Dear Professor Carl,
Thank you for all you do daily so well for so many.
As a writer, I am a good doctor. I find myself at my best when complex concepts intersect. Today, although stimulating, the following leaves me conflicted.
Please review, from your scientific, athletic and moral perspectives. The wisdom of your perceptions will be greatly appreciated.
Professional Football ― Words Matter
T Michael White MD
This is not a National Football League scold. This is an appeal to remember that since words matter we must use accurate words when describing American professional football.
Let me transparently share my parent/grandparent bias ― with options (basketball, baseball, cross country, flag football, field hockey, hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer and swimming ― did I mention golf) so readily available, I cannot/will not abide the pursuit of football as we know it by those near and dear to me. To Rockne’s worry ― will I take the risk of putting sticks in the hands of Irish progeny? ― I offer an emphatic yes.
As a physician, my personal, clinical and scientific professional football thoughts are more complex. My journey begins with the modern Hippocratic Oath: “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure” and “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.” Knowing that acute and chronic injury is part of NFL football (for example, luminaries Rogers; Watson; Luck; Watt are were lost for this season) and long-term neurological and orthopedic burdens are pernicious, I am immediately conflicted. Physician me just cannot bring myself to describe each competitive spectacle as:
Gently admonished and unburdened, I joyfully recall how, in prehistoric times, color television and NFL Films (“There are 31 teams in the National Football League, and then there are the Pittsburgh Steelers”) thrillingly brought the game to me ― Namath’s cool as the other side of the pillow bombast, Tarkington’s mystical magic and Swann’s balletic grace.
Yet, ignored, there was always more ― the anticipation, excited rush, fear and bewonderment when a member of a species, surely superior to mine, had the skill and courage to collect and runback a kickoff against eleven massive, fleet, rapacious monsters; a graphic photo of a bleeding, defeated hero (Tittle); unvarnished threats of assault (Raiders); gruesome injury (Theismann) and dementia (Webster).
Sadly, peer-pressured, yesterday, without even feigned resistance, I again sat to enjoy two playoff contests. The talented masterfully executed. Anticipated force, finesse, strategy and suspense unfolded. Suddenly, as promised, I was exalted by the magnificence and courageous power of humanity. For the moment, I was embarrassed by my unwarranted concerns ― until, in each game, a quarterback (somebody’s child/significant other) was reduced to oblivion with one (Taylor) placed into concussion protocol and one (Newton) inexplicably and uncomfortably not.
Once again, the physician in me is troubled. These two events were not games, not sports. They had me remembering Bill Russell’s, “Basketball is a contact sport.” Football’s collisions are something else. This gets me closer but does not suffice. Heading back to the dictionary ― blood sport: “A sport involving the shedding of blood, especially the hunting or killing of animals: cockfighting, bullfighting, fox hunting, etc.” (bing.com/search). Then, still in search of accurate words and phrases, back to ancient history ― from a 2001 dissertation comparing gladiatorial matches and American sports (Amanda Doherty/Southern Illinois University Carbondale: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/uhp_theses/9/), I harvest words and phrases: aggression, combat, destroying bodies, dominance, emotional contagion, ritual, sacrifice, skill and victory above fairness and fun, spectacular presentation, survival, theatre and violence. Sadly, complicitous, yesterday I resembled these remarks.
So, my physician journey has me unapologetically back at square one. Going forward, if invited for a Sunday stop by for a brewski and pie at game time, doctor me will hear an invitation to a spectacular, violent, sacrificial ritual staged for release of communal aggression and demure.
Thank you for giving this glance.
If worthy, please drop a (clearly needed) thought or two.