I’m very much a closeted football fan: the sport appalls me on a number of levels, but invariably pulls me in as a fascinated spectator by the end of the season. The same dramatic arc replicates itself over each season: when training camps and exhibition games start up in August, it’s easy for me to scoff at the spectacle of 300-pound fatsos falling on top of each other in the blazing heat; in the deep cold of December and January, however, the game takes on a war-like gravity that neither baseball nor basketball– games that I generally have a higher regard for– can compete with. A game like last year’s NFC Championship takes you as close as any sport is going to take you to the seige of Stalingrad– there’s just nothing that compares to it. (OK, bad example in the sense that that game was played inside in a warm dome… but you get the idea.)
Given my already-conflicted status, I hate it when stories come to light like the retirement of a Redskins tackle who just revealed that he played his entire professional career with a spinal condition that put him at risk of paralysis with every blow to the head. Yuck. File this in the big, ugly, dented, misshapen bin of stories with every other guy who’s developed dementia, or heart problems, or a debilitating addiction to painkillers shortly after leaving the game. This is a sport where the average player drops dead at age 53. I feel conscience-bound to stop watching, but the siege-of-Stalingrad thing keeps pulling me back in.
The report about Chris Samuels and his spinal condition brought to mind a study I read many years ago about a medical researcher who had set out to study the physical abuse experienced by pro football players. The part that fascinated me was the weirdo metric he came up with for quantifying this abuse: the physical impact of playing pro football, he calculated, is equivalent to going to the back of your driveway and riding your bicycle full-tilt into the garage door 25 times a day from various angles. I love this. Especially the ‘from various angles’ specification. Did he actually ride his bike into his garage door to measure the impact and get his baseline unit of impact? If so, how long is his driveway? (It seems like this would potentially effect the calculation a lot.) I would like to see this garage-door metric applied to a wide range of activities and hopefully take on an obscure, puzzling non-metric name, like the bushel, peck, or knot.