Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death. -Pope Francis
As we watch these athletes sacrifice their minds and bodies, do we, as fans, ever consider that there has to be a better way; or are these men destined to be as disposable as the piece of paper their team’s roster was printed on? This is the question I have been asking myself since I had the horror of watching the Bengals play the Steelers…again.
As a Cincinnatian, I find the behavior these teams display when they go head to head not only unbecoming of that of a professional athlete, but moreover, utterly disgusting as human beings.
It is time to end the era of men participating in gladiator-like trials in order to entertain. Football has become a game increasingly centered around violence and less around professionalism and athleticism.
For me, the end of my football love affair started January 9, 2016. I had been living in the city for only a few years and the Bengals were playing the Steelers in the NFL wildcard round. My brother-in-law invited us all over for a watch party at his house. I don’t think any event I have been to has felt less like a party. The conversation was good, the food delicious, and the people amazing, but there was something that jaded all of that.
As far as ominous foreshadowing goes, when, in the first quarter, Steelers’ offensive line coach, Mike Munchak, incurred a 15-yard penalty for pulling the hair of Bengals’ safety, Reggie Nelson, on the sideline, it was pretty telling.
In the third quarter, Steelers’ linebacker, Ryan Shazier, knocked Bengals’ running back, Giovani Bernard from the game with an illegal, helmet-to-helmet hit. The immediate aftermath of which was an on-field fight between the two teams, and then fans joined in by throwing trash into the end zones. Classy all around.
When play finally resumed, on the very next series, Roethlisberger was injured, and as he was being carted off the field, fans shamelessly pelted him with trash.
During the final two minutes of what had become a 2-point game, Bengals’ linebacker, Burfict, went head-hunting and laid a malicious hit on Steelers’ wide receiver, Antonio Brown. The result of which was a concussed Brown, and an ensuing fine and suspension for Burfict.
This was immediately followed up by another Bengals’ personal foul, committed by Adam “Pacman” Jones, for unsportsmanlike conduct.
I think that at the end of that game, all in attendance at my brother-in-law’s home had lost interest and respect for both teams, and the NFL as a whole.
This past Monday night my opinion was re-confirmed.
Fans were immediately reminded of the violence of not only this rivalry, but the game itself, when in the first quarter, Ryan Shazier put a massive hit on the Bengals’ wideout, Malone.
Shazier didn’t get up.
He couldn’t get up.
Everyone watched, as a sinking feeling began filling the pits of their stomachs. It became apparent that Shazier couldn’t move the lower half of his body. As the other Steelers’ players took a knee, anxious for their teammate, Paul Brown Stadium dropped several decibels in intensity.
Shazier was immobilized on a spine board, and taken off the field. His hands covered his face, presumably, in despair.
The game, however, went on, immune to things like the physical and mental health of those still left out on the field, and those soon to be forgotten.
It turns out, Shazier’s pound of flesh wasn’t enough sacrifice to the football gods. Later in the game, Burfict became the center of attention once again in a game against the Steelers, but this time, he was on the receiving end.
Perhaps in retribution, perhaps only because it is the nature of the game, but no more than 2 hours after Shazier left the game immobilized, Steeler wide receiver, Smith-Schuster, delivered a helmet to helmet hit, blindsiding the Bengals’ linebacker. And if that wasn’t vicious enough, Smith-Schuster then stood over an injured Burfict and taunted him.
Burfict would also leave the game immobilized on a stretcher.
Not to be outdone, however, the Bengals responded in true-to-form fashion by immediately attacking Antonio Brown…this time in the end zone. This time also helmet-to-helmet, and this time in revenge. George Iloka was the offending party.
Both players, Iloka and Smith-Schuster, received a one game suspension. One game.
In an era where there is irrefutable, scientific evidence that CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, plagues NFL players, a one game suspension is the only punishment for going head to hit with an opponent. And maybe a fine that amounts to a small percentage of their yearly salary.
NFL players seem to want to take on the persona of gladiators, fighting in their respective colosseums, until the death it appears. And that’s fine, but if you want to call yourself a warrior, then you have to live by the warrior ethos.
• I will always place the mission first.
• I will never accept defeat.
• I will never quit.
• I will never leave a fallen comrade.
The mission comes first. Not revenge. Not attempting to injure your fellow player and man. Not even winning comes first. First and foremost, you’ve made a commitment to partake in sport for love of the game. Anything else is a perversion of your pledge.
As a somber crowd sat and watched multiple athletes carried from the field Monday night, I can’t help but quote Russell Crowe in Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?”
Mob mentality is real.
The ethos also states that you will never leave a fallen comrade behind. Newsflash, gentlemen, you are all part of the National Football League. You are all in this together. You are all comrades.
I was in the Army. I wasn’t a Marine. In fact, we gave each other a lot of hell whenever we did cross paths, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have each other’s backs once the shit hit the fan. We knew when it was time to put our differences aside and fight on the same side.
Well, the shit is hitting the fan.
The fix is simple here, gentlemen. The fix is to be better men-players and fans alike. It isn’t rule changes. It isn’t steeper punishments for violations of said rules. It is simply to be better men. Take care of each other, because one thing is certain- no one else is going to.
If any of you need an education on what it means to be a warrior, a better man, and what taking care of each other looks like, I recommend reading: Lessons from a Paratrooper in Combat on how to be a ‘Good Man.’
Maybe if more of us would just #BeLikeCharlie then this wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.
I’m sure former Army Ranger, Alejandro Villanueva, would concur.
And fans, we can’t condone this behavior either. We aren’t blame free here. We can’t sit in the stands and call for more blood and then be shocked when players behave this way. After all, gladiators wouldn’t have risen to glory without an audience.
Join like-minded individuals in The Good Men Project Community.
The Good Men Project is an Amazon.com affiliate. If you shop via THIS LINK, we will get a small commission and you will be supporting our Mission while still getting the quality products you would have purchased, anyway! Thank you for your continued support!
Photo credit: Getty Images