By In Stuff

Football in America

First, a few words on the Browns this week. They were dreadful. But of course they were. It’s a funny thing — I like Buffalo Bills fans a lot. We are brothers, Clevelanders and Buffalonians (Buffaloans? Buffalites?). The first time I went to Buffalo, I was 8 or 9, and I lost a Mickey Mouse watch in a snow bank. I remember being impressed rather than angry; even as a Clevelander I thought, “OK, that’s an unreasonable amount of snow.”

Many Buffalo fans expected their Bills to be the first to lose to the Browns this week.  Can’t blame them for that. Buffalo fans, like Cleveland fans, expect those sorts of horrible things to happen. It’s why I relate. There are fans of  teams who just expect good things to happen to their teams; they are SHOCKED when things go wrong. Pittsburgh fans are like that. Pittsburgh and Cleveland have many similarities, but Steelers fans expect things to work out in the end. Browns fans know they will not work out.

In Cleveland, in Buffalo, in various other sports towns you are never shocked by things going bad. The only shock is when they DO NOT go bad.

So, yes, I fully understand why Buffalo fans expected to lose to the Browns — a feeling that was undoubtedly doubled when Marcell Dareus guaranteed Bills victory. A Buffalo friend, Brian Moritz, bet me a beef-on-weck that the Browns would win (he bet on the Browns; I was to bet on the Bills). I accepted even though I don’t gamble on sports things. Well, I didn’t see that as gambling. I saw it as a gift. A free beef-on-weck is a free beef-on-weck.

People just don’t appreciate how terrible this Browns team really is. It’s the worst team I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of bad teams.

There’s not much else to say about the Browns-Bills’ game except to remember a fun moment when Browns coach Hue Jackson went searching for the red challenge flag. You know that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Uncle Billy searches madly for the $8,000 he stupidly had given over to Mr. Potter? Yeah, it looked like that. Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III had rolled out of the pocket to avoid the rush, and instead of throwing the ball away he somewhat awkwardly and bizarrely ran right next to the sideline before heaving the ball downfield. The officials ruled that he had stepped out-of-bounds first.

Replay showed that he had not quite stepped out-of-bounds before throwing the ball away. This is exactly the sort of thing you would expect these Cleveland Browns to challenge — whether or not their quarterback stepped out-of-bounds before throwing the ball away.

Anyway, Jackson spent like a full minute trying to find the challenge flag. It was like Kabuki Theater.

There’s a wonderful moment in there where Jackson just throws his hands up in the air, like some sort of silent movie type maneuver. There should be like a title screen after that with the word “Rats!” on it. Jackson finally, as you will see, did find the challenge flag. He dropped it on the ground. The Browns may be the worst team in NFL history but, hey, at least Hue Jackson found the challenge flag.

Postscript: The play was not challengable.

* * *

There’s a story making the rounds on social networks about the Abdullah brothers, both former NFL players, talking about the brutality of professional football. You’ve probably read a few stories like it over the years, but thee was one section in there, a quote from Hamza Abdullah, that reminded me of something:

“Football is family? It’s a lie, it’s a facade. As human beings, we’re bloodthirsty, but scared to admit it. We want power. It’s only when we see Luke Kuechly on the ground crying in pain that we say, ‘oh, we wanted blood but not death.’ When we see them hurt, it shows us that was our honest little fun, it’s not so honest.”

Like I say, it reminds me of something. Some years ago, I wrote a story about what Priest Holmes had to do to recover after a football game. Holmes, you will recall, was a star running back, the best in the NFL for a time, even though he had gone undrafted. He was not big, not especially strong, not particularly fast. But he was absurdly disciplined; he prepared himself like nobody. He was all heart, and I think that’s what drew me to him as a subject.

Anyway, after one game, I wrote about how he dealt with the pain. He needed a long massage and whirlpool just to garner the strength to get dressed. He could not sleep much the night after a game because of the pain; Mondays were the worst. He used to spend Monday in agony trying to pump himself up for getting through another week. Tuesdays were also the worst because he was still recovering from the last game and now beginning the preparation for the next one. And Wednesday were also the worst, also Thursdays, because those were the hardest days of practice. His body only slowly came back; he grew used to this life of dying and regenerating. It was only by Saturday afternoon that he would begin to feel like himself.

Sunday, of course, it began again.

Holmes was not complaining. This is the life he had chosen. But he wanted me to understand — and I wanted readers to understand — just what the sacrifice was to play professional football at that high level. Yes, the money was good. Yes, fame came with the job. But there was agony too, and Holmes understood that he was likely doing permanent damage. And he was. 

From a story I wrote about Priest Holmes last year:

Priest Holmes talks to himself while he waits. Talks to himself. “Come on arms,” he whispers to his arms. “I’m bigger than this injury,” he says to his mind. “I’m stronger than what’s happening to me,” he says to his body. When the feeling comes back, it comes slowly, a few centimeters of life prickling at a time, and once all feeling returns he gingerly gets out of bed. There is no more sleeping this night.

I don’t bring this up now to retell Priest Holmes story … no, there’s something else. After I wrote that original piece about the agony of Priest Holmes, I got quite a lot of email and voicemails and letters. I had expected to get a pretty big response. But I was very surprised by what the response said; most of the response could be summed up like so:


I was pretty shocked. I had come to know Kansas City well enough that I could usually anticipate the reaction of the city to whatever I wrote. This one came out of nowhere.  I had thought people would admire Holmes for the way he endured pain. I thought they would think hard about what he was sacrificing.

No. Mostly there were people writing to say that Priest Holmes (and I) should shut up about his pain. — they did not want to heart about it They were writing to say that they DOUBTED his pain (“The guy’s a whiner; he doesn’t hurt that much”).  They were writing to say that they would HAPPILY suffer like Priest Holmes for the money he was making. They were writing to say that Priest Holmes’ pain simply was not interesting, it was not a story, and it was a waste of their time to read about it.

They were OFFENDED. Really. Like I say, I never saw that wave coming. I blamed myself then — and still blame myself now — for not writing that column well enough. It seemed to me so compelling (and important) to describe the behind-the-scenes world of a star running back, what it took for him to be so great. Every time I opened an email telling me that Priest Holmes’ pain was not their problem, I was amazed. And they just kept coming.

That struck me again when reading that Hamza Abullah quote. The feelings around football are contentious. We all know about the fight. Some want football banned. Some believe it has gone too soft. Some find it barbaric. Some think it is the last bastion of toughness in America outside of war. Some think it is a modern gladiator scene. Some think it is a sport that forms toughness and manhood and America has lost too much ground already on such things.

I myself have felt a little bit of all of it. I continue to watch even though the Kuechly thing just about broke me. I continue to care enough though I know what these young men are doing to each other. I continue to believe even though I was there watching Priest Holmes suffer for our enjoyment.

Football is a powerful narcotic. It will make us hide the truths even from ourselves.

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127 Responses to Football in America

  1. Douglas Bisson says:

    I wish I could say that I was surprised at the response to the Priest Holmes story. But lack of empathy for those who suffer is becoming the norm in this country.

    • invitro says:

      Good grief. Any pro football players who “suffer” brought it on themselves. No one forced them to become pro football players. And they get millions of dollars for it. Americans still have enormous empathy for people who suffer *when that suffering is not their choice*, and we always will. And Americans, and indeed people of every culture and every era of history, do not have empathy for someone who suffers because of their direct choices.

      This “wussification” of America is true, but it’s not enormously troubling. The troubling thing is that the left wing of Americans has decided that there is no longer any such thing as *personal responsibility*. If Priest Holmes is suffering, well, who cares… he made the personal decision to play football for a living, and thus the personal decision to have permanent health problems. This is the responsibility of Priest Holmes. No one else. All of this is and has been blatantly obvious to all cultures in history, until some Americans in this particular time period.

      • Bach89 says:

        I sense anger. Must be just the right wing of Americans with such pent up frustration.

        • invitro says:

          My anger is mostly toward anyone that could write something as ignorant and offensive as “But lack of empathy for those who suffer is becoming the norm in this country.” Americans give far, far, FAR more in charity than any other nation on earth. Is that what a non-empathetic country does?

          • Berto says:

            The rest of the developed world takes care of their people, without the need for charity.

          • invitro says:

            “The rest of the developed world takes care of their people, without the need for charity.” — The vast bulk of the charity I’m talking about is charity from American citizens and the American gov’t toward third-world countries & their people.

          • Darrel says:

            @Invitro, Not to let the truth get in the way of a great rant but the good ole U.S.A ranks 21st in foreign aid as a % of GDP. So America is actually far, far, FAR worse than most other western nations in than any other comparable nation.

            Of course this is not what the point of the article was. It was about the difficulty many people have with having other human beings suffer for our entertainment.

          • Darrel says:

            Apologies for the cut and paste error and resulting weird language in last post. Multi-tasking is not a strong suit.

          • invitro says:

            “Not to let the truth get in the way of a great rant but the good ole U.S.A ranks 21st in foreign aid as a % of GDP.” — Darrel, that doesn’t include private charity, which is what I was talking about. I’d like to know your source, anyway.

          • Darrel says:

            @Invitro ” the American gov’t toward third-world countries & their people.” That is your quote so no you were not talking about the American people as you specifically mention the US Gov’t. The link for the stat

          • Brett Alan says:

            In intro, what is YOUR source? According to there are a dozen countries where people give more to charity than in the US.

      • Doug says:

        First, I think that empathy is a virtue, and not a vice. Even if you go to the most extreme point in terms of personal responsibility, even if you are adamantly against changing the system, I think that human pain is still something that we should be able to recognize and respond to. Priest Holmes is still a human being who is in enormous pain.

        Second, I’m not arguing against personal responsibility, but I think it’s also important and useful to try to analyze things on a more systemic level. Priest Holmes’ choices are not only the result of his personal decisions; they’re the result of a broader system that incentivizes and rewards certain things and condemns others. Priest Holmes’ choice to do those things does not exist absent our desire to watch him do those things and spend a lot of money on it. And the question is, how comfortable are we being participants in a system that allows people to make those kinds of sacrifices for money? How morally acceptable do we find that? Like, it’s not as if the system just springs into existence fully formed, you know?

        Now, I mean, I’m fairly certain that you and I would disagree on the answers to those questions. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong or incoherent in asking them or considering whether these systems are good systems.

        • Rob Smith says:

          In fact the commandment to “Love others as yourself” demands empathy. Personal responsibility is entirely separate. I teach my kids personal responsibility with emphasis because I see it not being taught too often. I don’t want it to rub off on my kids. But being empathetic to someone in pain, for whatever reason is important. Dismissing someone in pain as being unworthy of empathy is discouraging. But not surprising. I’m not sure people even realize what they’re actually saying when stuff like this comes out.

          • invitro says:

            “But being empathetic to someone in pain, for whatever reason is important.” — Can you tell me with a straight face that you have as much empathy for the hundreds of millions of people in the world with extreme chronic pain, as you do for Holmes? If so, prove it. Tell me what should be done about the problem of increasing deaths from opiate addiction.

        • PhilM says:

          The danger with empathy is that is it biased and easily manipulated — “save a starving child named Sally” wins over “save hundreds of needy kids somewhere.” From a recent WSJ article (

          “And empathy shuts down if you believe someone is responsible for their own suffering. A study published in 2010 in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showed people videos of individuals said to be suffering from AIDS. When they were described as being infected through intravenous drug use, subjects felt less empathy than if they were described as being infected by a blood transfusion.”

          So by ascribing Holmes’s suffering to his own choices, we can write it off.

          • invitro says:

            Yes, exactly. And this writing it off is a good thing. Because we don’t have infinite empathy. It should be spent on those who deserve it, not wasted on multi-millionaires who took actions that they knew would result in extreme pain, and now have the money to get the best medical care in world history.

        • invitro says:

          “Priest Holmes is still a human being who is in enormous pain.” — There are probably hundreds of millions of people in the world who are in as much pain as Holmes. Many of them are elderly people, a group of people that not too many people care about. Most of them did not make a conscious and informed decision that directly resulted in their enormous pain, as Holmes did. Almost none of them were paid tens of millions of dollars, that they could use to deal with the pain, as Holmes did. It’s obvious to me that of all these hundreds of millions of people that have pain equal or greater to that of Priest Holmes, he deserves empathy less than just about any of them.

          Well, you people are overflowing with empathy for Holmes. But for old people with daily severe pain? “Let ’em suffer” is what you say. I say this because nearly every day I read an article by some moron that demands that America make access to prescription opiates more difficult.

          Now, I don’t know if any of you individually are in this group of people whose hearts are bleeding over Holmes, and just wish the elderly would just suck it up. But I bet many of you are. This is why I think your claims for being emphathetic are mostly bullshit.

          “And the question is, how comfortable are we being participants in a system that allows people to make those kinds of sacrifices for money? How morally acceptable do we find that?” — I’m completely comfortable with it, and I find it as morally acceptable as anything else, *compared to other problems in the country*. Every person you’re talking about is a millionaire, most several times over. I do not get morally outraged over a situation that concerns only millionaires. I don’t think even Mother Theresa would be emphathizing over pro football players.

          • Doug says:

            Well, I mean. I don’t think empathy is total, or complete, or perfect, or a final argument. I don’t think that having empathy for Priest Holmes would require you to agree to the separate argument that there’s something bad about allowing him to put his body through this. That’s an argument that involves a bunch of ethical considerations, legal considerations, practical considerations, rational arguments. Empathy doesn’t tell us what to do, it’s not a final answer. And I don’t think that he is more or less deserving of empathy than anyone else in comparable pain. But I think having that empathetic response to someone in pain is a good thing, and not wrong.

            and I don’t expect you to agree with the criticism of the system, I’m just saying, there are reasons to be critical of that system besides refusing to care about personal responsibility

          • Jim says:

            Every day in the U.S., over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids. As many as 1 in 4 people who receive prescription opioids struggle with addiction. And those seeking to limit the access to / prescriptions of opioids are “morons”? Hardly.

          • invitro says:

            “And those seeking to limit the access to / prescriptions of opioids are “morons”?” — Yes, they are, because they’re denying opioids to the elderly, who to my knowledge are not the people who are going to ER for problems that result from recreational opioid use. That is moronic. And addiction is no big deal for elderly users of opiates — a large number of them will be dependent on, aka addicted to, opioids for the rest of their lives. This is a Good Thing, because they have happier lives than they would have if they were denied opioids. I’d usually expect that this would be blatantly obvious, but it’s hard to tell these days.

          • Jim says:

            invitro – we’re approaching 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. due to opioids. Spare me the snark on people trying to limit the epidemic.

            I had minor surgery two years ago. I was prescribed an opioid I didn’t need. My son broke his arm. He was prescribed an opioid he didn’t need. Neither of us filled the prescription – but plenty of people just like us did, and then became addicted, and abused either other prescriptions or heroin. This is a societal problem that can and should be addressed.

          • invitro says:

            What percent of opiate deaths are solely due to prescriptions for broken arm pain? I’m guessing: not many.

          • Jim says:

            Here’s some reading for you.
            “Her first opiates had been a prescription for 120 tablets of Vicodin, offered by a doctor to treat a minor snowmobiling injury in high school. The pills chased away that pain and also the anger left over from her parents’ divorce, her depression, ADHD and self-doubt, and soon she was failing out of high school and becoming increasingly dependent on pills. ”
            Soccer Mom’s Secret Heroin Addiction
            After Candace broke her neck in a car accident, doctors prescribed OxyContin. When her insurance fell through, the single mother of two found something cheaper for the pain: heroin.

          • invitro says:

            That webpage says that heroin users used prescription opioids previously, yes, but not their own prescription; they stole or purchased the opioids from someone else. This is not news to me. Also, I didn’t see any reference to broken arm pain. I wasn’t clear, I know, but what I’m guessing is that a prescription for broken arm pain, used as directed by the prescriptee, is not by itself a significant factor in heroin deaths.

            Anyway. President Obama has released over a thousand prisoners. I believe most of these are hard drug dealers. If that’s true, it’s obvious why opioid deaths are increasing. It’s maddening that people haven’t criticized this action by Obama, but as the mainstream media has mostly covered it up, I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical.

          • Jim says:

            From the article, emphasis added:

            A study of young, urban injection drug users interviewed in 2008 and 2009 found that 86 percent had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin, and their initiation into nonmedical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, or PERSONAL PRESCRIPTIONS

          • invitro says:

            That item was listed last, and is probably an insignificant fraction compared to theft and purchase from drug dealers.

          • Jim says:

            Which is it? Prescriptions aren’t listed, or they are not listed early enough to be deemed significant by you, knower and arbiter of all things?

            How do you access the internet with your head buried so deeply in the sand?

          • john says:

            not a zero-sum game

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Many people do things that are self-destructive without specific incentives. Yes, Priest Holmes would not be a professional football player if there were not people willing to pay money to see him play. But that doesn’t mean that his desire to play doesn’t exist independent of the system of incentives. Obviously, if football had never been invented, maybe he would never have had the desire to play. But many play football (and do other dangerous things) without any reasonable expectation that they will get paid for it. And football started before those incentives existed. Your question about how comfortable are we being participants in a system that allows him to make those choices seems perverse to me. You might as well say, how do we feel about being participants in a system that allows people to say nasty things on the internet under the guise of free speech. How do we feel about being in a system that allows people to make any choices with which we might disagree? He chose to make the decision to play; I had nothing to do with him choosing to play football in the 8th grade or whatever.

      • Spencer says:

        Hot take!

      • SDG says:

        The hell does any of this have to do with personal responsibility? You get you’re reading an article about one of the most personally-responsibly guys ever, right? He’s FAMOUS for working his ass off, for never alibi-ing, for playing hurt, for constantly practicing and searching for a (legal and gameplay-based) edge. Now, instead of sitting back and counting his money his is working to ensure the future of the sport he loves.

        Personal responsibility cuts both ways, like the responsibility owners have not to damage people’s health for no reason. There is a reason we now have labour and food safety laws and we don’t let children be chimney sweeps any more and it’s not because the left (seriously, wtf) hates capitalasm or hard work. Baseball was better in the old days when no one wore protective equipment and you could legally throw at someone’s head! Every player since batting helmets is a wimp who doesn’t care about personal responsibility! Coal miners knew what they were getting into and safety laws are for wimps! This is seriously your argument?

        You are acting like Holmes is the guy who sues McDonalds for making their coffee too hot. I have no idea why. The industry needs change and it’s not ducking your responsibility because you in some ways benefitted from that industry.

        • invitro says:

          “Baseball was better in the old days when no one wore protective equipment and you could legally throw at someone’s head! Every player since batting helmets is a wimp who doesn’t care about personal responsibility! Coal miners knew what they were getting into and safety laws are for wimps! This is seriously your argument?” — Er, no. That’s not my argument. Did I say any of those things? Have you ever heard of the term “straw man”?

        • John R says:

          “You are acting like Holmes is the guy who sues McDonalds for making their coffee too hot.”

          The coffee in that famous case was much hotter than normal coffee, which McDonald’s did on purpose to save money even though they’d been warned it was dangerous. The woman who spilled it on herself got 3rd degree burns and needed skin grafts.


          • SDG says:

            True. I actually did know that, but you’re right, I shouldn’t have perpetuated that myth. Especially since I’m as annoyed as anyone by the lie that we live in a culture where everyone sues everyone and bs lawsuits work and the system is broken.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Who the hell thinks baseball was better when no one wore helmets? Wearing helmets had nothing to do with the quality of baseball. Also, as much as I generally disagree with him, his point as I see it is not that there should be no changes to make football safer but that Priest Holmes pain is a result of a conscious decision he made to play what is obviously a dangerous sport. I don’t see what this had to do with health and safety legislation involving food safety and child labor. It’s not as if Holmes suddenly discovered, after getting in the NFL, that, oh, shit, this game hurts. I don’t question that the NFL should try to make the game as safe as possible. But Holmes could have quit any time he wanted.

          • SDG says:

            Baseball players wearing helmets is exactly the same thing. At the time it was proposed there was a big outcry about how the game was getting soft and real men would never and in the old days players got beaned and liked it and what happened to Ray Chapman was unfortunate but these are grown men who chose to play baseball and they’re doing a hell of a lot better than if they had to work in a steel mill so they should just STFU and stop being whiny crybabies and the world is going to hell and we’re all becoming feminized. All those things were said, often by the players. And certainly by the fans.

            The situations are identical. Fortunately MLB mandated (or heavily encouraged) batting helmets before the situation got completely out of control.

          • invitro says:

            “At the time it was proposed there was a big outcry about how the game was getting soft…” — I’ve never heard of this. I know you weren’t alive when MLB adopted batting helmets, so you either read this somewhere, or else just made it up. What is your source?

          • invitro says:

            “his point as I see it is not that there should be no changes to make football safer” — I certainly support such changes, as long as they are proven to actually work, and are driven by the players, and not the gov’t or fans. I believe I am the only person in the entire thread, including Joe, to make any mention whatsoever of such changes; I mentioned safer helmets, and linked to a story about them. Everyone else just wants to either ban football, or just cry crocodile tears about it.

            If I sound angry, this is why. I simply do not believe that all the whiners (I’m not including you, Marc) actually care about the health of football players. It’s the same old story: people just want to feel morally superior. If you care about football players’ health, research safer equipment. Research why players (and perhaps football leagues, and equipment companies) seem to be antagonistic to using safer equipment. Find the right causes to support, and then support them. If it seems appropriate, you can start by emailing your local school board, and demanding that they use the safer helmets; you might need to promise to pay for them, too.

      • Marc Schneider says:


        You could make the same argument about soldiers who get wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan or have PTSD. They didn’t get drafted; they chose to be soldiers. Obviously, they don’t make as much money as football players, but, by your standard, there is absolutely no reason to be upset about what soldiers go through because they brought it on themselves. Look, I agree that football players made a choice and they have to live with it; that doesn’t mean you can’t empathize with the pain they have and respect what Holmes or others have to go through.

        • invitro says:

          Marc, first, I don’t think it’s all clear that what happens to a person in Iraq is as obvious as what happens to a person in the NFL. Ask literally anyone what happens to an NFL player, they’ll say: “pain”. Second, the amount of money made is vitally important. An NFL player has enough millions to easily afford any doctor in the world for his pain. A soldier doesn’t. Third: I don’t have any problem at all with empathy for NFL players, as long as the people with that empathy have as much empathy for non-millionaires with as much pain, such as elderly who can’t get pain medications due to moronic legislation.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Actually, Invitro, I don’t really disagree with you on this. But I do think people need to realize what players go through to play football.

          • invitro says:

            I always support promotion of the truth. I still think it’s obvious to football fans that NFL players have severe pain and long-term health problems due to many years of playing football, but if someone wants to repeat that point, I have no problem with it.

      • gogiggs says:

        Shouldn’t you be licking Curt Schillings balls?

    • KHAZAD says:

      I don’t think a lack of empathy is the reason for the reaction to the story. The story was an examination, not a request for pity. The problem is that football fans don’t like to read about the sacrifices made by many athletes. They would prefer to believe that they are all genetic freaks of nature that are bestowed a gift by the gods, and that if they were given the same gifts, they would be just as good. When they read a story like the original story (which is not linked) or the after career follow up (which is) they don’t want to know about how hard it is, because they know, deep inside, that most of them would have quit anything that was that difficult, no matter what the rewards, and that takes away the fantasy.

      It is not about a lack of personal responsibility either Invitro. Priest Holmes seems to take personal responsibility, and nowhere does he blame others for his plight. He has, on at least one occasion, said he would do it all again.

      It is more about jealousy and not wanting to see the reality behind the curtain.

      • invitro says:

        “It is not about a lack of personal responsibility either Invitro.” — I did not say that Holmes had a lack of responsibility, or suggest it. He clearly doesn’t have a problem with this issue. The problem is with readers who are *not allowing* Holmes and other players to have the responsibility of deciding how to live their lives. It’s all over this page — “should we allow adults to make the decision to play pro football?” The reason why Joe got a negative reaction from readers is that for most of us, it’s absurd, even offensive, to ask that question.

        • Darrel says:

          You are aware that people can hold 2 ideas in their head at the same time right. I do not see why someone like myself can’t say that yes it is absolutely the right of anyone to play pro football but also empathize with the pain and suffering that entails. These do not have to be opposing opinions but ones that can be held at the same time.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          There are some but not many people who want to ban football. Interestingly enough, though, football was close to being banned in the early 20th century because of the brutality in the same way that prize fighting was illegal in a lot of places. I guess those people were real wimps. I agree with Invitro in one respect. I’ve seen people write complaining about the brutality of football but continue to watch because “they can’t help themselves.” That’s such BS; if it bothers you that much, don’t watch. I don’t feel guilty about watching football because they players aren’t slaves being dragged into the Roman Coliseum; they made their choice and, especially now, they are (or should be) going into it with their eyes wide open. At the same time, people should understand what it takes to play the game and, rather than resenting the players for making a lot of money, they should be rooting for them to make as much as they can. People just really don’t want to know how the sausage is made.

          • invitro says:

            “football was close to being banned in the early 20th century because of the brutality in the same way that prize fighting was illegal in a lot of places” — I’d guess that football in the early 20th century was far more brutal than it is now. I’m not sure, but I know that baseball was.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            “I’d guess that football in the early 20th century was far more brutal than it is now. I’m not sure, but I know that baseball was.”

            Specifically, they banned the flying wedge because so many people were getting injured. Obviously, they didn’t wear as much padding as they do now. There was a movement to ban football, but I believe it was Teddy Roosevelt who got involved to make the game safer and save it from extinction. It probably was more brutal, but the players were smaller; I think that’s a lot of why football is so dangerous now.

  2. Bob Peterson says:

    I would like to hear your opinion, Joe, on the obvious decline in interest demonstrated by the TV ratings. It has generally been attributed to a reaction to “whiners who make a lot of money but hate cops,” but could it be that we are reacting to the violence and brutality of pro football? I played football, and even at my extremely low level of performance, I know about pain. Is it part of the “wussification” of America? Like to hear your thoughts.

    • Jeremy says:

      Joe and Michael did a podcast last month on just this topic…it’s definitely worth checking out (it’s on iTunes, not sure about SoundCloud)

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I don’t think Americans have suddenly become averse to violence, especially when done by others. I think the quality of the play has gone down, plus, perhaps overexposure on TV; with games on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday, maybe people are just tired of it. Of course, that could also impact how people react to the violence; with more games on, people see more violence. Personally, I find the games less interesting just because of the number of penalties called. The various rule changes have made it a referees’ game in a lot of ways.

    • invitro says:

      “I would like to hear your opinion, Joe, on the obvious decline in interest demonstrated by the TV ratings.” — It’s been proven now that this decline was caused by coverage of the election. From : “During Weeks 10-14, NFL games averaged 18.1 million viewers, off just 2 percent compared to those weeks in 2015.” A 2% drop is hardly an “obvious decline in interest”.

  3. Kevin says:

    That Priest story struck me strongly-I watched him in my formative years and the awesomeness of him and that offensive line endeared (or addicted) me to football. Hearing about the cost was sobering and significant. I’m sad people don’t want to hear it, to know the cost. They just want their entertainment, not to reflect or consider if it is really that far from gladiators. It was an important piece to write-and don’t put the reaction of yourself and your writing. I think it’s because you wrote so well that people reacted so strongly. No one wants to face or feel their demons-especially in the place they go to be distracted from their own.

    It’s part of why I will miss your voice in other areas besides baseball. Thank you for all you’ve written, and best of luck in your new endeavor and chapter.

    • invitro says:

      “consider if it is really that far from gladiators” — I’m sure you are aware that gladiators (a) were slaves, and (b) generally died in the arena. Given that NFL players are about as far from slaves as people can get, and that not very many of them die in their arena these days, I think we can safely say that YES, it really is quite far indeed from gladiators.

      • Darrel says:

        Take things literally much Invitro. The point being made is that we are, for our own entertainment, watching people perform an act that is dangerous to both their short and long term health. Yes of course it is not literally like the gladiators but the general theory holds. The reaction to Joe’s original story was I’m sure a result of people not being able to watch with the same glee now that they were aware of the toll on the players. That has only gotten worse with time as we learn more about concussions and the long term impact of them.

        • invitro says:

          “Yes of course it is not literally like the gladiators but the general theory holds.” — No, it doesn’t hold at all. The gladiators were *slaves*. NFL players are adults who make a conscious decision to play. If you don’t understand the difference…

          • Darrel says:

            OMG you can’t be this obtuse for real. I am now certain you are a troll. “Slavery” is not even remotely the point being made. I recall seeing you use the word strawman earlier and can’t think of a better example of that than you using the word *slaves* over and over. That we are watching people damage themselves for our entertainment was the point and no shouting of inflammatory words is going to change that.

  4. SDG says:

    That was an excellent piece of writing, Joe. If no one in Kansas City is going to say it, I will. You would think, honestly, that people who are against “the wussification of America” or whatever and we’re losing our toughness as a culture would WANT to read about how much Priest Holmes suffered and how hard he worked and how much it took from him. Why is it more manly and tough to hear about partying and buying dumb shit than to hear about all the injuries he played through, even ones that caused permanent damage.

    It’s a weird thing in our culture – some call it emotional labour. We give lip service to hard work and we admire it, but we don’t like to see it up close because it makes us feel indebted and uncomfortable. We like to assume people do things purely for the love and the non-material rewards, so we don’t owe them anything for what they do. If there’s the sense people give their bodies, their health, their future cognitive abilities for us, watching at home on the couch, we don’t like that feeling.

    • invitro says:

      “Why is it more manly and tough to hear about partying and buying dumb shit” — What the heck are you talking about? Did Joe say that people wrote him to demand stories about partying and buying dumb shit?

      • Darrel says:

        God you are pedantic about this. He was obviously referring to the fluff pieces more commonly written about the leagues players. Gronk much?

  5. Rob Smith says:

    The stats are there and it says that football causes lots of damage to the brain and body. My boys were athletes in High School. I steered them away from football but didn’t prevent them from playing. My youngest played one year. He was a little small at younger ages and the coach was kind of jerk about playing him very little (in a rec league). But he did him a favor. He was a star basketball player and a really good soccer player. When the High School football coach tried to coax him into playing (he was now 6’3″ and could run like the wind, so the coach imagined an amazing wide receiver) he was no longer interested. My older son just never liked contact that much, so he stuck to being a perimeter basketball player.

    My own experience with football, when I think coaches were more insane with younger players was that it wasn’t any fun. Playing sandlot football with your buddies was way more fun. I got hit a lot, mostly my legs. Both of my legs were perpetually black and blue. Every time I got hit, which was every play, pain would just sting up and down my body. Hey, to each his own, but life is too short. I prefer playing sports that are actually fun to play & I did not encourage my kids to play at all. I think football participation is declining and I think that is helping drive a lowered interest in the NFL.

  6. Sid Mickle says:

    Hi Joe,

    Love your stuff! I played high school ball and in a small college for 1 year. I wasn’t good enough to play there. I hated that and felt crushed to be rejected. Most people have no clue about football other than game day. Most kids don’t really look at the numbers and realize the slim chance for a scholarship much less an NFL roster spot. It’s brutal, more now than ever. I dont begrudge players one cent! I try to ignore the crazy ones and think about the guys who are regular human beings with that talent.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I don’t think it’s more brutal than ever except to the extent that players are bigger and faster, thereby making the collisions more violent. Look back at the 50s/60s/70s and look at what was legal. Terry Bradshaw got clocked under the chin in a Super Bowl with no penalty. Maybe the game wasn’t more dangerous, but the things they could do legally were much greater.

  7. GWY says:

    I was deeply moved by that column, and think about it often when I’m watching new running backs come up. This year it has frequently been on my mind when I watch Zeke Elliot take hits. I can probably list on one hand the number of newspaper columns that have stuck in my memory, and that Holmes column is definitely near the top of the list.

  8. Roger says:

    It’s logically such an obvious progression: as we become more aware of the toll that football takes on the people who play it, more parents will steer their kids away from playing as kids. Eventually, it becomes more difficult for high schools to find skilled teens to play, then colleges, and then… America’s pastime is slowly eroded from below. This scenario makes the people who love the game anxious and angry. And yet, it is really impossible to say that the game *doesn’t* dramatically injure so many of the people that play it. So instead, we shoot the messenger.

    • SDG says:

      Yes. Football becomes like boxing, which once was really popular but it’s always been sort of a niche, underground, sport, with a lower-class image. It’s regional. Given that the modern NFL relies more than any other major sport on the cultural stuff than on the actual play (Super Bowl coverage is more about the ads and the halftime show than the actual game) this will hit football particularly badly. First parents won’t steer their athletic sons to football anymore, but to basketball or baseball or increasingly, soccer. That cuts off the HS pipeline. Then college. Then the NFL.

      We’re seeing something similar in Canada with pro hockey. Obviously it’s still king, but the league started cracking down on the head hits because it was affecting the popularity of the game to see the players with permanent brain damage. (Also youth participation is down because it’s more expensive to play than basketball or soccer but that’s a separate thing). I don’t get it. I’m not an expert in either sport, but rugby is basically football, right? And that game doesn’t leave players with brain damage plus the players don’t wear helmets. And historically, during the leatherhead days, players didn’t tackle like they do now and get all the brain and spinal chord injuries. Same with hockey. In college, in Europe, in the Olympics – no fights or concussions. Just the NHL. This seems fixable if the leagues are interested.

      • BillM says:

        “…boxing, which once was really popular but it’s always been sort of a niche, underground, sport, with a lower-class image. It’s regional.”

        This is the most inaccurate comment about any sport ever. Just for starters, who is the most famous, beloved athlete to ever live?

        • Alter Kacker says:

          Who is the present heavyweight champion of the world?

        • Bruce Ward says:

          BillM, Ali was and is beloved not because he was the Greatest boxer, although he was that, but because of the man he was outside boxing. If all that Ali had ever done or had been known for had been his boxing, he would have been just another has-been athlete. But his life transcended the boxing ring.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Yes, but even before Ali, the heavyweight champion used to be a public figure on the level of a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano. The reason Ali was such a big deal originally was because being heavyweight champion was such a big deal. If Ali came along now, no one would give a damn. And to say Ali was the “man he was outside boxing” is a bit naïve; he came along and channeled frustration with the Vietnam War. What did Ali actually do outside the right other than resist the draft-which I agree took courage, especially since he was not going to be sent to fight in Vietnam. But, other than that, the man had a lot of character flaws. His treatment of Joe Frazier was appalling and he did it to further his own self-interest. I’m not denying Ali’s largely positive impact on society, but making him out to be some sort of deity and divorcing his persona from what was a huge sport at the time seems sort of specious.

        • SDG says:

          One exception. Who is loved and remembered for his personality and charisma and his public profile. It’s sort of like saying soccer is huge in America because everyone knows David Beckham. Boxing was mainstream 90 years ago along with baseball and horseracing and has never attained that popularity since.

          Name any other famous boxers in the last 50 years. The ones who are famous for something besides an electric grill you can buy from an infomercial. Are fights televised? Do people know the athletes?

          • invitro says:

            “Name any other famous boxers in the last 50 years.” — Are you drunk? Numerically challenged? Probably 95% of BR’s can rattle off a handful of famous boxers of the last 50 years.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Holmes. If you had said the last 30 years, you might have been more correct.

          • invitro says:

            I read in a Sports Illustrated a week or two ago that Floyd Mayweather was the #4 most-followed sports figure on social media, among Americans, in 2016. Others: Marvin Hagler, Hector “Macho” Camacho, Manny Pacquiao. A guy named Mike Tyson was sort of famous, too, and a handful of people know who he is even today.

      • nightfly says:

        Rugby has a few things that offset the possibility of the huge “jacked up” kind of hits:

        1. the rules prohibit simply leveling your opponent. You must make an attempt to wrap up the opponent with your arms – you can still drive through them but you can’t just drop a shoulder and bodycheck them to the turf;
        2. because the ball is in motion a lot more, a rugby defender can’t sell all-out for the tackle as easily;
        3. the players aren’t armored, so they’re more vulnerable initiating contact.

        In addition, I think that the emphasis on rugby is also on being a complete athlete – you have to play two ways all the time. If I’m coming around the end in an NFL (or even a Division I) game, I’m facing a group of guys 220-250 pounds in ballistic-grade Kevlar who can flatten me at full-speed, like getting hit with a thrown bowling ball. In a rugby game those are still big strong guys, but even without the same protection we’re not nearly as likely to have such a violent collision.

        That being said, it still happens, and there are rugby deaths. The New York Islanders’ Casey Cizikas accidentally killed an opponent during a rugby tackle in high school. (The opponent had been badly concussed two weeks prior and his family supported Cizikas during the subsequent trial.) I’m certain there are other examples. Nothing is foolproof and it’s only proper to respect those who take these risks to enjoy the games and entertain those who watch.

      • invitro says:

        “Super Bowl coverage is more about the ads and the halftime show than the actual game” — If this were true, the TV ratings for the halftime show and ads would be higher than those for the actual game. Is this true? It seems rather unlikely to me.

  9. nycgeoff says:


    It seems to me that you write several different flavors of stories, but most of the pieces can be broadly placed into two groups: the feel-good story (Buck O’Neal, the two female baseball players, Katie the Prefect) and the truth to power story (Wahoo, Buck O’Neal’s HoF snub, even Blyleven vs. Morris). All of these stories share these qualities: deft, light and incisive.

    I can imagine that you thought the Priest Holmes story would belong in the first category, gaining near-universal acclaim, but really it belongs in the second. Holmes’ suffering, like most ex-players, is mostly ignored by the NFL and by us consumers.

    I hope this doesn’t mean that you will stop writing these truth to power stories. I started following your work after Wahoo. All of those stories affected me, but some of them can also effect change.

    • DjangoZ says:

      I think you categorized Joe’s stories very well. And alot of people are deeply uncomfortable to hear that something they have enjoyed for decades is doing enormous harm to the people who participate.

    • Vidor says:

      Pity he doesn’t write “truth to power” stories when he’s writing about Penn State.

      • invitro says:

        Joe (and Bill James) took very courageous stances when that scandal erupted, pleading with the pitchfork-wavers to allow some time to pass, and justice to take its course. If that isn’t “truth to power”, I don’t know what is.

  10. Patrick L Dunn says:

    Thanks Joe. Well said. Understanding the nuanced aspects of a pro athletes’ life is interesting and thought provoking. For me, football has become a far distance second behind baseball for this very reason. Yes, is their choice, but that they have the choice because of the fierce popularity of a sport in which athletes are paid to punish each other physically, is an aspect of the game the audience has to acknowledge and would do well to examine.

  11. John Long says:

    I always appreciate the thoughtfulness of your work. My favorite brush with Greatness was meeting Priest backstage at an event. I was still a season ticket holder at the time. He gave me several minutes of his time. He was gracious when he didn’t need to be. I can’t fully appreciate the price he paid for my entertainment but he remains one of my favorite all time Chiefs. I wish him nothing but happiness in the rest of his life

  12. nightfly says:

    I hope you didn’t listen to a damn fool word of those idiots. The Holmes story was amazing then, and it was just as amazing when I re-read it just now. All of them can get stuffed; you wrote in beautifully, and it was well worth telling.

  13. birtelcom says:

    It’s unfortunate, I think, that American football moved away from the one-platoon system during World War II in what was supposed to be, I think, a temporary thing to deal with the fact that most of the all-around athletes were in the military. The use of unlimited substitution rules, and the accompanying large rosters, in American football means guys can train for very narrow purposes in a way that can be de-humanizing. Instead of having to pace themselves, and prepare to play different roles, and recognize that what they do on offense will be done to them shortly on defense, guys can tailor their bodies, skills and motivations in ways that are unhealthy. Extreme specialization can be efficient for an economy, but for an athlete it can be dangerous, and American football seems to suggest that.

  14. Brad says:

    I used to be the guy whose week was determined good or bad by how my favorite football teams did on Saturday and Sunday. That changed when one of my boys bored in college and I got a look behind the curtain. The bullying and pressure from the coaches was surprising and disappointing. The sheer amount of time he dedicated to the sport each week, year around, was an eye opener. When I read about billion dollar TV deals and the greed of Mark Emmert and the NCAA it burns my ass because I’ve seen these kids who have nothing but a scholarship and they give everything they have to their school. When the school is done with them, it just discards them and moves onto the new crop of fresh meat.
    But the real eye opener was the amount of physical damage these kids do to their bodies. Football has changed in my day. Today these kids are really big, really fast and really strong. A lot of tackles are akin to car collisions. When you stand close to the field and see a 250 lb. linebacker, who can bench 450 lbs and run a 4.5 chase down a RB or a WR, the collision’s can be startling. When my kid was done, I was relieved that he got out without any “major” injuries. He got hurt every single year, played through most of those injuries. Most kids do. But it would take him two months after the season ended to feel normal again. And these were college kids, not the pro’s. I can’t fathom the beating pro’s take. And to think that dolt Goodell wants to add two more games? Why? So we can watch the first NFL guy die on the field? You might think that’s extreme, but it’ll happen someday. No, I understand it now. I don’t have any answers. I know this is what they sign up for and the vast majority of these guys truly love the sport. Some, like Jadevon Clowney, appear to be doing it only for the money, but most give everything they have. Me? I still watch some NFL. They get paid for the punishment. But I’m over college FB. It’s a racket, organized slavery of 18-22 year olds for mega bucks to the corrupt NCAA. College FB needs to be abolished and turned into a minor league system of the NFL.

    • invitro says:

      “It’s a racket, organized slavery of 18-22 year olds” — You obviously are completely ignorant of what ACTUAL slavery was (and is, in Africa) like. I mean, are you honestly claiming that the life of black slaves in pre-Civil War USA was as good as that of star college football players is today?

    • KHAZAD says:

      There is no doubt that college football is a money making racket. But no one is forced to do it, and there are millions college age kids (Not to mention their parents) out there that would give their left arm for a college scholarship, even one that comes without the MANY extra benefits athletes get.

      Comparing it to slavery makes you seem astonishingly ignorant.

      • Brad says:

        Easy ladies. I’m a civil war buff, so I understand that slavery quite well. I’ve also seen impoverished young blacks from the south show up at the airport with practically everything they own in a garbage bag. Moving thousands of miles from home for a chance to play ball. For them, going to school and playing ball might be their only way out, almost a life or death desperation. Coach tells you to take a pain killer to play? Yes sir. Strength coach tells you to do what you need to do to get stronger? Yes sir. Sure, they don’t have to be there, but what other choice do most of them have? New crop of recruits coming in next year to try and take your job. It’s a high stress, dog eat dog world unless you’re a star. Until you see it up close, and I have, just cool your condescending attitudes. I’ll stick with my description of NCAA division 1 football as something close to slavery. You want to miss a weight session? You want to miss a film? 40-50 hours a week to football and find time for twelve to fifteen hours of class and study time? You do that for four or five years then tell me what you think.

        • KHAZAD says:

          I worked 48 hours a week and took 15 hours of class and study time for several years. And I didn’t have it as good as the athletes.(And my best friend was a division 1 left tackle) I am not arguing that it is a fair system, but what system is? I have seen professional and legal internships where 60 hours a week was expected. It was something you had to do to take the next step. Every Doctor that has a cushy life had to through some years of hell to get there. Many people work their entire lives in thankless regular jobs where you are worked to death and given all the appreciation of a cockroach, and less money value than the scholarship and opportunity that athletes are given.

          Are there fat cats making money off their backs? You bet, just as there is in every industry. But many of the athletes that don’t go on to be paid for their sport, the ones who came from nothing or not much, (especially the ones that don’t graduate) look back on that time as the best or easiest time of their life. It is certainly nothing like slavery, and perhaps less like it than most jobs. Even if you are making sacrifices, even if there are things you feel you have to do, even if you feel trapped by your job and don’t think you can make a living somewhere else, you ALWAYS have the option of walking away and choosing another path. It is not only not slavery, you can’t even compare it to indentured servitude.
          It is a business transaction, nothing more or less. They are offered opportunity for sacrifice, and the powers that be that make that offer in any field always make sure they are getting the best of the deal when dealing with individuals.

          • Berto says:

            I’m afraid, this too, is true. Especially, the unpaid internships.
            No one wants to pay for labor nowadays.

          • invitro says:

            The problem with unpaid internships in the medical professions lies with the AMA, which in my impression is one of the most evil orgs in the USA. (FWIW, I got paid, and paid pretty well, for the three internships I had during undergrad and pre-grad, in a science field.)

        • invitro says:

          “40-50 hours a week to football” — Which university requires its players to spend 40-50 hours a week on football? I think it’s more like 15-20.

          “I’ll stick with my description of NCAA division 1 football as something close to slavery.” — If that’s what you think, you clearly aren’t enough of a Civil War buff.

      • SDG says:

        Saying “No one forces you to do it” is disingenuous. No one forces people to do any difficult and dangerous job, but we have safety regulations and minimum wage laws and mechanisms to ensure people are not payed below market rate such as you have to pay your workers in real money and not scrip. And if industries don’t have those things, they should. The fact that people willingly enter into college sports (or coal mining) because it’s better than the other options of nothing doesn’t mean that it’s either legally or morally acceptable to not ensure the health and safety of their employees or to not pay them a market rate given how much revenue they bring to the schools.

        • invitro says:

          “the other options of nothing” — Good grief again. There are numerous options for any able-bodied young person anywhere in the USA who is willing to do a small modicum of work. And if you’re not, I think the military divisions are still accepting recruits. The USA is not a third-world country.

  15. KHAZAD says:

    I loved the initial article about Holmes, which was written for the KC Star, and the after career article that was liked to in the story. But that may be because Priest was my favorite football player ever to watch, He may have been undrafted, not wanted as a starter by his first team even though he was successful when given the chance, not really wanted as the starter by the Chiefs either at the beginning – he was going to be a third down back guy for them while they tried to make a fullback into their starter – and he was not the biggest,fastest, strongest, or quickest. But he had extraordinary vision and heart.

    The prime stretch of his career, from week 3 of the 2001 season to week 7 of 2004 (He got his second “possible career ending injury” in week 8 that year and really was never the same afterwards)was only 52 games started, but what a 52 games! He averaged 107 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving per game, and scored 77 touchdowns. He was a joy to watch.

  16. Hudson Valley Slim says:

    “Football is a violent game. We are violent men.” — Will Shields

  17. MikeN says:

    Surprised you wrote this without noting Richard Sherman’s column about Thursday Night Football, and how it messes up the routine.

  18. Donald A. Coffin says:

    I remember reading the Priest Holmes story and feeling not shocked, really, but saddened by what seemed to be taken for granted as a way to entertain a few million people on a weekly basis. (By that point, I had not been watching pro football form at least 2 decades, so I was at least not contributing to the problem.) Am I surprised that the response was as overwhelmingly negative as you’ve reported? Yes. That it was negative? No. Steve Goodman, I think, nailed it:

    “That’s cause it ain’t hard to get along with somebody else’s troubles
    And they don’t make you lose any sleep at night
    As long as fate is out there burstin’ somebody else’s bubbles.
    Everything is gonna be alright.
    And everything is gonna be alright.”

  19. ps says:

    Was a passionate football fan (college and pro) when a kid. Then, after a brief period of indifference to it in my 20s, I have for the past 2 decades actively hated the fact that football embodies the worst aspects of American society — commercialism, deceit, exploitation, racism, militarism, violence. They’re all wrapped up in how the game is played and presented at both the pro and college level. That the NFL used the same legal tactics and pseudoscience to defend itself as the tobacco industry says it all.

  20. JT4905 says:

    I’m done with pro football. I will not participate in responsibility for the injuries, PTSD, CTE, etc., that football players suffer. (It helps that my Browns suck so bad. If they were playoff bound, my resolve would be tougher. I was raised in a football family.)

    I still watch football – D-III college football. Those guys are not going on to careers as battering rams; most of them are real students.

    I’m on the fence about D-I football. I’m a HUGE Ohio State fan. I know I should quit supporting them, but that’s like saying I should quit loving my uncle because he drinks too much. It’s tough.

    • invitro says:

      Division 1 football players are a lot less likely to be able to afford doctors for their pain than NFL players are, and Division 3 players even less. So it sounds like your decision is backwards. Maybe what you’re really mad at is the money that NFL players make?

  21. Marc Schneider says:

    Two points here:

    First, I’m not sure the Browns are as bad as the 49ers actually. These are two really bad teams; the fact that the 49ers got to play the Rams first is sort of a technicality. I would actually like to see the Browns and 49ers play. It would be fascinating.

    Second, I appreciate stories like Joe’s about Holmes. I think people should empathize with those that suffer even if it is their choice and they make a lot of money. On the other hand, it is the players’ choices to play what is obviously a violent sport. If people choose not to watch football, I respect that, but please don’t be a martyr about it. I don’t think it’s inconsistent to be bothered by the violence (or at least the injuries it inflicts) but still watch the sport.

  22. invitro says:

    Joe says the 2016 Browns are the worst team he’s ever seen. I don’t know if he’s claiming that they’re the worst team in ~40 years, but still… I know little about the NFL, but I did notice that the Browns’ point differential is essentially the same as the worst team of random seasons I looked at on football-reference. This was a couple of weeks ago, so that may not be true. But I am curious if there’s any objective evidence that the Browns are the worst team in 40 years. I suppose Joe would be offering it if there were…

    • Dan says:

      No, they’re not going to come close to being as bad as the 1976 Bucs. And they might be less of an embarrassment than the 1-15 1990 Patriots (last in offense, second-last in defense, and sexually harassed a female reporter to boot).

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Their point differential is slightly worse than the 49ers, FWIW.

  23. invitro says:

    It seems like we should have the technology to make better football equipment, that would mitigate long-term health problems. I vaguely remember reading about a new helmet design that did that, but was big, and the players didn’t want to wear it. I hope football players aren’t having serious health problems mainly because they’re worried about looking goofy… Well, I might as well as google it. Here’s an article: From Jan 2016. It says: “The company says its goal is to reduce the incidence of concussion in football by 50 percent.” I can’t find what the actual reduction of their current helmet is. And this: ‘“It was tricky because players don’t want to play with a marshmallow on their heads,” Marver says.’ Well, there you go. This kind of stuff is why I’m not inclined to have all that much empathy for the players…

    • Hamster Huey says:

      A lot of the concussion problems are thought to be caused by the brain impacting the skull from the inside as a result of rapid changes of direction from collisions. Hard for a helmet, or any external equipment, to do much about this. A company’s goal is always going to sound impressive, but that doesn’t mean it’s consistent with reality.

  24. Grant Sbrocco says:

    I think the reason for the anger is based partly on shame. We all really enjoy football. We enjoy rooting for our team, even if its a fantasy team. Even better if its a daily fantasy team so I can root for different players every week. We enjoy our pools, the kind where we pick the winners or the kind where we hope for survival. We enjoy the big hits and the great tackles and even the dirty play where a defenseless player gets jacked up by some guy looking to take his head off. So when you come along and remind us that this game is causing real people real pain it takes away from the joy. Once the joy is lost its hard to get back.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      But a lot of people want to feel guilty because they think the players are playing because they have no other options or are playing only for the money. That may be true in some cases, but I think the vast majority of players love it. Lots of people like dangerous activities that I wouldn’t do. Back in the 60s, when the players made a lot less, it was probably true that many players at least kept playing because they needed a job. But I don’t think that’s true today and we see more players retiring early because they are concerned about their long-term health. Most of the others, I think, like most pro athletes, get a huge rush out of playing and can’t imagine doing anything else. Again, aside from my backyard, I never had any great desire to play football, but I don’t feel guilty about watching guys play that clearly like it any more than I am embarrassed about watching a baseball player get beaned in the head. I think most of the players get a real joy out of playing; someone like Christian McCaffrey, with a father that played in the NFL, certainly wouldn’t need to play to make a living. Tom Brady is far, far past the point where he is playing to put bread on the table. The argument that just because they like it is no reason to encourage it is pretty condescending; you have guys like James Harrison playing at 38. He clearly doesn’t need to keep playing.

      But, yes, I feel bad when I read about someone like Priest Holmes. But there are probably just as many ex-players that would do it again (as apparently Holmes would).

    • route66news says:

      “Once the joy is lost, it’s hard to get back.”

      This is me, completely. I began to get an uneasy feeling years ago when I began to read about all these former NFL players who had become virtual invalids by their 50s and once-upstanding players who’d become pariahs because brain damage had changed their personalities.

      I think the tipping point was the deeply sad story of former Bears safety Dave Duerson, who went from a multimillionaire entrepreneur to a guy who’d gone completely apesh*t behaviorally and broke. He knew something had gone horribly wrong, so he killed himself with a shot to the chest and instructed his family to send his brain to a lab in Boston to confirm the problem. Indeed, the lab confirmed he was suffering from CTE, caused by concussions.

      You can claim pro football players know of possible physical risks of playing the game. But I don’t think anyone dreamed — players included — it would be anything like this. Anyone who’s dealt with anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia knows a substantial fortune can be burned up just on long-term care for such individuals. I’m not even delving into the usual stuff, such as knee and hip replacements, etc., to outright disability.

      Either way, I quit watching the NFL years ago because of this. Like a lot of fans, I enjoyed the big hits. I don’t enjoy them at all anymore. I’d rather watch baseball.

      Reading this column and his mention of Luke Kuechly makes me wonder whether the same thing has happened to Joe, hence the recent career change.

  25. Brian says:

    Invitro successfully proved Joe’s main point. Like 35 times.

  26. Dave Glass says:

    I’m stunned that your Holmes story got such negative response – I somehow missed it when you wrote it, but I think you did a hell of a job on it.

    I guess people build their myths, and most don;t want those myths busted.

    • invitro says:

      You’re right that people don’t want their myths and fantasies busted. Here are some of the ones that BR’s have exposed on this page:
      – NFL players are slaves.
      – NFL players are unintelligent children who don’t know that playing in the NFL is painful and can lead to permanent health problems.
      – NFL players do not have the maturation and/or mental ability to decide what they want to do with their lives.
      – Playing in the NFL is the only job a college football player can get.
      – Americans are unempathetic people.
      – Increased opioid deaths are mostly due to the elderly using their prescribed pain medication.
      – If someone doesn’t like being told that football should be banned, it really means that they love violence and don’t want to know the truth.

  27. Rick says:

    How odd. A simply story about football, nothing persuasive about it, just a story about the effects of playing the game. And yet so much rage for even mentioning it. Real, live guttural rage just because they now know that one of their football heroes hobbles through the after-football life. I read some of the comments above–enough to know that at least one person is really, really angry about this. I think underlying this rage is the implicit question about our own selves and our own morality. Once we know how much the players suffer, can we still enjoy it? It is not a question about personal responsibility, or how similar football is to Roman combat games, but rather a question about our own morality. Am I really pleased by my three-hours of amusement when, at the end, I know my entertainers will be physically broken? Perhaps people don’t like the question served quite so directly.

  28. invitro says:

    If all you people really care so much about the health of football players, why have (I think) none of you said a peep about using safer equipment, particularly safer football helmets? I find it incredibly ironic that (I think) I’m the only person here to have mentioned this. (I just searched for “helmet”; someone talked about batting helmets, and rugby players not wearing helmets, but I am indeed the only person here to have mentioned football helmets.)

    I linked to a story about (potentially?) safer football helmets above; how many of you read it? How many of you have researched safer football helmets? Do they currently exist, are they possible, if they exist, why aren’t players using them? Are players refusing to use them? Are companies like Riddell blocking their production? Are football leagues blocking their use?

    These aren’t rhetorical questions; I really want to know the answers. As far as I can tell, you guys don’t really care about the health of football players; you just want to feel morally superior by shedding your crocodile tears. If you really cared, you’d be thinking about ways to help lessen the problem, and you aren’t doing that. How many of you have contacted your local school board and asked them to use safer helmets?

    • Brian says:

      Geez, go away already.

      • ManSlap says:

        Not only will he NOT go away, but you can look forward to seeing his condescending comments dominate the comments section of nearly every single article Joe writes.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I’ve considered helmets, actually. I haven’t written about it here, but I have looked up the NFL’s rules on helmets and the 2016 rulebook says essentially this about the required specifications of helmets: “Helmet”.

      There’s a bunch of info about the face mask, eye shields, and tint of the eye shield, and then this:
      “No visible identification of a manufacturer’s name or logo on the exterior of a helmet or on any attachment to a helmet is permitted unless provided for under a commercial arrangement between the League and manufacturer; in no event is identification of any helmet manufacturer permitted on the visible surface of a rear cervical pad. All helmets must carry a small NFL shield logo on the rear lower-left exterior, and an approved warning label on the rear lower-right exterior. Both labels will be supplied in quantity by the League office.”

      You’d think there would be some indicator that the helmet worn by players must have a safety certification or meet a certain safety standard. But there is a fairly detailed specification about making sure the manufacturer of the helmet is not given free advertising.

  29. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    As we say in San Diego, never assume you’re going 0-16 as long as you still have the Chargers on your schedule.

  30. Pete R says:

    Apologies for the late contribution…

    For decades, I loved watching football- it was one of the ten biggest obsessions of my life. But, like the commenter route66news, I reached a tipping point with just one more story of a severely injured former player. It was quite sudden, in week two this season: so I stopped watching completely. I refuse to pay young men to wreck their bodies. I am embarrassed by my slowness in deciding this.

    The problem isn’t just NFL games- 99%+ of America’s football collisions happen in practices, in colleges, in high schools. The problem is not that the NFL isn’t doing enough, although maybe it isn’t- it’s that the game is inherently violent, and always has been.

    I’m 54, and I’m just beginning to know what it’s like to be unable to sleep because of pain. A little bit of physio has sorted me out for now- but I guess you have to multiply my pain by at least 100 to approach football levels.

    Most of us made some bad decisions when we were younger. The difference between most of us and football players is this: the consequences of the decision to play football are generally more severe, probably way more severe than they realised when they started.

    No, I don’t want football to be banned. But I won’t complain if other people stop supporting the football industry.

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