Football is a violent sport.
The men who play the game for our entertainment know the risks they're taking, and the price they may pay for playing a sport that requires them to violently crash into each other.
But to watch this sport, we want their suffering to happen out of our sight. When they fall, they're supposed to get back up, give us a sign they're okay, and we all breathe a sigh of relief and the game goes on. We think of the often times life-changing money they're making, the glory they receive from us, the fans, and want to fervently believe that's fair compensation for our enjoyment.
We don't want to hear about the pain they play through, or the pain they feel waking up the next day. We don't want to hear much about their injuries, the gruesome way football tears down their bodies, the painful rehabs they go through. Just tell us when they'll be playing again. We try not to think of their battered, aging bodies as they fade from the sport. Instead we applaud their toughness for playing through the pain, and in some instances, sit in the cheap seats and call them soft, say they’re overpaid, or not performing for our fantasy team. We want to forget the pain and the risks exist.
This has been an NFL season when those risks, that pain, the price players pay for this sport have been inching closer to what happened Monday night. Tua Tagovailoa, with his fingers grotesquely splayed, laying on the field suffering from a traumatic brain injury for all to see- that should have been the moment we all woke up. A brain injury could be fatal. A hard hit could be fatal. This sport, any contact sport, could lead to a fatality.
I've listened to many former players say they know the risks they take could lead to loss of life. They know this could happen. Deep down we all know this too, and we've turned a willful blind eye to that risk. We weren't, collectively, ready to for the moment and the reminder that a sport we love to watch means great sacrifice to all who play it, and maybe, the ultimate sacrifice.
The NFL prepares dire medical emergencies, for both players and fans. They have ambulances standing by, the best medical staff on hand, they rehearse routes to the nearest hospital. The former head of the NFLPA, Dominique Foxworth, was on ESPN talking about the deaths of former teammates, one of whom collapsed and died of a heart attack. But since it didn't happen on Monday Night Football, it couldn't be foreseen? A Hall of Fame player who spoke to ESPN in 2013 said that Roger Goodell was “terrified” that a player was going to die on the field if the sport didn’t change.
The sport has changed since then, but has it changed enough? Only time will tell and in the meantime, our thoughts and prayers should be with Damar Hamlin, and in the hope nothing like this will happen again.