Man Getting Hit By Football: Week Six

Good games, bad games, the poor Jags against the Broncos, and the many problems of an increasingly, incredibly complicated entertainment.
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Illustration by Brad Beatson.

“New York” Giants (+7.5) at Chicago

What do you do when you love the wrong thing? What follows after you realize, after months or even years, that the company you work for is putting poison in the air or in the ground; that your spouse is a snide, self-centered asshole; that you and your friends are dangers to yourselves and others when you get together; that the country you routinely pledge allegiance to has upended governments, designed and overseen gross injustices, and condoned massacres because it was convenient to do so? I suppose rationally you should walk away from your beloved in that case, renounce him or her or it, spend the rest of your days atoning for your misspent devotion. We hardly ever do that, though. We ignore the signs, we lash out at those who inform us our dear hubby spent the weekend huffing paint and clubbing seals, we search for evidence that, actually, we are the righteous ones, and that our love couldn’t possibly be adding to the sum total of human misery in the world.

Which, yes, this is about the NFL, and particularly the way the NFL is portrayed in nearly every media outlet that isn’t directly or indirectly controlled by the NFL. League of Denial, PBS Frontline’s headline-making documentary that aired this week, is just the latest in a seemingly endless series of reports that have told us, in increasingly clear terms, “This sport hurts the men who play it in horrible, invisible ways, in addition to the visible hurts you knew about and maybe watch for. The men running this sport are moral cowards who have worked to conceal this from everyone, including the families of the players whose lives have been destroyed by the sport, because these men wanted to make more money and not think about the consequences.” 

We keep watching because we love to see the running, the jumping, the catching, the throwing, the beautiful blocking, even—we know this part is especially wrong—the violent tackling. Maybe we tell ourselves that it’s not actually as bad as PBS and the New York Times and investigative reporters from ESPN and others claim. There are studies that say there’s no definite connection between football and brain damage; the science on this issue isn’t 100 percent settled. But at this point, those things sound like excuses for something we love that we increasingly know we should reject.

I know I’ve talked about this stuff before, but it keeps coming back again and again. Football might not just be a particularly gaudy, incomprehensible diversion to lose ourselves in for a few hours every Sunday. It might be evil in the way heroin dealing or factory farms are evil—a vast system that drags us into the muck and implicates us in its ugliness if we participate in it in any way. We watch the NFL, the NFL gets ratings, the NFL sells its product—which is, in this case, also its labor force and the games they make together—to TV networks who in turn sell it to advertisers.

Presumably, if enough of us got together and didn’t watch because the league continues to not really care whether players get brain damage, it would start making changes. That would require us to admit that it’s wrong for us to watch the game in its present form; we’d need to decide our love for the sport was part of the problem. Failing that, fans could stage dramatic walk-outs at stadiums, or protest at the Super Bowl, or even just sign some petitions. Anything, really, to let the league know that we’re aware that the current situation, where Roger Goodell goes on TV and disingenuously touts how much the league is doing for its former players and how it’s investing “millions” in research on concussions, is not working. If you love something and you realize it’s hurting people, you either work to change it or you abandon it. Those are really the only two options.

PICK: Chicago  

Oakland (+9) at Kansas City

The difficult thing is finding a way to change the sport to make it safer without removing that thread of raw violence that runs through it—to soften the hitting without wiping it out entirely, to change the game without changing it into something else. This is not just for the enjoyment of the fans, but for the players as well: In a Sports Illustrated article earlier this year on the famous hit Jadeveon Clowney laid on University of Michigan running back Vincent Smith, Smith said, “You gotta love the violence. That's why little kids love the game. It gives them a reason to feel good about themselves. The violence is the reason I play football.”

PICK: Kansas City

Green Bay (-3) at Baltimore

The problem was never the violence, though. Bloodsport has been with us since the earliest days of both blood and sport. The issue is that the NFL has hidden the consequences of the violence and tried to sell us a game it claimed was about teamwork and perseverance and Insert Vince Lombardi Quote Here, when in reality watching football has always contained elements of watching a couple of men smash each other in the head. It’s a dark, primitive thing, yet we fool ourselves into thinking it’s light, consequence-free entertainment.    

PICK: Green Bay

Phliadelphia (-1.5) at Tampa Bay

The NFL’s pomp and bluster also fools coaches into thinking they are Leaders of Men on par with George Patton or William Wallace. Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano no doubt imagines himself as a stern but fair disciplinarian who in another life would lead armies into battle. In reality he’s a small-minded dictator who cruelly sabotaged his quarterback while maybe breaking workplace confidentiality laws before having him cut from the team, a man who inspires his players by videotaping them “horsing around” on the sidelines so he can single them out for criticism later. It’s a sure sign something is wrong with football culture when it results in a raging pustule like Schiano being in charge of several dozen players, coaches, and trainers.

PICK: Philadelphia

Carolina (+2.5) at Minnesota

Josh Freeman is beyond Schiano’s clutches, now, luckily for him. The cloud in that silver lining is that now he has to learn a completely new system on a new team as he joins Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder in the If You’re Good Enough To Be Employed In The NFL You’re Good Enough To Start For The VIkings, So Don’t Be Shy, Come On Down! society. In recognition of that, let’s check out a Josh Freeman highlight from last year:

PS: They gained only one yard on a third-and-long on that play and had to punt. It’s hard to find good highlights of Josh Freeman.

PICK: Carolina

Houston (-7.5) at St. Louis

Freeman had his involvement in the league drug-testing program revealed and was humiliated by his boss, but Matt Schaub might have it worse. The Texans’ struggles aren’t all his fault, but as the quarterback he’s the designated scapegoat, and, yes, he has thrown a touchdown pass to the wrong team in four straight games. The fans are so pissed at least one of them rolled up to his house to shout obscenities and his coach publicly considered benching him. Schaub’s is only consolation is that he gets to play the pathetic Rams this week—well, that and the fact that he might be moving out of Houston soon.  

PICK: St. Louis

Pittsburgh (+2.5) at “New York” Jets

Here’s a list of quarterbacks who have started games for the Jets since 2000:

- Vinny Testaverde
- Chad Pennington
- Kellen Clemens
- Quincy Carter (whoa, really?)
- Brooks Bollinger (what?)
- Brett Favre (ahahaahahahaha)
- Mark Sanchez
- Tim Tebow (oh boy)
- Greg McElroy
- Geno Smith

“Intermittently competent” is the best thing you could say about that group. Yet the Jets haven’t been terrible over that span: there have been six trips to the playoffs, back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship game in 2009 and 2010 when they were quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez, who is remembered as a fumbling (in every sense of the word) buffoon. The guy who throws the ball sometimes isn’t all that important, and you shouldn’t listen to anything that the back page of the New York Daily News tells you:

In other words, if the Jets win, it will have less to with Geno Smith’s star power and more to do with the defense, as well as Pittsburgh’s slow-motion disaster of a season.

PICK: “New York” Jets

Cincinnati (-7) at Buffalo

And if Cincinnati wins this game, it will have less to do with their amazing defense and more to do with, uh, heck y’all I got no earthly idea. The Bengals have been up one week, down the next, almost at random, and you could have matched my record picking games last week by flipping a coin. This’ll probably be a fun game with a bunch of running and yelling and stuff.

PICK: Buffalo

Detroit (-2.5) at Cleveland

SCENE: A press conference in 1970

Cleveland Browns Executive: We are very proud to present the new logo of the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, which is the football team we own.

Reporter: So it’s an orange helmet?

Executive: No, it’s a brown helmet. Like our team’s name. We were named after a coach, so it makes sense.

Reporter: I don’t think you understand what a logo is. It’s supposed to be an animal, or, like, a typographical element or symbol. This is just a drawing of part of your uniform.

Executive: That’s not a question.

PICK: Cleveland

Jacksonville (+27.5) at Denver

This game will be the football equivalent of a millionaire’s Town Car driving very quickly past a trailer by the side of the road that has caught on fire thanks to a complex and hideously embarrassing accident involving industrial-strength solvents and a cigarette. Keep it moving.

PICK: Denver

Tennessee (+13.5) at Seattle

This is the big homecoming game for Jake Locker, the former star University of Washington quarterback who finally gets to return as a pro to the town where he earned so much success—oh, actually he’s out with an injured hip. Dang, that was this game’s only storyline. So it’s mostly Titans at Seahawks. Sorry about that.

PICK: Seattle

Arizona (+10.5) at San Francisco

This week, I learned via Foreign Policy that current free agent receiver Donte Stallworth is a thoughtful, well-informed guy who uses Twitter to stay abreast of current events, especially foreign affairs. Also, hello, his Twitter avatar shows him staring down Bill Clinton while Chelsea Clinton watches:

PICK: Arizona

New Orleans (+2.5) at New England

This is the best game of the week. In other news, Sean Payton says he “looks up to” Bill Belichick. My God, can you imagine? Does he own Belichick’s parenting book, What Happened, Happened, We’re Not Going To Talk About The Past: A Guide For Young Families?

PICK: New Orleans

Washington (+5.5) at Dallas

Washington R******s owner Dan Snyder wrote an open letter this week defending his team’s name, which some people find offensive because it is a racial slur and because it’s fucked up that a team would be called that.

“We are Redskins Nation,” he said in the letter, “and we owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage. Next thing you know you’ll want us to win a three games in a row! Haha, jk. I am a gigantic sack of shit, though. Remember when I sued a newspaper for libel because it wrote (accurately) about all the awful things I’ve done?”

PICK: Dallas

Indianapolis (-1.5) at San Diego

There are awful things and then there are awful things; there’s the wild, proud ignorance of the R******s (which isn’t nearly the worst thing Native Americans deal with) and then there’s the NFL and a state legislature working together to screw players. The league got yet another undeserved perk from the government when California passed a law that blocked players from filing workman’s compensation claims. The NFL implied that if players were allowed to file such claims, it would cost employers of all kinds across the state, which is completely bogus. Lying to save itself money at the expense of its former employees—just another example of how much the NFL cares. This is a pretty great sport, but the puffed-up monopoly that sells it to us doesn’t deserve it. Let’s make sure we don’t wind up deserving the NFL.

PICK: Indianapolis

Previous week’s record: 7-7
Overall record: 42-33-2
Lines taken from

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