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Sam Gold | The Gold Standard

The Costs of Being an Athlete

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 02:01

After 19 grueling weeks, Super Bowl Sunday now looms less than a week away. Decidedly the juggernaut among sporting events in this country, it is a cultish, quasi-religious day of reckoning, so to speak — for fans, players and coaches alike.

With all the fanfare and spectacles and awesome commercials (actual football notwithstanding), few entranced viewers, I believe, will step back to consider this behemoth and its implications lucidly. Even those of us who have tracked the lawsuit filed by 4,500 former players — who allege that the NFL has shirked its responsibility to provide adequately for its employees — probably won’t.

Percy Harvin, speed demon wideout, has endured an injury-plagued season and now postseason in the first year of his contract with the Seattle Seahawks. Harvin’s trim frame undoubtedly leaves him susceptible to the sort of bone-crushing hits that can cut a season short, though his first playoff game against a marching New Orleans Saints squad should have evoked a far more visceral reaction. Harvin’s cringe-worthy misfortune made perhaps the most compelling case yet as to why $765 million dollars doled out by a $9-plus billion industry to over 20,000 former players is a pittance.

There was the initial concussion: in the first quarter, Saints’ safety Rafael Bush walloped a defenseless Harvin with a hit deemed too high by the NFL. Bush was fined $21,000. Responding to the decision, he tweeted, “Anybody know me knows I play fast and physical but it’s all good y’all have a blessed day.”

Harvin returned to the game, presumably after undergoing a thorough — but by no means impervious to skepticism — examination, though he left the field for good after a hard fall in the end zone following an incomplete pass. He then sat out the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, which teetered precariously between gladiator fight and heated competition and, as such, nearly devolved into a bloodbath.

Hardcore fandom regards these games with a toxic mélange of euphoria, trepidation and awe, and it holds its players to impossibly lofty standards. As a result, the latter serve merely as pawns in an exceedingly violent and chillingly human reimagining of an erstwhile gentlemen’s game.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that America rooted for Percy Harvin to get back on the field. The hit ran again and again, the announcers agape in flagrant contravention of their job description. Those at the game and watching on television grew quiet and stupefied. They muttered condolences for a myriad of lost brain cells and a slightly less secure future. But the sobering effect was ephemeral, for the game resumed with two bitter adversaries battling it out. Then, once Harvin returned, he was greeted with rousing applause, his enviable stoicism on high-definition display.

What is an apt way to dub this phenomenon, short of christening it schadenfreude? Insofar as the evolution of the game has engendered unprecedented brutality, there is no viable alternative; at a certain point, living vicariously through vastly superior athletes yields to twisted pleasure. It is deeply ingrained in American culture, something for which each patron of the NFL — and numerous other sports, video games and movies, among other industries — bears guilt.

The NFL — armed with a powerhouse legal team, gobs of money and a fiercely loyal fan base to boot — will not simply unravel in the wake of a currently unsettled lawsuit. Rather, all signs point to near and long term growth. Per usual, the NFL will enjoy prodigious viewership this weekend, the likes of which other major sports can only fantasize about. 

So it won’t cost a dime to think critically this weekend, when Percy Harvin and the Seahawks face off against the Broncos. In fact, both the NFL and its fans can afford it.

 

Sam Gold is a junior who is majoring in religion. He can be reached at Samuel_L.Gold@tufts.edu.

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