Thursday, August 14, 2014

The NFL and the Karate Kid

Many moons ago, a friend of mine named Carl, who was highly advanced in a martial art (3rd-4th degree black belt - I forget) told me an interesting story. He had opened his own "dojo", basically a school to teach youngsters the discipline. Though meek and mild-mannered, and a guy that would do anything to avoid a physical confrontation in public -- including running away -- this was a guy that could be flat-out dangerous with his hands and feet if he was cornered by others and was forced to fight for survival. Occasionally macho idiots who had heard of his skills just had to "check him out". Still, he would do just enough to escape the situation, while inflicting a minimal amount of harm.

But he also said he always gave the parents of incoming students the same lecture. And if necessary, even adults who had signed up. He would teach them, or their children, many different exercises, mental disciplines, and slowly bring them along in the physical nature of his particular area of expertise. Like everything else in life, some will be better than others, he would say.

Yet he also told them that if they hung around long enough, and were good enough to advance far enough up the ranks -- they would get hurt eventually. He himself had suffered many injuries, including broken bones, on his way up the ladder to his lofty status. One has to compete against people better than themselves to prove their worthiness for advancement. It goes with the territory. So if anybody had concerns about the possibilities of injury, he made it quite clear from the outset this was the time to walk back out through the door. This was not a dance school. There would be contact. Eventually, serious contact. Injuries will happen.

The reason I relate that story is because it could be applied to the NFL these days. Sure, they've gone out of their way attempting to make the game safer. Better helmets and pads, banning such things as crack-back blocks and head-to-head contact, instant possible concussion monitoring, and scaling back the brutal practices and training regimens the players once faced, amongst other things.

Most, but not all, would say these are all good things. Player safety should be paramount. It also seems quite righteous that the NFL is willing to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars (the exact figure is yet to be determined) towards former players who are suffering from various maladies, physical and mental, that likely came about from their "playing days".

Back in the old days, nobody knew about concussions. A player got his "bell rung". He would play on or risk losing his job to another. Strained ligaments were a "sore knee". Good grief, Jack Youngblood of the former LA Rams once played an entire Super Bowl game on a broken leg.

Nowadays, people would think Jack was crazy. Maybe he was. And it didn't say much for his back-up, whoever that was, that he couldn't be more effective than a guy with a broken leg.

But let's get down to the nitty-gritty. In modern times, everybody knows that playing football includes the possibility of injury, sometimes very serious.

As my old pal Carl mentioned above would say, the further up the ladder you go, the greater the risk of getting hurt. Besides having the God-given talent, you have to WANT to do it, mentally and physically for a long time, through a lot of trials and tribulations, in order to accomplish anything great. 99.9% of those that start will never reach the peak of their aspirations -- be it in a dojo or in an NFL stadium.

More to the point, the NFL players themselves have no reason to whine anymore. They have certainly been made aware of the potential risks in the game they choose to play. A career can end, or a life be tragically altered with a horrendous injury on any given play. Again, it goes with the territory. Bad stuff is going to happen sometimes in a game that includes high-speed collisions on most every play, regardless of how "in shape" the athletes are, and whatever other safety measures and/or precautions have been taken.

Obviously, the players want to do it, because the competition remains ferocious to make it on an NFL team, much less be a star. And ironically, or maybe not, the NFL remains far and away the most popular sport in America. Fans LOVE their football, as does the media.

So why not just let them play it without all the sissy rules? Everybody knows what the deal is -- risk and possible reward. Granted, a lot of NFL players aren't the brightest stars in the galaxy. Without football, they might not be mentally capable of handling a drive-thru order at a typical fast-food joint. How else to explain false-start penalties when they heard the snap count in the huddle 10 seconds before? Or jumping offsides when the football is right underneath their noses and hasn't moved yet?

But dammit, they can run, catch, block, tackle, kick, and dance in the end zone. And the possibility of an obcene multi-million dollar contract doesn't exactly serve as a deterrent to the wannabes.

So let them play and beat each other up. They like it, the fans like it, and the media thrives on it.

But no more whining about the injuries that might happen. Or have even occurred in the recent past.

Like Carl would have said -- they knew what they were getting into -- but they did it anyway.

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