By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) You’ve seen the film Se7en, right? If not, I don’t respect you as a functional citizen, and you have to go rent it immediately. It’s one of those that “Shawshanks” me—if I see it on, I stop whatever I’m doing and watch it until the end, even though I’ve seen it roughly 73 times.
A major part of its appeal is the villain, John Doe, played by Kevin Spacey. We don’t even meet him until the film is more than half over, and by then we’re already so fascinated by him that we expect much more of a monster than we actually meet. And as he talks to the protagonist detectives, played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, we find ourselves strangely sympathetic toward him because he explains how he kills people almost all of us on a daily basis don’t necessarily have murderous thoughts about but certainly despise in various ways (unless we happen to be the despised and are either comfortable in our gross misdeeds or terribly un-self-aware). He makes the ultimate examples of some types of real people we wish would be made examples of.
The detectives question why Doe goes to such shocking extremes—very symbolic murders—in order to get his feelings on society heard. Doe replies, “Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” Even fictional serial killers can provide good advice.
So I heard Wednesday that Washington defensive back Brandon Meriweather had his suspension for illegal hits on Bears receivers reduced from two games to one. Meriweather is a piece of garbage—a repeat offender who we watched as a Bear himself commit unnecessary acts of violence on opponents and who knows he’s doing it and has no remorse. And he likes to make super funny jokes about it all.
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall said a guy like Meriweather has no place in the league. “Guys like that really don’t understand that there is life after football,” he said. “I respect the league trying to better our game and guys like that, maybe he needs to get suspended or taken out of the game completely.”
The latter isn’t going to ever happen because the NFLPA would never allow it. The NFL made a big statement amid its public relations crisis of head injuries and the game by suspending the reckless head hunter. But then it reduced the suspension because the league doesn’t actually care about most players getting injured because they’re faceless, replaceable drones. And the union is a bunch of hypocrites because it cries foul on the league’s attitude toward player safety yet backs a turd like this.
Then Wednesday night I saw the highlight of Buffalo Sabres goon (and former Blackhawks goon) John Scott blatantly head-shotting Boston Bruin Loui Eriksson with no strategic goal other than to injure, and to a part of the body with which the NHL has also had its own PR issue. Twitter blew up with typical hand wringing regarding Scott’s superfluous thuggery. Columns appropriately chiding him and his crappy coach got written. Mike Milbury—who once beat a fan with a shoe—said prior to the game that there was no reason for Scott to be on a roster and after the game called for both Scott and his crappy coach to be out of jobs.
Again, though, the latter won’t happen in Scott’s case. At least not by league mandate.
So for a while we get to be morally outraged at two idiots in their respective sports tarnishing games we love by being unnecessarily dangerous. We call for banishments that can’t legally happen, and we bring up silly “Dirty players should be suspended as long as the victim is injured” Hammurabian ideas. The fines get paid, the suspensions get served, and we go back to enjoying our viewing experience and forgetting about guys like Meriweather and Scott until they rear their dumb heads again. And they will because fines and suspensions have never stopped a jerk athlete from being a jerk.
We put the dangers of the game in the back of our minds because unless we’re sociopaths we understand there is something humanly wrong with getting entertainment from of people harming themselves or others. And we roll our eyes or even respond viscerally to those who keep bringing up those dangers and making us confront our imperfect love we have for sports.
We don’t want to be tapped on the shoulder incessantly. Yet we certainly don’t want to be hit with a sledgehammer.
But that’s what I’m waiting for now when my guilt of watching violent sports turns to outright anger as it did twice Wednesday because I know nothing tangible will come from those two situations because those two guys haven’t had anything stop them from being bad guys in the past. Nope. Won’t happen.
Until a player dies.
That is the inevitable I’m dreadfully waiting for in order to get everyone’s complete attention. A lifeless body on the field or ice or solemn doctor breaking the news from a hospital in front of TV cameras. Us knowing we watched a human being’s life be taken by another human being for our enjoyment.
Oh, then the mob won’t rest until the dirty player is jettisoned from the game if not imprisoned. Then the players union won’t have a leg to stand on. Then the league will have to make good with our outrage by making sure the thug is no longer employed at the highest level. Then writers will demand new rules for athletes who intend to harm other athletes beyond the rules of the game. Things get changed when people die—that’s how America so often works.
I recently read a gut-wrenching piece on the death of boxer Franky Leal and watched video of his brain basically cease to function ever again. Boxing is different from football and hockey because watching the ring we’re more cognizant of the intent to inflict pain in order to win, and getting someone’s brain to tell the rest of the body “We’re not doing this anymore” is the goal during a fight. There is also no malice in trying to win a boxing match, though—no Meriweatherian or Scott-esque intent to harm for the sake of harm.
That didn’t stop writer Iron Mike Gallego from pointing out in that column the hypocrisy of the boxing industry, though, and the hypocrisy of our apathy toward the health of fighters until the worst happens. A fighter had to die in order for him to vent about the problems with a sport he loves and the conflict he faces being a lover of the sport.
And that’s boxing, where we are aware, at least passively, that boxing kills professional participants annually. Football and hockey have helmets and pads—an illusion, to a degree, of safety for player and viewer. Punching other people in the head largely has not changed over the years. But football and hockey bodies are constantly evolving, growing and speeding up and becoming greater weapons, especially when used intentionally. Skulls and brains of athletes are not evolving.
Athletes have died playing these games in the past from contact not intended to harm. Happens to a handful of kids every year, and we sigh and press our lips while slowly shaking our heads. Those are freak accidents and terribly unfortunate collateral damage to most of us.
Specifically targeting an opponent’s head, especially with the knowledge we now have of brain injuries, would increase the odds of death, you would think. It has yet to kill a pro in my lifetime. But it will.
Think about that panicky feeling you get seeing someone unconscious on the ice or turf and how you plead for him to get up. Part of it is because you are concerned for his health. Part of it is because you cannot love something that maims and kills.
Crowns of helmets to earholes and elbows to jaws and punching others’ heads into a solid ice surface and launching one’s conditioned, braced body at an unsuspecting target—we gasp and then moan and then move on. But we won’t move on so easily, if at all, when we see a man die. And we will see that, because the lucky dice that have been rolled with large men trying to hurt other large men’s heads won’t stay lucky forever.
When that sledgehammer falls and kills a guy it will have our fullest attention.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.