"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Conflict, health issues put cloud over NFL

The William Frawley character in "I Love Lucy" started a little kiosk called "A big hunk of America." This was in response to Ricky Ricardo's "A little bit of Cuba."
Frawley as the endearing "Fred" (Mertz) nailed the American essence. Let's make the big bigger. Let's let the rich get richer.
The National Football League has been a phenomenal American success story. Starting in the 1960s, it has grown as if endowed with magical qualities.
But all is not well in 2011. Where you find money, lawyers and agents will congregate and make things complicated.
"Why can't we all just get along," Rodney King once intoned.
Mr. King didn't have the best credentials for sharing wisdom but he synthesized goodness pretty well there. President Obama said something pretty similar about the NFL recently. He stated the obvious, that there's enough money there for both sides to be happy.
The worker bees are on one side - the players who we are increasingly learning are sacrificing life and limb to continue a youthful game into adulthood. The NFL is scared as hell about all these revelations about head injuries and the lives destroyed and altered.
The NFL wants to protect the golden goose.
Bodies have become like missiles. NFL teams pull out all stops to develop the fastest and biggest human beings.
It doesn't hurt fans a bit who watch these guys slam into each other on TV. The fans just sit there with their bowl of Doritos and a Pepsi handy.
I might add that after a day of ingesting such junk, they might throw on a sweatshirt and walk a few laps at the RFC, figuring they're "staying in shape." What's really disturbing is that their insurance might be helping pay for the RFC membership.
A healthy diet would solve everything.
Fans face their own risks from their sedentary pastimes, but players can ponder very grave consequences of their "athletic" pursuits.
Maybe we're like the Romans in the late days of their empire. They were entertained by destructive spectacles.
I was subjected to the very disturbing spectacle of former Minnesota Viking Fred McNeill being profiled by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta a few months ago. The media had "gotten onto the trail" of head injuries and the NFL.
The McNeill story hit home because he of course was a former Viking (linebacker). McNeill sadly is showing signs of the kind of mental deterioration that comes from a career of intense NFL football. He's still able to communicate and he's aware of what's happening to him.
Dave Duerson seemed to be aware too. Duerson didn't stick around to see how much more he might degenerate. The former Chicago Bear, a member of the 1985 Super Bowl champion team, took his own life. He was age 50.
His widow said he was suffering short-term memory loss, blurred vision and pain on the left side of his brain.
I remember McNeill worrying to Dr. Gupta that he might not even remember Dr. Gupta if encountering him a few weeks later.
Was this necessary just for McNeill and his purple mates to entertain me on Sundays? No. I can easily learn to live without the NFL. It won't be easy at first. It's an intoxicating form of entertainment.
But I was able to break my emotional ties with baseball thanks to the extended strike of 1994. I'm not alone. These addictions can be surmounted. There is life outside of football on fall weekends.
There was an article on Yahoo! News Tuesday about all the empty seats at major league baseball parks this summer. It seems logical. There are so many cheaper forms of entertainment.
Pro sports are etched into our national heritage. FDR insisted that baseball continue during World War II. How quaint, because this suggested that sports were merely an enriching institution instead of the hydra-like money-seeking monster it later became.
Blacks weren't even allowed to play in the majors until after the war.
Unionization brought some good things but this cause ended up having no more inherent goodness than the owners. It's all about "getting an edge" and enlisting the sharpest legal minds to leverage your position. And fans of course be damned.
Well, we don't need any of this stuff. We're demonstrating that by staying away from big league baseball parks. What took so long?
Now maybe we'll see a wave of skepticism against these new stadiums that epitomize excess. Jerry Jones was able to pull off an opulent new stadium in Dallas. What was wrong with the stadium where Roger Staubach played?
What's wrong with the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome? Wait a minute, I don't think it's named after Hubert anymore. He was a Democrat. We live in the age of Sarah Palin and the tea partiers.
Except that's going to crumble as people realize that politicians of such stripes, if given the chance, will dismantle the New Deal.
Republicans always try this, if given the chance. In the past they have sunk. We'll wee what happens this time with the likes of Paul Ryan. He's only 41 years old and he has some learning to do. He's playing with fire though.
The NFL may be overstepping its bounds by expecting all NFL cities to follow suit with the kind of thing Jones did in Dallas. This hoped-for "new generation" of stadiums might be a bridge too far for the NFL.
Minnesota is under pressure to come through with one of these monuments to American excess - "a big hunk of America." However, there's a feeling growing that the new stadium in Minnesota won't be such a certainty.
Could it be that the Mondale name can't even push it through? Ted Mondale has been enlisted to grease the skids for the new stadium proposal. His father Walter is the politician that tea partiers would call a "socialist."
But Walter would certainly be on the front lines helping to preserve Social Security in its historic framework.
I have to laugh because many tea partiers (a loose term, really, to denote self-consciously right wing Republicans) are up in age. Ryan's blueprint should look ominous to them. A day of reckoning might be coming.
Maybe it's time for "liberals" to put on their capes and get political momentum again. Stranger things have happened. Self-interest does a lot to guide people's behavior on these things.
How scared is the NFL of the head injury topic? The league asked Toyota to stop running a TV commercial that discussed helmet hits.
Toyota has technology that simulates accident injuries. Toyota felt it could be helpful in better understanding and preventing health problems from football's harsh contact.
Even before reading this story, I suspected that this commercial, which I had seen several times, would rankle the NFL. It shouldn't have. But the league is trying to protect their golden goose. It wants to keep the negatives internal.
But the Fred McNeills of the world won't allow that. Duerson isn't even with us anymore.
We learn that NFL players are susceptible to something called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It's associated with dementia and depression.
It's a far bigger concern to me than which side "wins" in the current labor dispute. The labor dispute is just two armies of attorneys doing their thing.
The health issues make me want to forget about football.
Former Viking offensive lineman Brent Boyd appears to have problems like McNeill. Many of us remember quarterback Tommy Kramer being slammed to the turf (in a game against the Rams) and looking for a few moments like he might be dead, with one of his hands twitching in fact.
What about Joe Theismann experiencing that compound fracture on national TV? I heard that some people threw up when watching that.
There needs to be a more civilized way to carry on with life. Maybe if a strike or work stoppage wipes out the 2011 NFL season, we can withdraw like many baseball fans did after the 1994 strike. Take a bike ride on Sunday afternoon. Play badminton in the back yard.
It's true I'd have less to talk about with my favorite waitress at DeToy's Restaurant, Felixia. But she's a psychology major at UMM and I'm sure there would be a lot to explore there.
Felixia tells me she's graduating in May. So she might not be around next fall.
That's a problem with developing ties with UMM students. Alas they move on.
Her departure will give me a head injury.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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