THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Jack Furlong
Founder, President & CEO
At the time of composing this blog post, Damar Hamlin has been released from the hospital in Buffalo. There are still many unknown variables, but the prognosis at this moment in time is especially remarkable.
The world was silenced that Monday evening in Cincinnati when Hamlin collapsed on the field and had to be resuscitated. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Hamlin had passed away and was brought back to life by the medical staff who immediately responded to the incident. His continued progress in his recovery is music to the ears of every person with a heart.
It would be foolish to speculate on the medical information that explains why Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, especially when the sportsmanship of the media has been under fire for some time. Many who have seen the clip of Hamlin colliding with an opponent have noted that the tackle didn’t appear to be dirty or especially violent in the context of normal contact within the sport. At first glance, it did not appear to be “helmet-to-helmet” or worthy of any other penalty, whether from the rulebook or the understood convention of the brotherhood of football players. However, the chain of events (violent contact is followed by a severe medical emergency) and its unique severity (not many people suffer cardiac arrest while on the playing surface of a professional sport) yields a common discussion that needs to be addressed.
Gridiron football is an equal mix of brains and brawn, paying deference to rugby and soccer (the real “football”) while spawning spinoffs to cash in on its popularity. Whether it’s two-hand touch, flag football, or ladies in lingerie, the entertainment value is practically immeasurable, evidenced by the fact that its biggest championship game is practically a national holiday celebrated by people who don’t even watch the sport. The rituals of fans dedicating themselves to the sport have become a religion and a rite of passage, interrupting our regularly scheduled holidays with loved ones for the chance to park in front of the television for a nationally broadcast game.
In other words, combine a chess match with a ballet, complete with a ticking timer (to force action every forty seconds) and the violence and testosterone of an action movie, and the result is football.
However, the tragedy of Damar Hamlin might be the key to force society to open its eyes and pull back the veil: football is our modern version of the ancient coliseum, where young and impoverished souls sacrifice themselves for entertainment of the masses in exchange for their freedom (if they survive).
Although it’s not a blanket case, many players in football come from the lower class, correlating with poverty, a lack of education, and no opportunities to escape. Regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or religion, football is their ticket to a new life, ripe with paychecks large enough to alter generations of families in exchange for putting their bodies through the violence of the game that could result in permanent damage and, although rare, loss of life. The more we watch, the more we spend, and the more we dedicate to the sport, the more we feed into this archetype that has been in existence for ages.
Scary situations like Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest do have the power to bring people together in amazing acts of sportsmanship. In the wake of everything, both teams on the gridiron that night decided to stop playing. Fans of both teams joined each other in prayer, putting aside rooting interests to comfort one another as they shed tears. Humanity dug into their pockets and turned a fundraiser Hamlin had established for his charity into a remarkable story of its own: what was once an attempt to raise a couple hundred dollars is now approaching the $10,000,000 level.
But why does the world need a situation like this to wake up? Why does a man need to innocently brush against death for the population to see there is a problem with this entertainment cycle? Why does this impetus spark the financial generosity for a cause that probably should have reached its goal many moons ago?
This is not a call for legislation that forces humanity to behave a certain way in accordance with the law. Rather, this is a request that individuals think deeply and critically about the decisions made each day in the name of entertainment. At what point will we reach the determination that football is too violent and can no longer be played as it currently exists? Will it require someone to perish in battle while millions watch in horror? If football changes, will a less violent version of the game keep the same entertainment value and hold the attention of its audience? After all, our culture must stop and watch the details of every car accident; a reduction in football violence might turn the action movie into a romantic comedy.
The priority is Damar Hamlin’s recovery, especially considering that medical professionals do not know (at the composition of this post) what caused the cardiac arrest in the first place. (Imagine if the doctors determine that this could have happened even if he was not playing football.) When he is better, what answers will we have for these questions?
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.