By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) A comedian might know his or her work is top notch if it can make laugh decades later a group of teenagers—far and away the toughest nuts of laughter to crack.
Trust me, I know. Many a joke has parachuted valiantly from my lips only to be bullet-ridden by eye rolls, groans, sarcastic pity laughs, and calls for me to resign before it dies on the drab tile amid hemorrhaging pens and blood-splattered failed French quizzes.
George Carlin’s bit on baseball vs. football does still get chuckles from a salty group of adolescents. I use it in my Rhetoric class as part of a lesson in studying standup comedy, and the kids do laugh at it between requests that I play some Kat Williams and Daniel Tosh, too (and they are denied and sometimes even punished for daring to ask anything of me).
Carlin’s description of football is one of the more famous examples of paralleling the game with war and the military. He’s forgiven because we’ll forgive just about anything if it makes us laugh, or if one is The Voice of God that gave even the lowliest of highlights a sort of Homeric touch. But for anyone who isn’t on the Mt. Rushmore of comedians or an integral part of the history and nostalgia of the game, comparing football to armed service is about as dumb and poor form as it gets.
We saw this last year when, following Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s charge of resisting arrest in Houston, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said of the game, “It’s basically slightly civilized war. And then (players) take that into society, much as soldiers come back, and they’ve been in combat or the edge of it and then suddenly that adjustment back to civilian life is a real challenge.”
As Bob Geiger, who has covered issues military members deal with upon returning from combat, correctly pointed out shortly after that stupidity, “More than 6,500 of our military men and women have died at war in the last 10 years, which is in stark contrast to the, well, none, who have been killed in a professional football game in the same period.” The metaphor also falls apart when you consider the enemy in one medium is looking to tackle you while in the other it is looking to put bullets and shrapnel in you, among other obvious examples of disparity.
One similarity does exist, though, and I won’t apologize for making the comparison. When our soldiers stop serving and our football players stop playing, both get massively screwed by those who benefit from their work.
Our military veterans seem to get repeatedly kicked in the teeth by a government that creates a red, white, and blue smokescreen to cover the fact that it really doesn’t care about them once they become of no use to the massive camouflage machine. Billions of dollars are allocated annually to make sure we can make war, but ensuring the men and women that we put in harm’s way (and that survive) have proper health care for their physical and psychological injuries brought on by combat is hardly even resonant for some reason. Even while the government does throw money at programs designed to help vets, it seems little is being done to make sure the money is spent properly.
This country allows them to limp along in holiday parades and throws up hollow Facebook memes in support and let’s them stand next to Jim Cornelison as he belts out “The Star Spangled Banner,” but we have an allergy toward the fact that many servicemen and women are suffering and helpless. It doesn’t fit the narrative of American infallibility and ambiguous “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers that accomplish little more than stroke the ego of the driver, I guess.
Then comes the NFL and the scrap heap attitude it has long had toward its retirees. We’ve been privy to stories like that of former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon whose post-playing career has been anything but comfortable and has led to him being part of a class action lawsuit against the league.
He believes the NFL needs to come clean on what it knew during his playing days about concussion dangers, and whether there was a failure to protect players. Along with claiming a possible (or, as I’ll call it, likely) coverup of the effects of football long-term on players, McMahon has also been denied disability claims by the league. Listening to him talk for five minutes, it’s difficult to believe any honest group could say McMahon isn’t worthy of medical benefits from his former employer, yet he’s hardly the only former player once exalted on the field but now having doors shut in his face.
The Washington Post details the almost Dickensian treatment by the league toward the very men that helped create the billion-dollar industry that the NFL is today. Former players suffering through unimaginable pain today are fighting battles against paperwork and bureaucrats that don’t even begin to compare to the gridiron action that left them in this state. In cahoots with the insurance industry, the NFL has done a fine job making sure retirees live stunted lives of suffering and confusion, both physically and financially.
“The NFL contends it offers benefits — many extending beyond an athlete’s employment — that are more generous than those offered in most professions. Workers’ compensation is just one of those, afforded to players by the collective bargaining agreement with NFL owners. When it opposes claims, the NFL says it is seeking to limit what would otherwise be ‘nearly unlimited exposure’ for years-old injuries.”
Most professions don’t require a work day being the equivalent of a car accident, though, and player testimony shows that opposition to claims has gravitated toward the norm rather than the exception. It might be easy to sympathize with the poor old NFL’s assertion that former pros are just to take advantage of it if there wasn’t evidence that the league has hardly ever been morally credible with its employees while they’re actually active.
“Interviews with more than 50 doctors, players, agents, owners and medical ethicists suggest that what the NFL Physicians Society calls the game’s ‘unique clinical challenges’ can result in inconsistent standards in treating players and cause some doctors to depart from best medical practices and safety norms.”
Oops. Not to mention the NFL actively taking a page from the D.C. lobbyist playbook and pretending there isn’t sufficient evidence to determine that football messes up brains and paying its own special doctors to discredit arguments to the contrary.
The NFL is the King Kong of American sports entertainment, raking in several billions of dollars annually. Part of that is through its heavy nostalgia campaigns—grainy game footage leading up to a present day Sunday kickoff, trotting out Hall of Famers to wave at crowds, constantly celebrating the work its players did for “the good of the game” type propaganda. The least it can do is alleviate their pain and help to slow the decline in their lifespan and condition of living. Instead, the league chooses to shun these former gladiators once the cameras aren’t rolling, whether by plain old ignoring them or fighting them tooth and nail in the legal system until more than just the former players’ joints ache unbearably.
Celebrate them as they work for us, making us feel good. Buy stock in the slogans. Don attire supporting them. Forget about them once they can’t fight for us anymore. Am I talking about soldiers or football players?
For a guy that riffed about both, it’s fairly certain that if he were alive today, George Carlin wouldn’t find any of this funny. Nor would even a class of teenagers.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from 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 @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.