Surprised by Garrett? You shouldn’t be
Why are you surprised? Seriously, people, why? Of course, it was shocking to see the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett helmet-bludgeon Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph on Thursday night.
Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman appeared sufficiently shocked and pasty-faced in their postgame take in the booth. Perhaps, the latter was remembering that his NFL career was in part ended by concussive blows to his head.
The NFL Network’s Michael Irvin rightly condemned Garrett’s action. It’s worth noting that Irvin stopped playing after being slammed to the rock-hard turf in Philadelphia while fans at the old Veterans’ Stadium cheered.
ESPN’s Steven A. Smith bloviated because, well, he just bloviates.
Of course, Garrett’s act was unconscionable and worthy of his being suspended for the rest of the season, as the NFL announced Friday.
But ask yourself why the NFL is the most popular sport in the country? While the game can be a chess match and a display of athleticism and grace, it’s sanctioned violence.
We love violence in our sports and then are shocked when it doesn’t stop after the whistle?
Drop the act, folks.
The gold-old days
The reason there is a rule in the NFL that one cannot use one’s helmet as a weapon is Lyle Alzado, who flung a helmet at the New York Jets’ Chris Shaw during a playoff game in 1983.
Apparently 63 or so years into its existence, the NFL decided that wasn’t the greatest idea, so voilà. It’s somewhat apropos that it was a Raider who first used a helmet as a weapon.
This was one franchise of many that made a name for itself by massaging the rules/becoming an outright street gang in becoming a part of NFL lore.
Let’s all remember that “Hard Knocks” featured the Raiders this year with the opening credits reciting “The Autumn Wind,” concluding with, “The Autumn Wind is a raider,/ Pillaging just for fun./ He’ll knock you ‘round and upside down,/ And laugh when he’s conquered and won.”
It’s a classic bit of NFL Films, voiced by John Facenda, of an era when the Raiders and Steelers and others beat one another senseless in the so-called good-old days, an era which made the NFL the colossus it is. Yet, at the same time, this is the imagery and history the league needs to dispel in light of the mounting evidence that the sport causes brain damage.
The NFL can’t do these two things simultaneously.
Football is our modern gladiator sport, our guilty pleasure. We know it can’t be played at the highest levels, professionally or collegiately, without leaving aftereffects. Yet we still watch.
And let’s note that everything we watch in those NFL Films vintage clips is illegal now. Legends such as Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Ray Nitschke — none of those guys would last a full game without being ejected.
If anything, it’s more of a surprise that incidents like Myles Garrett don’t happen more often. Consider the amount of money on the line. Football players have a limited window to earn what has to last, in some cases for a lifetime.
The energy and emotion required to play at a fevered pitch can only be achieved by a few.
It’s not an outrageous supposition to consider that some of the game’s players might have already sustained a degree of brain injury.
You can’t just turn it off like a light switch. It’s easy to be outraged from afar, especially from the safety of an oft-watched screen.
But we keep on coming back for more. After a tough week at work, we like to kick back and watch someone else get the stuffing knocked out of them. We’ll all be watching on Sunday, complicit as always.