From revelations that Aaron Hernandez had catastrophic brain damage to Richard Sherman becoming the latest star to go down with a season-ending injury to a groggy Russell Wilson somehow getting back on the field in barely the amount of time it would take to ask him his name, it’s been a brutal 24 hours for the NFL.
Certainly, it’s not a good time to be a football player.
Then again, we’re learning it’s really never a good time to be a football player.
These modern-day gladiators willingly put their lives on the line for our enjoyment each week, a spectacle roughly equivalent to a car wreck in helmet and shoulder pads.
Maybe at some point there won’t be anyone willing or able to take part in this carnage, which so senselessly devours its own, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.
There’s too much money involved for this sport to go away anytime soon.
In the meantime, we have to keep asking ourselves if a few hours of supposed enjoyment while sprawled out on the couch — and, yes, that includes me — is worth the enormous toll that it takes on the guys we are watching?
Let’s start with Hernandez, the former New England tight end sent to prison for murder, who took his own life just days after being acquitted in another killing.
Turns out, his 27-year-old brain was a complete mess , suffering from substantial damage to the parts that affect memory, judgment and behavior. A researcher said it was most severe case of the degenerative disease linked to repeated head blows that has ever been found in someone so young.
“We’ve never seen this in our 468 brains,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, “except in individuals some 20 years older.”
That’s not to say Hernandez became a killer simply because of the damage caused by football. There were surely other factors, from his upbringing to a genetic profile making him more susceptible to CTE, that contributed to a deranged personality capable of taking a man’s life.
But given all we know about the awful toll that CTE extracts, now horrifically documented in hundreds of former pro football players after their lives ended in a football-induced fog, Hernandez’s livelihood cannot be discounted as at least a contributing factor to his unspeakable violence.
A few hours after McKee revealed the findings on Hernandez’s addled brain, the Seattle Seahawks took the field against the Arizona Cardinals in one of those Thursday night games that are essentially a cash grab for a league that already rakes in billions.
Never mind the toll it takes on players, who have only three full days to recover from the beating they took in their previous game.
“This (expletive) should be illegal,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin told the Tacoma News Tribune after a game that looked more like an episode of “M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H,” minus the laugh track. “It’s not OK.”
Baldwin’s anger was understandable.
Sherman hobbled off the field with a ruptured Achilles tendon , depriving the Seahawks of their best cornerback for the rest of the season. The Cardinals lost their starting left tackle, D.J. Humphries, and leading tackler, safety Tyvon Branch, to knee injuries that may finish them off for the year.
In all, at least seven players were injured in Seattle’s 22-16 victory.
“It’s kind of hard to get back out there and recover. That’s why you see so many injuries on Thursday night,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said. “You want to give the fans what they want, but also be able to protect the players as much as you can.”
The day of the week had nothing to do with Wilson’s troubling case.
The Seahawks quarterback took a blow to the chin in the third quarter, a play that resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty on Karlos Dansby. Clearly concerned about Wilson’s health, referee Walt Anderson sent him off the field.
But Wilson was in the injury tent for only a few moments.
He missed a grand total of one play.
“I wasn’t concussed or anything like that,” Wilson insisted after the game.
That’s not his call to make, and it seems downright implausible that a thorough concussion exam could be conducted in such a short period of time. The league said Friday it is reviewing whether its protocol was followed properly by the Seahawks , an issue the NFL is especially conscious of given the enormous amount of money it paid out to settle claims that it covered up for decades the damage caused by blows to the head.
If an investigation finds any hanky-panky to get Wilson back in the game so quickly, the NFL needs to come down hard on the Seahawks. A hefty fine or disciplinary action for the medical staff won’t do. Perhaps a loss of draft picks. Maybe even make Wilson sit out at least part of the next game — even if he’s fully recovered.
That would show the league actually cares about the health of its players and not just the bottom line, a message that the NFL, to its credit, has taken significant steps to demonstrate in recent years.
And while we’re at it, get rid of the Thursday night games, too.
Of course, there’s no way to make football a safe game.
It’s a brutal, high-impact sport.
Always has been. Always will be.
Just look at all the big-name players who’ve gone down this year, a virtual Pro Bowl team that includes Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck, Brandon Marshall, J.J. Watt, Eric Berry, Darren Sproles and Joe Thomas. The most gruesome injury of all was sustained a few weeks ago by Bears tight end Zach Miller , who needed emergency surgery to save his left leg.
Does all of this senseless violence foreshadow football’s ultimate downfall?
Will there come a time when we just can’t bear to watch?
I’ll be watching on Sunday.
You probably will, too.
But after the last 24 hours, we seem to be a little closer.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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