The New York Times had a great article today on Bob Carmichael; to say Carmichael loved football would have been an understatement.
Carmichael played Division 1 football at University of Colorado in the 1960s until he suffered a career ending knee injury. He then went on to work at NFL Films, where he got to see and hear, up close, knees cracking, bodies slammed onto rock-hard playing fields, and heads colliding with helmets.
At some point, it became too much, and Carmichael made a documentary, “Football in America,” an Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary, in which he questioned the hold of this violent sport on our culture and psyches.
The film had the courage to ask, “As football moves into the 1980s, a fundamental question must be answered. Will it continue to accept widespread and lifelong injury as part of the game?”
Thirty years later, the problem seems to be worse. Part of it is that there is more reporting and awareness of football related injuries, both past and present. Part of it is that the players are bigger and faster, and so the collisions are more violent. And part of it is the lust for blood that so many football fans seem to have, and which the NFL seems more than willing to cultivate, as shown by the slow motion replay of the most violent of hits.
But it’s not just some football fans that thrive on violence.
- Look at the Presidential candidates. Ted Cruz has stated he will carpet-bomb ISIS, Donald Trump claimed that he will bomb the sh*t out of them, and Marco Rubio may be the most aggressive of all of them when he speaks of how to defeat ISIS.
- Look at the numbers of mass shootings that have taken place in the U.S., yet people still want their guns.
- Look at the numbers of animals needlessly killed and abused each year to satisfy our hunger for meat or simply to show our mastery of those animals.
- Look at the violence in video games, movies, and TV shows. And such violence is often glorified.
So it’s hard to say if the violent nature of our culture attracts us to the violent nature of football, or if the violent nature of football leads to a more violent culture (and before you dismiss such a possibility, isn’t that the same argument people have made about the impact of violent video games and movies?)
I have not seen the “Football in America” film, but it appears Carmichael was asking these sorts of questions 30 years ago. Carmichael was shunned afterward, and he was fine with that. He detests the macho, the violence done to men, and the young college men who wind up torn and discarded.
University of Colorado is building a state of the art athletic facility, and Carmichael notes “the irony of an institution of higher learning investing in a sport that cripples young minds is breathtaking.”
When he looks at what has happened to many former football players who now have trouble walking, or have significant mental health issues, Carmichael notes that his injury just might have been the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.
If you want to get another sense of the anger embedded in our culture, you just need to read the online comments section of a controversial story. While there is a little bit of that mindset with this New York Times article about Carmichael, I found some of the comments to be insightful (in other words, they agreed with my point of view). Here is a brief sample of some of those comments:
- CTE is the new scourge but it will not go away, regardless of how much spin the NFL puts on it. Small wonder that many current NFL players are forbidding their children to play tackle football because they see the full force of damage on NFL turfs every game.
- The NFL is a TV show, a proven way to turn 10 million or 100 million violence-craving viewers into 5 million or 50 million beer drinkers, every Sunday
- Young men risk terrible physical damage and diminished later years in return for riches and fame playing the sport they love at the highest level. It’s an unfair bargain because it’s an uninformed choice.
- As long as violence is considered entertainment we can stop whining about gun control, perpetual war and the like. Violence is America and America is violence.
- it appears parents are increasingly following this advice and refusing to let their children play football.
- Back in the 80’s I refused to let my gifted, athletic son play football. He stayed with soccer and lacrosse through high school and finished his field sport career with ultimate frisbee. He and his wife now teach Bikram yoga and own their own studio. Not long ago he told me how grateful he is now that I was his stupid old forbidding Mom back then when his whole life stretched before him.
The last comment hit close to home.
It’s one of my memories that is as clear today as it was 40 years ago when it happened. Our college swim team was getting ready to swim against West Chester, and in the locker room right before the start of the meet I happened to come across a bulletin board that had one of the most graphic images I had ever seen. It was a picture of the inside of someone’s mouth; someone who had been playing football and had forgotten to wear his mouthguard. Half of his upper gum had just been ripped out of place, and the rest of his mouth didn’t look much better. As I mentioned, I can still picture it today. While the poster was meant to stress the importance of wearing mouth protection, the message I took away was that if I ever had kids, none of them were going to play football.
And fortunately none of them expressed any interest in doing so, which may have been because there was absolutely no encouragement of such an endeavor.
But I will admit that I am a hypocrite. I’ve enjoyed watching football games on Fall and Winter weekends for the past 50 years, and have gotten caught up in the excitement of the big hits.
But maybe it’s time to try and more closely align my behavior with my beliefs.
It will be hard to resist the allure of the Super Bowl, but I’ll give it a shot.
If Bob Carmichael can do it, then there’s no reason I can’t.