The NFL's future: Rude reality and the questions still scrimmaging in our heads

Someone once jested, "When you close the door on reality, it comes in through the side windows."

How do you unsee something you witnessed with your own eyes?  We all recall with horror how George Floyd died.  Some of us recall watching Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald in a police garage in Dallas, Texas in 1963.  Many of us recall watching the Challenger Space Shuttle disintegrate as it climbed through the atmosphere.  We recall watching the mighty Twin Towers melt into a massive cloud of dust on September 11, 2001.

Many in America tuned in last Monday night to watch the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals compete for higher playoff ranking and placement in the 2022 postseason.  Two Super Bowl contenders, two elite quarterbacks, and two proud franchises showed up to engage in America's most popular sport.  Millions of us in America took seats around our big-screen TVs to forget about all our problems and escape into the vicarious thrills of NFL football.

The banquet did not go as planned.  Halfway through the first period, safety Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills defense tackled wide receiver Tee Higgins after he caught a pass from Bengal quarterback Joe Burrow.  The tackle looked routine.  Both players rose from the field to regroup with their teams and get ready for the next play from scrimmage.  Then something still not completely explained happened inside Damar Hamlin as he fell backward awkwardly on the field.  Reality, uninvited, crashed our party.

Image: Hamlin on the field.  YouTube screen grab.

Fortunately, the players, coaches, and medical staff quickly understood what the rest of us were struggling to comprehend.  Hamlin needed to be revived.

Why did the players, coaches, and medical staff respond so quickly?  Football is their livelihood.  They know that football is a violent and dangerous game.  Some consider it a blood sport.  Injuries, minor and not so minor, are a part of their lives.

As we pray for Damar Hamlin's recovery, the owners of and all who benefit from the NFL are making desperate side prayers for the future of professional football.  The golden goose of football is now tied to the uncertain recovery of Damar Hamlin.

In our democratic and hedonistic society, I do not expect anyone to outlaw football because it is too violent.  I do know that those of us who watched Damar collapse have troubling questions now scrimmaging in our heads.  We recall what happened to Darryl Stingley.  We recall Joe Theismann's career-ending injury. We know about the film Concussion.

As I watched the ESPN commentators struggle to communicate as Hamlin got medical attention on the field, there was one bit of context they did not share with their viewers.  Back in 1971, during a regular season football game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears, wide receiver Chuck Hughes died on the field after being tackled.  His death was hidden from the public, and the game resumed after his corpse was removed from the field.  His autopsy later showed that he had had a heart attack due to a partial blockage in his circulatory system.

On Monday night, we tuned in expecting an amazing game.  Reality interrupted as we watched a healthy and fit Damar Hamlin collapse on the field.  In vicarious shock, we wait and watch with our questions.  Will Damar recover?  Will the NFL's golden goose survive?  The filthy rich, virtue-signaling, self-congratulatory NFL is now sidelined by life-and-death reality.

How will those of us who enjoy watching pro football respond?  Will we lose interest in this dangerous game?  Will the darker angels of our nature watch with more enthusiasm, hoping to voyeuristically witness more prime-time carnage?  The jury is still out.

Stay tuned for further developments, and don't touch that dial!

Ned Cosby, a regular contributor to American, is a pastor, veteran Coast Guard officer, and a retired career public high school teacher.  His newest novel OUTCRY is a love story exposing the refusal of Christian leaders to report and discipline clergy who sexually abuse our young people.  This work of fiction addresses crimes that are all too real.  Cosby has also written RECOLLECTIONS FROM MY FATHER'S HOUSE, tracing his own odyssey from 1954 to the present.  For more info, visit Ned Cosby.

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