Here’s why the sports media are 100% complicit in the gruesomeness of the NFL and the effect it has on players’ minds and bodies. Immediately below the lead story about Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide — a murder-suicide that hasn’t been linked to football-related problems but definitely stands as a particularly gruesome link in a long chain of football players with severe mental health problems — there’s Bill Simmons complaining about the NFL’s rule changes. Rule changes that are, of course, designed to reduce the effect playing the game has on players’ brains.
Of course, the game is never going to exist without destroying players’ brains. That’s why the NFL will eventually disapper, or at least move out to the fringes like present-day boxing. Meanwhile, people like Bill Simmons will complain the whole time that we’re ruining the game in the name of “safety.” (Ditto for everyone who wanted an asterisk next to the records set by the Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense last year, because they were only set because of safety-related rules that favor the offense. Those people will complain the whole time.) But those people will be wrong.
The thing is, this sport will be dangerous forever. In the name of cheering on a team, thereby adopting this multi-million dollar business as a symbol of a city or region or social group, we’re literally killing people. Sometimes it’s indirect and dramatic, like Jovan Belcher or Junior Seau this year, while most of the time it’s direct but almost-invisible, as with the thousands of former players whose life expectancies are cut short by decades because of what football’s done to their bodies and minds.
These are our heroes, and we’re killing them. I don’t know what to do about my football fandom. Obviously this will never affect me as much as it will his family or his girlfriend’s family or their poor orphaned infant or people who played with him or even Chiefs fans, but still it breaks my heart. RIP Jovan Belcher.