HOLLYWOOD, CA – Like many of you rugby fans, I love professional football – the American version. But sometimes the NFL really makes it hard. It can be little things, like my beloved Steelers deciding that all of their prime time games this year will apparently be played in Hamburglar-meets-Bumblebeecostumes.
And it can be bigger things, like the way the NFL has chosen to put a pretty bow on the fact that for decades they didn’t give a crap about concussions turning its ex-players into dangerously sociopathic, self-destructive man-children.
I say this as a Steeler fan, a franchise you don’t have to like to at least appreciate as one of the most upstanding in all of professional sports… a franchise that has just this year launched a concussion awareness program aimed at youth football players – the first to do so.
However, it’s also the franchise of numerous, ugly concussion-related stories. From Jason Strzelczyk to Terry Long to of course, Iron Mike Webster. Back to Jason Strzelczyk for a second. Click this, and scroll down to “Death.” Read that. Then consider that just the other night, Ryan Clark tried to down-play the many concussions he’s suffered while Isaac Redman had to leave the game after “getting his bell rung.”
With the number of players losing time to concussions already in the dozens this season , the league has tried countering with their own spin. They’re running a commercial featuring a lovely, concerned mother taking time out of watering her plants to break down a fourth wall with poster boy Tom Brady, expressing her concerns over her son playing football. “It’s a great game,” he says, and he means it. So far he’s avoided football’s version of The Big C, as far as we know anyway, but it’s awfully suspicious how he’s writing “All work and no play makes Tom a dull boy” over and over again on his pad of paper. Tom just has to look handsome, say “We’re doing a lot,” and complete the easiest pass of his life to NFL Vice President Carl Johnson who, when he isn’t levying fines for muddily defined illegal hits, apparently only types on one half of his keyboard. Seriously, watch him in this, would the rules be clearer if he used the whole thing? He’s only on screen for a whole two seconds before, without introduction, a man in a lab coat stands in a room with white helmets adorned with targets, and talks about all the money the NFL is going to spend – added to the millions they apparently paid under the table to players suffering from early onset dementia. They did this while denying that there was a link to Congress and everyone else.
The nice lady is comforted by the actor in the lab coat, and why shouldn’t she be? She’s a hired actress too…which is wierd, because she then alludes that her son, “the little guy,” is actually Ray Lewis. “Cute kid,” says Brady, and it’s funny, see, because Ray Lewis is a man who has in fact given a lot of concussions in his career. He’s been fined to the tune of tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars by the Carl Johnsons in the league office, and has not been quiet about it. His sneer nullifies everything we’ve just been told, and reassures us that it’s a bloodsport and that’s what we like about it. So don’t worry, actress playing Ray Lewis’s mother, your pretend-son is going to be just fine. The NFL cares plenty… they said so.
As for Rugby, it remains to be seen whether the powers-that-be will do more than just have a player walk off into a locker room for a, “Hey, where are you?” before sending him or her back on to the pitch with a fanny pat. Your thoughts?