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The Blood Is On Our Hands

The Blood Is On Our Hands

You wake up.  You have been waiting for this day.  There is a spectacle to be seen.  You arrive with nearly 100,000 other spectators.  They are all here for the athletic displays of some of the greatest, strongest and best trained men on the planet.  Based on your social status you enter through Gate 13, jealous of those higher and laughing at those that are denied access to your section.

This building is the culmination of architecture and aesthetics.  A true modern wonder.  It has amenities that have never been seen before.  A design that generations will study.

The Participants arrive.  The Crowd goes berserk.  These men have been bred for this.  The best dietitians, medical staff and training are available to them, courtesy of the insanely rich people who are the owners.  The owners see these men as nothing more than investments.  The more they can play the more they can earn off of them.

The stars of the show must be concerned with performance, entertainment and their own survival and health.  And the end of the day, they’ll be bloodied and sore.  The biggest hits and the bloodiest gashes only work the crown into a greater frenzy.

Blood must beget blood.

And the crowd will get it.

On your walk home you are happy.  You have seen a great performance. If the bash on the head would render someone unable to care for himself, it doesn’t matter.  You were entertained.


In Rome.  2000 years ago.


We are no different.  No matter how much we can attempt to distance ourselves from the Barbaric and Brutal Gladiator games we are absolutely the same people.  We may not outright cheer for the death of a player, but we sure as hell love it when someone gets hit so hard they can’t remember who they are.  While our crowds don’t demand the death of an inferior talent, we certainly don’t stray too far from that thought.  Just ask Matt Cassel.

We are above the simple glorification of Violence?  As much as ESPN would like to pretend this never happened it did.

We are blood thirsty.

As NFL Players get Bigger, Faster, and Stronger the danger gets greater.

If the current trends continue someone is going to be killed.  Either on the field or immediately after.  It’s because we demand it.

As free agency has shown, Owners and managers look at Players as investments.  When they are hurt they can simply throw them away.  When they want too much the GM can simply say no and walk away.  We call Football players Gladiators.  And they very well may be.  But not in the best way.  The NFL, either for its genuine care for the players safety or genuine care for the owners pockets, is taking the steps of attempting to make the game safer and change that perception of Players as Gladiators.  The reaction from the world is varied but can summed up into two categories : Glad that they are being Proactive, and Completely Fucking Idiotic.

The NFL has proposed a rule that Runners can’t lower their head and use their head/helmet as a weapon.  Matt Forte doesn’t agree.

Marshall Faulk compares it to another play that shouldn’t be allowed

While Terrell Thomas is very pragmatic about the situation.

And this is the problem.  While players and fans can have opinion, a vocal portion have feelings like this:

A Hugging League?  A hugging league.  Fans don’t want a hugging league.  Fans want violence.  Packaged and marketed brutality.

We want blood.  And we’re gonna get it.

Another quote you’ll hear all the time is “These guys know what they’re signing up for. ”

While it may sound cold to say, when people play sports, especially violent ones, when they retire and should they reach old age, when they have walking problems because of their back or ankles, when they limp because their hips and knees are made out of the same stuff as the the Space Shuttle, when it takes them some extra time to  get out of bed, THAT is what they are signing up for.  No one, ever, has signed up for forgetting who they are, where they are from and those that they love.  If you have ever seen anyone ravaged by dementia you know that is is a terrible affliction.  It kills the person without killing the body.  I watched a close family member suffer from it for years.  She was gone about 6 years ago, but she died only 1 year ago.  It’s cruel and mean.

NFL Great and a man who punched out a horse, Alex Karras talked about that very issue.  And he also dealt with it.  Or more accurately his wife did.  When you forget everything you know you aren’t the only one suffering, it’s those around you.

Would any of you like to tell Junior Seau’s family that he was begging for it?  That he signed up for a life that would end quickly?  How about telling a 33 year old Brian Westbrook that he had this coming.  Again he’s 33 and he already has memory issues.  33 years old is a time in a lot of people’s life when they have a small child.  It’s very possible that he’ll forget that child’s name in ten years.  Would you like to tell Alex Karras widow that she should be grateful Alex didn’t play in a sissy league.  He played real football.  Not Flag Football.  We don’t want a Flag Football league.

We want blood.

Another common reaction to change is – “We’ll they want to change the helmets, yeah like that’s gonna do anything!”  And maybe they’re right.  Maybe it wont be a panacea to mental health.  But you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Changing a rule so running backs can’t duck their head and use their helmet as a weapon may take 10 years to really take hold.  It may create a lot of confused officiating.  It may do nothing for players right now.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.  Because a new rule, a new helmet a new something could, in the long run, extend the careers of players and help their quality of life after retirement.  More importantly every step in the right direction now, leads us to greater leaps in the future.

A new helmet being designed could reduce certain head injuries.  Only it looks goofy.   And if it looks goofy we just can’t have it.

I don’t care if helps peoples brains. It has to have a Large C on it or I won’t know who to cheer for!

What is it going to take to change the mentality?  It’s going to take an active star getting hurt or worse.  Carson Palmer rips up his leg on a questionable play, and it’s “Well, that sucks.”  Tom Brady rips up his leg and immediately there’s a Tom Brady Rule.  If instead of a Buffalo special teamer it’s Eli Manning, you could bet anything that there would be ten new rules and regulations.  We already have a new Commissioner who has shown he can retroactively change rules.

We may shed crocodile tears for Junior Seau.  We just don’t want to think about the brain disease he had.  A brain disease we watched him get.  A brain disease that we, as consumers of the product, cheered for him to get.  We wanted him to hit as hard as possible.  To put people out of the game.  And when he missed a tackle we were mad at him.

That, to me, is the elephant in the room.  In order to truly discuss the ramifications of playing football and safety, we must take a good long look at ourselves.  We are responsible.  We want the brutality.  The more heavyweight boxers we see slurring their words at 40 the less we want to watch heavyweights.  When Young men have brain diseases that lead them to kill themselves, part of the blame, however minuscule, must fall on us.  Because though often richly rewarded for their effort, we demanded that effort.

We watched Jacked Up.  We look the other way as hulks get leaner and stronger with means that can only be attained in a lab.  There is NO hand wringing over PED’s in football.  The occasional suspension, but it’s mostly a joke.  The NFL must force stringent testing.  Force will always equal Mass x Acceleration.  We are in a state where the players may be the same 6 feet tall but the mass and acceleration have markedly increased.  There will come a breaking point.  Someone is going to die.  When they do the blame will go around from the players, to the equipment, to the training, to the owners.  But it will belong to us.  When people tell Brian Westbrook to suck it up after another concussion, the blame lies with us.  When Brian Westbrook missed games because of head injuries, were we more concerned with his long term health or our goddamn fantasy teams?  The blood on the grass is the blood on our hands.  The player that “signed up for it” is rich because we paid for him to be rich.  We paid to incentivize him to play hurt or take PED’s.  We paid for devastating hits that sound like car crashes and feel like a bass drum.  And to the tune of billions of dollars, we’re desperate to watch it.

Because we don’t want touch football.  We want violence.

We want blood.

2,000 years ago the Romans built the Colosseum.  It still stands.  And when you go in there and look at the stands and the caverns underneath you get a sense that something great happened here.  Not something good, but something important.  The blood has been washed away, but I swear, as you walk through the arches and shadows you can hear the screaming of the crowd two millenia later.  The crowd still talks to you.  As you find a vantage point and look out to the arena, if you close your eyes you can see the Retiarius.  You know, that had you been there, in your tunic and toga that you too, would scream for blood.

We still have stadiums with luxury boxes.  We still have highly trained men who are heavily invested in.  They, like the Murmillo before them, have their faces covered by a helmet.  It keeps them dehumanized.  We still have segregated entrances based on class.  We still have men beat each other for the pleasure of the crowd.  We still have Gladiators.  They are in on the field, bleeding for our entertainment.

And we still have Barbarians.  They’re in the stands.



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Carlo is a New York Based writer and performer. He found the Colosseum to be the most beautiful building he has ever seen.