The following is an excerpt from our recent Disposability of Men/Head Injuries in Sports ConvoCast:
Back in 2014, Lisa Hickey and I penned an article and created a set of memes called Athletes Killer Instinct: In Words, In Pictures, and In Your Face, as a means of showing the dark place that football players have to go to mentally in order to do what they do on the field.
I mention this because the main lead in our recent Disposability of Men Social Interest Group was the Monday Night Football game of a couple of weeks ago between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, a game that I happened to watch some of and felt absolutely sick after doing so.
Sometimes we get points in time, news stories you can really seize on to to push for change. Like the Harvey Weinstein story is doing in the sphere of sexual abuse and harassment, as one extreme recent example. This MNF game really crystallizes and captures so much of what we’ve been talking about and the silver lining piece of it is that it started to generate a lot of conversation.
To understand what happened, you need to understand a little history. Over time there has been bad blood between the Steelers and Bengals, who are fierce rivals in the same division. They play each other in violent combat, twice a year during the regular season. They play in the playoffs.
There is a linebacker on Pittsburgh, Ryan Shazier, who is a really wonderful young man. He’s active in the community. He’s a really good guy, and has been with the Steelers for a long time and is a real leader on the team. And what happens first, early in this game is he tackles someone, leading with his helmet, and he immediately goes limp on the field and was taken off the field on a stretcher with a spinal cord injury. And as of now he’s still in the hospital. And I don’t think that he has moved his legs. There is a possibility is going to be paralyzed. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him.
What happened later on in the same game involves a linebacker on the Bengals, Vontaze Burfict, who has a reputation for being a big hitter. Before the game, I was looking at ESPN.com and they were doing their promotional stuff for the MNF game. And this was a big article on Vontaze Burfict, talking about his on-the-field vs. off-the-field persona and reputation. I remember him in college. He was known as a tackling machine. He was a bluechip prospect. He was supposed to go very high in the draft. And oddly when they started to talk to him and did some of the pre-draft testing and interviewing he dropped for whatever reason. Since then he’s made a reputation for being very aggressive heavy hitter on the field. In last year’s playoff game against the Steelers, his Bengals were winning the game late. All he had to do was nothing. Instead of doing nothing, he put his helmet into the Steelers’ best player’s helmet on a tackle at the very end of the game and knocked him unconscious. That was Pittsburgh WR, Antonio Brown. It was a scary moment. It was a stupid play. It drew a penalty, and they ended up losing the game. That play generated a lot of anger.
So, back to MNF from a few week’s back.
Late in the game, Vontaze Burfict went to make a tackle and one of the receivers on the Steelers, blindsided him, hit him directly in the helmet, and knocked him out. And after that, the receiver stood over him and yelled at him and taunted him. They came onto the field for the second time in the game with the flat-bed stretcher and took him you know not moving out of the gate.
Later in the game the Steelers came back and won the game threw a touchdown to the wide receiver as he has captured them in the end zone. One of the players and the Bengals popped him with this helmet his helmet had to hit him. So it was a noticeably brutal game with two people sent to the hospital on stretchers.
After the game, in the post-game interview in the locker room, a reporter is interviewing the wide receiver who had delivered the head to Vontaze Burfict, and he was very apologetic. He said, “That’s not me. I’m sorry I did not. I was just trying to block him. But when I stood over him taunting him, I should have done that it just got caught up at the moment.” The whole time, while he was speaking, his teammate Antonio Brown (who Burfict had laid out in the playoffs the prior season) kept saying, “That’s karma.” “That was just karma.” “Karma karma karma karma. He got what’s coming to him.”
Through all this, what’s just screaming out to me is that we are raising these men to be violent and harm each other. They are being trained to do something that is not natural and that is a positive thing. And it’s playing out there like on national television.
There’s a gentleman who has been in our Facebook Group named Bill Lautenschlager, who said shared some of the media coverage in the aftermath of this, in particular a Washington Post article whose headline is ‘Steelers and Bengals Saw Ryan Shazier Go Down and Then They Brutalize Each Other Anyway.‘ And what Bill said is:
“The media doesn’t get that you can’t play a brutal game and be nice. If you try, you will be killed by the guy who isn’t playing nice. You keep hearing that isn’t who I am, after they destroy someone. But when they’re on the field that is who they are. They’re trained warriors. And until it’s no longer a sport of violent collisions this brain disease is going to keep happening just like it always has.”
There was also an article on ESPN written by a guy named Kevin Seifert, a pretty good sports journalist that I thought was interesting on this point. The title of is article was: ‘The Brutality of Steelers Bengals Shouldn’t Be Dismissed as AFC North Football Rivalry Stuff.’
It was an interesting article. What he said- about he safety of the game itself – was, essentially, there no such thing as a safe bullet to the head. We have these repeated blows – and he quoted Dr. Bennett Omalu – a brain can’t regenerate or heal that damage.In other words, if you play football on enough going to be exposed to permanent brain damage. We know this. Of course that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to fall victim. But if you focus on brain health, this is not a passing concern and it is not a fact that is going away. What he also said in the article, which I thought was the money quote was:
“At some point a moral reckoning will arise among fans if it hasn’t already.”
We really don’t want to feel entertained by watching players bashing each other’s brains in.
The article then he went on to talk more about football. But it never got to the point where you he said maybe the NFL will assert itself to a greater extent or do something about it. So there wasn’t an answer there. He seemed to get kind of halfway there. And halfway there is where I think we sort of are as a culture on this issue. If you look at surveys and studies, a lot of people are saying we’re at this uncomfortable point where we recognize that there’s a big problem here and we seem to be maybe, but there’s also always this pushback. And we’re up against a very big institutional money machine but we seem to be at this cusp where we’re on the verge of saying ‘this just can’t fly.’
We’re not quite there yet, but games like this Steelers vs. Bengals MNF game, where, if you tuned in, you saw in a condensed in-your-face way truly brutal savagery that was just sickening. Ryan Shazier may never walk again. And those guys are definitely going to have brain damage from his head. I know, for me, it really drove it all home. I hope that it’s one of the flashpoints that we can use as a launching point to think about you know where we can go with this issue. I watch football. And it was terrible to watch. To have that all lined up and on display in this in this one night such that there are a lot of people talking about it, it’s a real opportunity.
The other thing that I kept thinking in the wake of this game were all the times we’ve spoken about when there’s been gun violence in this country, and everyone sends ‘thoughts and prayers’ but don’t do anything else. This reminded me of that. Every player ,every owner, every person connected to the game is out there on Twitter sending ‘thoughts and prayers.’ It’s just like when there was a shooting. We need to actually do something to change our lot.
Thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough.
We are proud of our SOCIAL INTEREST GROUPS—WEEKLY PHONE CALLS to discuss and help solve some of the most difficult challenges the world has today. Calls are for Members Only (although you can join the first call for free). Not yet a member of The Good Men Project? Join now!
Join The Good Men Project Community.
The $50 Platinum Level is an ALL-ACCESS PASS—join as many groups and classes as you want for the entire year. The $25 Gold Level gives you access to any ONE Social Interest Group and ONE Class–and other benefits listed below the form. Or…for $12, join as a Bronze Member and support our mission.
Register New Account
Please note: If you are already a writer/contributor at The Good Men Project, log in here before registering. (Request new password if needed).
ANNUAL PLATINUM membership ($50 per year) includes:
1. AN ALL ACCESS PASS — Join ANY and ALL of our weekly calls, Social Interest Groups, classes, workshops and private Facebook groups. We have at least one group phone call or online class every day of the week.
2. See the website with no ads when logged in!
3. PLATINUM MEMBER commenting badge and listing on our “Friends of The Good Men Project” page.
ANNUAL GOLD membership ($25 per year) includes all the benefits above — but only ONE Weekly Social Interest Group and ONE class.
ANNUAL BRONZE membership ($12 per year) is great if you are not ready to join the full conversation but want to support our mission anyway. You’ll still get a BRONZE commenting badge, a listing on our Friends page, and you can pop into any of our weekly Friday Calls with the Publisher when you have time. This is for people who believe—like we do—that this conversation about men and changing roles and goodness in the 21st century is one of the most important conversations you can have today.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
“Here’s the thing about The Good Men Project. We are trying to create big, sweeping, societal changes—–overturn stereotypes, eliminate racism, sexism, homophobia, be a positive force for good for things like education reform and the environment. And we’re also giving individuals the tools they need to make individual change—-with their own relationships, with the way they parent, with their ability to be more conscious, more mindful, and more insightful. For some people, that could get overwhelming. But for those of us here at The Good Men Project, it is not overwhelming. It is simply something we do—–every day. We do it with teamwork, with compassion, with an understanding of systems and how they work, and with shared insights from a diversity of viewpoints.” —– Lisa Hickey, Publisher of The Good Men Project and CEO of Good Men Media Inc.