Pop Culture

Why Do We Care That NFL Players Suffer Concussions?

On May 2 of this year, former NFL legend Junior Seau was found dead in his home from an apparent self-inflicted shotgun blast to the chest. After investigation, San Diego police formally ruled his death a suicide, setting off gross public speculation upon the manner of his demise and widespread criticism of the sport he loved and played that allegedly caused it.

The public debate rages over potentially life-threatening damage done during the career of a professional football player in the National Football League.

We also live in a world in which MMA, boxing and NASCAR are incredibly popular on TV, as far as exceedingly destructive, dangerous sports go. There is also a large portion of our society who enjoy the misfortunes of others as experienced through the distorted cipher of reality TV: crazy dance moms, brides-to-be competing for plastic surgery and toddlers wearing tiaras in possibly the most perverted of beauty pageant-popularity contests.

So with all of these misplaced mores, I would finally ask:

Why do we really care that NFL players get hurt?

To date, more than 80 concussion-related lawsuits have been filed by more than 2,000 former NFL players.

As a society, we are less upset that a human being killed themselves as we are actively engaged in the narrative of the passionate football fan: spectator, cheerleader and promoter, totally engaged in the propagation of destructive behavior while actively desirous of an End Game -- of winning at all costs.

The culture of the NFL is so duplicitous it can only end in tragedy, but really, how is it any worse than the truly profound damage done to the exploited children of Toddlers in Tiaras, or any other such drivel that thrusts young, innocent children into the critical line of fire of adults?

Schadenfreude is a powerful force in our current television entertainment culture.

It is what drives the mechanization of most reality TV shows, and it is the reason why "fail" videos and mean-spirited shows like Tosh.O survive so well.

We set failure to music and overdub it with semi-clever voice-overs by Tom Bergeron for America's Funniest Home Videos. We watch egomaniacs like Howie Mandel and Howard Stern tell people they suck, that they aren't good enough for even the third-most popular reality competition TV show. The lineup on local news channels usually runs the gamut of rape, child rape, murder, child murder and then a fluff piece about dancing cats.

Court of public opinion rests firmly in favor of Seau's choice of suicide being a clear-cut, postmortem request from Seau to have his brain exhumed for evidence of long-term damage caused by brain trauma and concussions due to blunt force impact.

But can we not also count someone who is a willing and fully committed participant in ending their own life as an unreliable source of information? When has anyone who killed themselves been a standard of comparison for what is "normal?" It is just a ridiculous and unfounded argument to side with someone who rejects biological imperative, the hardwired requirement we all contain to fear death and stay alive by any means necessary.

There are inflated and largely sensationalized statistics on retired NFL players' rates of depression and suicide, all linked to concussion-related trauma, but, truly, there just isn't enough research to affirm one way or the other which is true.

One can argue that Seau was the victim of misleading information -- information that motivated him to play despite evidence of neurological duress. This is, in fact, the argument of many former players currently engaged in lawsuits against the NFL. They claim that they were not told of the potential health risks involved, or of the potential long-term effects of concussions and brain damage due to football-related injury.

How hard can it be to convince any group of naive young males to continue to promote the innate habits of testosterone-driven violence and competition which will allow them to reap benefits of fame, fortune and celebrity? These are traits that male humans evolved over a few hundred thousand years to survive the unfair crap shoot that is life.

By this I do not mean to say that Junior Seau -- or any of the other deceased players -- deserve what they got. These are men who ultimately turned their finely trained, positively reinforced and routinely encouraged propensities for brutal violence upon themselves.

We all carry this inherent propensity for violence. Any casual afternoon viewing of Maury produces a similar experience, only remotely less choreographed and remarkably less athletic.

Therein lies the discord with our public outcry against this violence. We cater to violence, we are entertained by it and we certainly crave it, in one way or another. Why the hell does anyone truly watch NASCAR? Cars going around in a circle is fucking boring -- give us the crashes and explosions. What about MMA? People pounding each other's brains in get massive ratings, sponsorship and promotions

Let's just admit that we love violence. It is inborn to the human experience and a simple truth of our existence -- according to the Nielsen Company, a child views approximately 8,000 murders on television by the time they are 18. That's a lot of death.

If an individual can not adapt, that individual shall perish. This is a certainty of ecology and a rudimentary foundation of how life operates.

And it is how the NFL operates. The toughest, meanest, most profanely violent players thrive, while us lesser mortals cheer on their savage feats with gusto. Blood means ratings and big hits mean SportsCenter highlights.

Seau's death is an unfortunate loss of football greatness. Junior Seau deserves first-ballot Hall of Fame consideration and quite possibly was one of the greatest at his position to ever play the game of football, but at the end of the day, he was just a human being, prone to insecurity and uncertainty just like the rest of us.

Seau played football professionally, and submitted himself to violence and concussions for money, fame and glory.

So let's not call it anything other than what it is -- a tragedy.

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Sam Brown