Monday, October 24, 2011

Sean Payton's Injury--Never Forget the Violence in Football

It can all look so clean and strategic on TV. The TV overlays emphasize the patterns and schemas of the football teams. The dangerous combination of beauty and force enamors football fans. But all this distanced and technologically enhanced viewing can distance and hide the reality from us, one I have mentioned before—force and violence rule football.

This week Sean Payton, the coach of the New Orleans’ Saints sat in the box calling plays, he could not be on the sideline. He is recovering from surgery last Monday to repair a torn meniscus and a broken left tibia. One Sunday ago  an NFL player ran out of the sidelines and collided with him and Payton's leg fell under the player.  Payton went down. His quarterback later joined him on the disabled list with a shattered collarbone.

Payton is not a small guy and full of the intensity and intelligence common to good football coaches. Yet the collision when he fell under a player fractured his tibia, tore his meniscus and left him with massive contusions.

You can look at the weekly list of broken and battered players who are out for the season in football, college and professional to remember that sheer collective force impacted on the human body by weaponized football players. We can follow the funeral track of premature dementia for men whose brains are battered to insensibility by the game or crippled forty five year olds. We have long lists and codes and forgotten faded once players to remind us.

What happened to Payton really should make clear to us fans on the side of the sheer energy and might unleashed on the football field.

When you stand on the sideline during an elite football game, the sheer vital force on the field overwhelms your senses. The players move so fast; they loom so big and the hits are so fierce you flinch when you feel the concussive power. You can see the players hold their bodies taught to hold the pain or bay or adjust a gait to protect a sprain, hit or bruise. The sheer sound and shaped force can be overwhelming. It feels nothing like the more sterile sense you get watching television. The graph below demonstrates where football hits rank compared to the G force impacts of flying jet airplanes!


Much of that power and ferocity is blunted by technique or the armor that players wear. But in Payton’s case we see the sheer violence unleashed upon an unprotected human being by a weaponized football player in full armor. An 200 plus pound football player impacts with  1600 pounds of force when he hits another player. If both players are moving that combined force grows to multiple G levels of force. In the professional league almost 300 players weigh over three hundred pounds and multiple that force impact even more.

The unprotected human body does not stand a chance. It breaks under the impact.

This reminds us that football employs mass+speed=force=impact to achieve its goals. This collision involves immense force and when it is inflicted upon a human body, it transmogrifies into violence. Beneath football's controlled force lurks ever present violence that impacts and hurts the human body.

Violence is force that inflicts pain and disruption to the human system. Every single football player imposes violence on every player on the field for every play. We should never forget this. Technique and armor diffuse some of this, but each player from grade school to professional ball endures this violence. It requires courage and strength and commitment and perhaps a little bid of madness.

As Payton’s experience reminds us, football would shatter normal humans. It would bruise and rupture our tissues; break or splinter our bones; rattle and disable our brains.

When we watch and take pleasure in the game and the beauty and power of the game, we should never forget the foundation of violence upon which it is build..