is time to upgrade to cats against puppies, I think, for it is a dog-eat-dog world out there, won by cats.