JASON WHITLOCK | January 03, 2023
Include football in your prayers for Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills player who collapsed from a heart attack last night during Monday Night Football. Everyone desperately wants the 24-year-old safety to recover. The same is not true for the sport that enriches him and countless other young men. The woke have programmed us to hate football, to see it as a source of toxic masculinity, unnecessary health risks, and a relic of a dying patriarchy.
Football has been demonized. We watch it while holding our breath, believing that every hit leads to life-altering head trauma.
The 2022 season could very well be remembered as the year the NFL died in Cincinnati. The Queen City is where Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa crumpled, fingers contorted, and lost consciousness after a routine sack during Thursday Night Football. Three months later, another seemingly routine hit precipitated Hamlin’s collapse, loss of consciousness, and rush to a local hospital.
The NFL delights in its ability to attract massive audiences to its stand-alone games. The league’s pervasiveness and overexposure work against it when dramatic injuries occur. Games intended to entertain and distract turn into somber visitations and funerals. Broadcasters inadvertently transform into mourners, eulogists, and priests. Corporate media’s addiction to Twitter compels a competition of last rites and emotion.
The enemies of football are the real winners.
The feminists and leftists pushing the anti-football propaganda campaign have even seduced the sport’s participants. Inside an American culture that rewards victimhood, current and former NFL players cast themselves as martyrs of a game that makes them millionaires.
In reaction to Hamlin’s on-field tragedy, former Pittsburgh Steeler turned ESPN broadcaster Ryan Clark proclaimed that Hamlin’s cardiac arrest was a byproduct of football.
“So many times, in this game and in our job as well, we use the cliches, you know? ‘I’m ready to die for this. I’m willing to give my life for this. It’s time to go to war.’ I think sometimes we use those things so much we forget that part of living this dream is putting your life at risk. Tonight, we got to see a side of football that is extremely ugly. A side of football that no one ever wants to see or never wants to admit exists.”
I played football all the way through college. I have many close friends who had long careers in the NFL. I’ve never heard anyone say they’re ready to die for football. No one I know looks at football as a life-and-death situation. Injuries are always a possibility. No one thinks of death.
In 1971, Chuck Hughes, a 28-year-old Detroit Lions receiver, died during a game. It was later revealed he suffered blood clots. Hughes is the only NFL player to die during a game. I was unaware of Hughes’ death until last night. There was no 24-hour sports news network in 1971. Monday Night Football was just a year old. As a news story, Hughes’ death wasn’t treated as a national tragedy. It was something bad that happened. Bad things happen in all activities.
In 1990, college basketball star Hank Gathers collapsed and died while playing hoops. In 1993, Boston Celtics forward Reggie Lewis collapsed and died during practice. In 1920, a Yankees pitcher struck the head of Cleveland’s Ray Chapman with a pitch. Chapman died 12 hours later. I was at the race in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt slammed into the wall and died. I knew the boxer Randie Carver. I was at the fight that killed him and visited his family at the hospital the day he was pronounced dead in 1999.
My point is that football is not unique. Men and women take risks playing sports, riding the subway, swimming in a pool or the ocean. There’s no reason to blame football for what happened to Damar Hamlin. Like Hughes, Hamlin could very well have a preexisting condition that contributed to cardiac arrest.
But it’s nearly impossible to have measured, nuanced conversations in the media today. Everything said on ESPN and Fox Sports is crafted in a way to please Twitter. It’s all performative emotion and outrage. It’s all dishonest and inauthentic.
Clark continued his performance and analogized Hamlin’s heart attack to his own 2007 medical event while playing against the Denver Broncos. Clark has sickle cell trait. Playing at Mile High Stadium at high altitude compromised blood flow to Clark’s spleen. He was rushed to the hospital and was never allowed to play at Denver again.
“I’ve dealt with this before, and I watch my teammates for days come to my hospital bed and just cry,” Clark said. “I had them call me and tell me that they didn’t think I was going to make it. And now this team has to deal with that and they have no answers.
“So, the next time that we get upset about our favorite fantasy player or we’re upset that the guy on our team doesn’t make the play and we’re saying, ‘He’s worthless’ and we’re saying, ‘You get to make all this money,’ we should remember that these men are putting their lives on the line to live their dream.”
Police officers put their lives on the line. So do members of the military. Football players play a game. Boxers and mixed martial artists take more risks.
What’s going on with football reminds me of the left’s demonization of boxing. Boxing used to be the king of all American sports, the pop culture symbol of male masculinity. Eventually the very people who benefitted from the popularity of boxing turned against the sport.
Eleven months after Muhammad Ali’s last fight, legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell “quit” the sport of boxing. He said this after watching Larry Holmes batter Randall Tex Cobb for 15 rounds. Cosell trashed the fight throughout the broadcast. He later told the New York Times: “I now favor the abolition of professional boxing.”
He milked the sport for fortune and fame and then took a dump on it.
ESPN and its battalion of ex-jocks and ex-journalists are doing the exact same thing to football.