The League

Adam Hoff

Adam Hoff

The co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia

Gladiators Die


Everyone who lives in Southern California knows, deep down, that every day puts them one moment closer to "the big one" -- the earthquake that sends everything west of the Santa Monica Mountains into the sea and turns the San Fernando Valley into beachfront property.

Motorcycle drivers the world over presumably know the statistics - the ones that say that a major accident is nearly inevitable if they chose to drive around at 100 miles per hour on top of a rocket with wheels. Yet folks still live in Los Angeles (this author included) and people still climb onto motorcycles and weave through traffic (ironically, this is most common in L.A.).

These are the risks that people know about, rarely discuss, and ultimately choose to live with. The internal calculus is one of probability and risk versus reward and other economic principles that I've long since forgotten. So when Carson Palmer sat down with Peter King {link} and talked about the possibility that a player might die on the field during an NFL game, he was simply giving voice to that fear lurking inside of all players. Of course there is concern that a player might die in a pro football game. Anyone who remembers college basketball star Hank Gathers can summon up the necessary fear on that front. And of course there is the inherent risk that players must face when they pull on their pads and helmets.

What I wonder about when I read Palmer's comments is not whether a player death is possible or even whether such a risk comes with the territory (yes and yes), but rather how the world would react if a player were to die on the field. Clearly, it would be a huge story - but what kind of fallout would there be? Would the NFL (pushed by special interest groups, no doubt) make sweeping changes with regard to rules and equipment (there is simply no reason that anti-concussion helmets are not currently required)?

It is the spectacle that worries me, because I think we'll all see ourselves as the bloodthirsty descendants of the ancient Roman gladiators that we really are. We'll discover that as fans, we're no different from the wealthy citizens who would flock to the Coliseum to see men slay each other and wrestle with lions. Our interest will be piqued in a way that really only comes from catching a whiff of death. The giant, unbreakable players who become increasingly cartoonish and robotic with each passing year will suddenly seem very human in death. They will go from video game characters to true warriors who are willing to literally put their lives on the line every week.

We will love it, which is just about the saddest commentary one can make on the current American sports culture.

By Adam Hoff  |  September 9, 2009; 8:37 AM ET  | Category:  Medical Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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