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December 5, 2013

Professional football players live on another world

Cooperstown Crier

---- — Some people may think that professional football players live in an alternative universe. How else do you explain the constant moaning about outlawing helmet-to-helmet contact and the juvenile hi-jinx that goes on in the locker room? Do National Football League (NFL) players that seem so human and down-to-earth away from the game actually inhabit another “planet” on the field?

There have been two major areas of controversy this season in the NFL. The first is the whole issue of concussions. Several retired players have committed suicide, lost their memory, or dealt with excruciating headaches because of concussions they suffered during their playing days. 4,500 former players sued the NFL because they felt the league covered up the effects of head shots. The league denied the charge but settled the case for $675 million and currently finances studies on brain injuries and has outlawed head shots from the game.

While retired players are suffering and accusing the NFL of misleading them the current crop of players are complaining that the new rules are ruining the game. Young “studs” think like the old ones used to, that they’re invincible. Apparently they have to be retired for ten years and have their brains and bodies break down before they learn their lesson.

It may not be surprising that the second issue of concern is the spoiled-children-like behavior in the locker room. It recently came to light that a shy, sensitive, highly educated young lineman on the Miami Dolphins was being hazed, bullied, and ostracized by his teammates. He left the team because he couldn’t take it anymore.

Despite putting up with racial epithets, being left to eat alone, and forced to pony up $15,000 for a “team” trip to Las Vegas he didn’t attend, most current players defend the “system” and blast the young lineman for not being able to take it. Apparently taping rookies to goalposts, forcing them to pay for extravagant dinners, and treating them like pariahs are just standard operating procedure in the NFL.

A new book by a fringe player, Nate Jackson, provides an understanding as to why such a culture of head shots and harassment exists.  “Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile” reveals a lot about what players will do to play the game professionally. They love the feel of hitting and being hit, and will disregard injuries that would put most “normal” people in wheel chairs.

The fact that Jackson was a career backup and always struggling to make the team makes his story that much more compelling. He was never in the limelight, never made millions, always fighting injuries, and constantly worrying about being cut. He stayed with it because he loved the contact and camaraderie. It’s something we mere mortals may find difficult to comprehend.

I personally enjoy football because of the game itself and not the vicious hits. It’s hard to understand how players can stay focused when they see a fellow “warrior” laid out on the field, unconscious, paralyzed, and being carted off in an ambulance. But, then, I’m not one of them.

“Slow Getting Up” is a fast-paced and enjoyable read but even more importantly enlightens us on the mindset of a professional football player. They truly are a different breed. We may not understand or approve of their violent or childish behavior but it’s part of their culture. Fans should simply accept the “alternative universe” theory and refrain from putting NFL players on a pedestal. It’s about the only sane way to rationalize our love for the game.