Today, Steelers linebacker James Harrison skipped practice and says he's considering retirement. And ESPN's Mark Schlereth, maybe my least favorite announcer of all time, understands where he's coming from.
And I just... I can't believe this is happening. I guess this is what the apocalypse feels like. But I'm agreeing with Mark Schlereth. Some of his hyperbole is misplaced, but he's basically dead-on.
Some quotes and explanation after the jump.
I totally understand where he's coming from. ... The game of football is about going out there and trying to separate the man from the ball. It's going out there and it's playing hard. And it's going out there and it's trying to get after people. That's what the game has been based on. And it's reaction. The players are so big, they're so fast, they're so strong. It happens in a moment's notice. It's not like players are out there going, 'Watch me try to decapitate somebody.'
It's an important point. Making defensive players the villains in this debate just wreaks of over-simplified logic and public relations pandering. It's not James Harrison's fault that he hits hard, or that he plays in an era when players have grown so big that injury risks are at an all-time high. The problem isn't football players, it's football. And we can't penalize hits that we'd otherwise celebrate, as Schlereth continues:
We glorify these hits, we make money off these hits. That's what we do. ... I mean, I'm watching the games on my couch. You know what we'll do? [tough guy voice] Hey listen in. This is what the NFL sounds like. ... Just listen to the violence of this collision. [/tough guy voice] And we hear it. And the NFL sells it. And to take $75,000 away from a player, that's just playing, is ludicrous to me. Hey, while we're at it, slap on another 18 games.
It's especially rich irony considering the NFL's longstanding neglect of veterans, and the way the league has clung to the notion that evidence is inconclusive as to whether injuries truly effect the quality of life of players that spend years sacrificing their body for the game. More Schlereth:
This is the same NFL, after 29 surgeries ... This is the same NFL that told me I wasn't eligible for in the line of duty disabilities because I wasn't injured enough. And the NFL taking money away... This is the same NFL that doesn't pay for insurance after you're done. Taking $75,000 away from James Harrison is criminal.
"It's too bad the acronym NHL has been taken," he said, "Because we should rename the NFL the National Hypocrite League." And it's true. Mark Schlereth is right. Faulting the players for playing the game the way we've told them to play it seems as heartless and selfish as denying NFL veterans adequate insurance.
The NFL supports you and celebrates your hits when it's advantageous. But if the league needs to save face under fire from the media, they're quick to fine you $75,000 and call you the Problem. And when you're done playing the game that makes them billions every year, and your body's ravaged... Well, that's your problem.
James Harrison has a right to step back and ask whether it's worth it. Wouldn't you?