I have been watching less and less football in the past couple of years, for the same reason that thousands of other people have become uncomfortable with football. I’m not on principle refusing to watch or anything, I just … tend to find other things to do.
But this is a week when football is hard to avoid. A few minutes ago I turned on the TV at the very beginning of whatever bowl game this is featuring Texas A&M against Louisville, and the instant the screen came on I saw a Louisville defender, James Burgess, lower his helmet and hit a Texas A&M player right in the chin. (He managed to injure his teammate at the same time.) Burgess was flagged for targeting, and immediately, even as the medics came out on to the field to treat the two injured players, the color commentator, Andre Ware, began weaving an elaborate defense of the defender, repeatedly claiming that he couldn’t see targeting at all. Me, I couldn’t see anything else, and neither could the officials in the review booth, who confirmed the ruling and ejected Burgess.
Ware just said, “Tough … tough,” and the conversation in the booth focused on this being the end of Burgess’s career. If any of them noticed the two injured players lying on the turf they didn’t think the sight worth mentioning. Some A&M player has received a vicious blow to the head that may have injured him significantly, but I don’t know; maybe he’s fine. We’re now fifteen minutes further into the broadcast and he hasn’t been mentioned. I don’t even know his name.
What I do know is that all of the interest, and all of the sympathy, of ESPN’s crew is with the player who did the injuring, not the opposing player who was injured. How unfortunate this is for Burgess! It doesn’t even seem to occur to anyone that getting a helmet in the chin is somewhat unfortunate as well — maybe even, if a person’s health is what you care about as opposed to a heart-warming conclusion to a collegiate sports career, a tad more unfortunate. And you could see taking such a blow as something to care about even if you thought Burgess didn’t commit a penalty.
One of the odd things about this scenario is that Andre Ware was an offensive player, a quarterback: in his career he was on the receiving end of hits like that, he didn’t deliver them. And yet all his thoughts are for Burgess. To watch this broadcast you’d think that what’s wrong with football is not CTE, but the unjust persecution of people who launch their helmets into others’ heads. And that’s what’s wrong, what’s very seriously wrong, with far too many of the people who watch and cover football.
I’m going to keep watching this broadcast to see if ESPN deigns to mention the A&M player who got rocked. I still don’t know his name. I think his number was 4.