Yesterday afternoon on my drive to the gym I caught Bill Michaels talking about the Jermichael Finley injury he sustained during Sunday’s game. If you’re unfamiliar with Michaels, he’s your typical local sports talk radio host. A middle aged, blazer and-turtleneck wearing blowhard who, in a desperate attempt at remaining relevant, has chosen the empty-but-provocative route of sports media. It’s a tired, boorish approach that’s become less and less interesting, but hey, I suppose it gets ratings or something. Also, it’s important to know that Michaels’ self-appointed nickname is the ‘Big Unit’ which, fuck you.
Anyway, yesterday’s HOT SPORTS TAKE was of the usual fair. Surface level stuff combined with a loud opinion and mixed with just enough innocuousness that it essentially equates to the, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” of sports debate. It’s the perfect recipe for goading dumbass callers into picking up the phone only to be shot down and hung up on. Yesterday, I was one of those callers. Well, kinda.
See, usually I divert my attention from Michaels’ show much in the way that you’d avert your eyes from a cat licking its own asshole. But even I couldn’t help reacting to the day’s topic. And what was that topic exactly?
That the hit on Jermichael Finley was illegal because despite the defender hitting Finley with his shoulder pad, his head was down.
At first the stupidity of the topic actually pissed me off. To the point where it prompted me to tweet the following:
This didn’t sit well with Michaels who basically lost his goddamn marbles on air, capping with him reading my tweet and declaring me a, “freaking idiot.” Ignoring Michaels’ dickish, Jay Mariotti impression, the irony here is thick. What Michaels, in his temper tantrum failed to realize was that I wasn’t necessarily disagreeing with him. The hit, by pure definition was illegal. What I was pointing out, was that Michaels was viewing the rule through a black and white prism when in fact, the NFL has demonstrated considerable gray area in its interpretation of the rule. Based on his reaction yesterday, something tells me Michaels throws a fit every time there’s a three second violation in basketball.
But even though Michaels’ point about the hit being illegal was idiotic and pointless and had absolutely NOTHING to do with the fact that Finley got injured, it did highlight something rather interesting.
Specifically, the NFL’s rather masterful job of making the dangers of playing football almost solely related to concussions.
I suppose it makes sense since concussions have already cost the league 765 million dollars that’d they’d want to get something out of it (assuming the long-term health of their former players wasn’t quite enough) and the Jermichael Finley injury illustrates exactly what that is.
For the better part of the last few years we’ve been conditioned to believe that almost all serious injuries in football have to do with concussions. And because of that, it’s allowed the NFL to paint the picture that these types of injuries are largely preventable. That with enough education, technology and rules changes, concussions and concussion-related symptoms can be all but avoided.
Flags on helmet-to-helmet contact? Check.
Lots of talk about improving helmet technology? Check.
More stringent sideline concussion testing protocol? Check.
A big ass media campaign devoted to positioning the NFL as stewards of the player safety initiative? Check.
It’s remarkable, really. The NFL has crammed so much of the ‘Concussions are serious and we’re doing things about it!’ narrative down our throats that they’ve in essence, become the solution to the very problem they created.
Or at least that’s what their PR team would have us believe. In reality, the concussion issue has helped obfuscate another topic entirely. One that sooner or later, the NFL is going to have to address and that topic is:
FOOTBALL IS FUCKING DANGEROUS.
It’s easy to look at that massive settlement the NFL handed out and say, “yeah, no shit” but the violence of the sport has reached a level where it’s getting increasingly difficult for the NFL to hide everything under the ‘concussion’ umbrella. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from trying.
Take a look at this video from NFL.com:
If you notice, the page that the video appears on is accompanied by this headline:
And yet, the play where that happens is nowhere to be found. Instead, the play being shown is captioned with:
‘Wk 7 Can’t Miss Play: Finley bulldozes Browns’
The article brushes on Finley’s injury but the video being shown says it all: “Sure Finley temporarily lost feeling in his extremities and he may never play again, BUT HOW ABOUT THAT CATCH AND RUN!!”
If that wasn’t enough, the article itself is joined by this bit of propaganda that’s supposed to remind you that, “Hey, if you get turned off by players possibly becoming drooling, incoherent husks of their former selves confined to a wheelchair, just know, we’re doing everything we can to make this a safe game. So don’t be afraid to cheer on hard hits while enjoying an ice cold Coors Light.”
That’s the ideal narrative for the NFL today. That it’s only dangerous when players make it dangerous and all other times it’s nothing but fireworks and touchdowns and Lambeau Leaps and Red Zone channels and, oh, have you seen our new lineup of stylish women’s apparel?
The bottom line is that sometimes plays like the one that happened with Jermichael Finley just happen. For all we know, Finley didn’t even suffer a concussion, which probably explains why the above video exists in the first place. If he had, it’d be much easier to spin that Finley spending the night in the ICU was the result of poor technique from either the defender or Finley himself. But that isn’t the case, which, makes the fact that Bill Michaels even insinuated that Finley being injured and the hit being illegal have anything to do with one another all the more ridiculous and narrow-minded.
Michaels’ main supporting point in his contention that the hit was dirty was that Tashaun Gipson left his feet. Again though, there’s a difference between diving to make a tackle (which is very much legal) and launching yourself like a scud missile with the crown of your helmet. It’s a gray area that Michaels either refuses to acknowledge or is just too stupid to see.
Likewise, there’s been a bit of buzz around the Internet from people who have maintained that Finley, too, lowered his head. Well, yeah. That’s what most players do when trying to shield the most vital part of their body as it pertains to playing sports – the legs. Players can play with broken arms, cracked ribs, strained shoulders and hell, a week after having their brain rattled around their dome like an egg yoke in the shell. But an ACL? Nope.
It’s a microcosm of the culture that the NFL has created. Players would rather sacrifice years of mental senility than 10 months without playing and without paychecks. So they lower their body to protect their biggest asset and sometimes, worlds collide and you wind up with what happened to Finley. A violent, earth-shattering play that had no ill-will or malice behind it, but that resulted in Finley lying motionless on the ground and Lambeau Field quiet enough to hear the buzz of electricity emanating from the lights and the scoreboard.
A few plays later, when Jarrett Boykin scored and the crowd erupted with cheers while fans at home simultaneously checked their fantasy football waiver wires to see if Boykin was available, I couldn’t help but see the irony. That in the midst of swearing to do everything it can to protect players from concussions, the NFL has blurred the public’s vision to the inherent violence of the game itself.
Fitting that when asked about the number of injuries the Packers have sustained, Mike McCarthy’s motto this week was both simple and yet, depressing at the same time:
“Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Next week the Packers face the Vikings while Jermichael Finley will battle the effects of his bruised spinal cord. But hey,
Go Pack Go.