Used-Up Heroes

The cult of macho and the elevation of brutality in sports is killing athletes.

I used to watch football.  The final straw came while I was actually at a Dallas Cowboy game and one of the players took a terrible hit coming down on his head.  I watched for several minutes as he lay there unmoving thinking I had just watched some one get killed or paralyzed playing a stupid game.

Over the years I had met former professional athletes and had seen how they could hardly walk or had other damaging injuries.

Over the last couple of years the big story has been concussions and shortened life expectancy for football players.  Now hockey players.

I still enjoy watching baseball and rooting for several favorite teams.  I wish soccer were more popular in America as it doesn’t seem to have the same level of brutality.

From Common Dreams:

by Robert C. Koehler 
Published on Thursday, December 8, 2011 by

At a sports bar in downtown Minneapolis called Sneaky Pete’s, “Young men fueled with alcohol begged Boogaard to punch them, so they could say they survived a shot from the Boogeyman.”

I’m thinking, wow, we power our society as much on adolescent energy as we do on fossil fuels. And the consequences are probably even more devastating.

The quote is a small moment in an excellent story in the New York Times the other day by John Branch called “A Brain Going Bad,” about the National Hockey League’s onetime premiere enforcer/tough guy, Derek Boogaard, who died last May at age 28 of an alcohol and painkiller overdose. His addiction to them was likely due to unrelieved, untreated brain trauma.

After his death, brain researchers discovered the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, an Alzheimer’s-like condition most likely caused by repeated blows to the head. Boogaard had become just one more used-up hero.

“More than 20 dead former NFL players and many boxers have had CTE diagnosed,” Branch wrote. “It generally hollowed out the final years of their lives into something unrecognizable to loved ones.”

But, Branch noted, the NHL does not acknowledge a link between hockey and CTE and is not about to end on-ice fighting, which of course is the source of the adrenalin — the adolescent energy — that maintains its fan base. Professional hockey may masquerade as a game, but, like all major league sports, it is first and foremost big business; the product it sells is vicarious thrills and a pseudo-military quest for hometown victory, all wrapped in a package of good old American values.

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