Encouraging Brutality In Sports


The New Orleans Saints were busted for giving financial rewards to players who inflicted game-ending injuries on the other team.  Perhaps you can understand why I think competitive sports should be banned.

When I was very young, my father and mother took my brother and me to a Harvard football game.   My father — the original dyed-in-the-wool Harvard man — also pointed out how it was the only major stadium that was a “U” shape.  Being open on one end somehow made it special.  He told me about the values of sportsmanship and fair play, and how it was good for young men to play football.  They were “good” young men, and maybe, since many prep school girls like me dated Harvard men…well, someday.

My father was surprisingly naive about his love of Harvard and cheering.  He is the only person I have ever known personally who believed that Tom Lehrer’s parody fight song, “Fight Fiercely Harvard,” was a real Harvard song.

My-Brother-Of-Blessed-Memory liked watching professional football on television.  It is one of the few interests he and My-Father-Of-Blessed-Memory shared.  When I was a college undergrad at Boston University I did take my brother to a college football game.

By this time I was pretty sure I would never date a football player, for I would never meet any.  They were not pre-meds.  There was a fellow pre-med who was some kind of an “assistant trainer,” running up and down along the sidelines with ice and bandages and such.  He seemed to think that doing this would somehow help him get into medical school.  I never found him particularly sympathetic, and never knew if it helped him or not.  I knew it was something I would never do, as people seemed to get hurt.  Sometimes badly, he told me.  They could get carried off on a stretcher or be unconscious or something.

I did have a brief interaction with one young woman who actually did date a football player.  She was the kind of person who wanted to be a physical therapist.  That meant she was probably good at sports, which I was not.  She did not much obsess over grades, which I believe I always have.  In other words, she laughed when I talked about medical school.  “Too much work,” she said.  I had certainly heard that before.

When I was doing my year of general surgery at the Jewish Hospital of Cincinnati, Ohio, my brother came to visit me on Octoberfest weekend.  I took him to see the Cincinnati Bengals play – which he absolutely loved.   “The pros are tougher,” he told me.  Me — I was never much of a fan.  I do remember somebody unconscious on a stretcher getting carried off the field during the game.  I wondered even then why people would engage in that kind of activity.

So the expose in the Huffington Post was not so much of a shocker as a simple reminder of the vicarious appetites of fans who want to see injuries.  But many crimes, or even improprieties, are simply questions of limits.  I once knew a therapist who may actually have been a good therapist but who accepted free tickets to a patient’s private box at the races.  People need to set limits.  People need to know that there are ways that limits can be exceeded – such as the therapist who accepts both payment and gifts.

My brother was as innocent as anyone when he said the pro football guys were “tough.”  My dear brother was the kind of guy who would cheer not for a person doing the hitting, but for the person getting hit.  He loved underdogs — and shouted things in favor of that.  Sometimes this meant I had to prevent him from getting hit by a beer bottle in the grandstands.  I loved my late brother for what he was.  But, I did recognize him for how unusual he was.

It has been many years since I’ve attended a professional sports game.  I have no desire to do so.  The fact that the desire to hurt another is part of the game is simply an extension of the natural destructive nature of competitive sports.  This ethos that we start teaching our children at a young age opens them to a number of sick and nasty ways of relating to others physically. It is as wrong as anything I can think of.

Competitive sports for the meager purpose of “fun” crosses a line.  It is as wrong as any human activity imaginable.  My brother would not have liked the story about the New Orleans Saints football team putting a bounty on players, and for me that is reason enough.

I believe that competitive sports should be banned — period.

The sanctity of human life and health has been pummeled.  I have treated professional athletes when their careers were over.  They were broken men – depressed and sometimes suicidal – with injuries that often made it impossible to pursue post-sports careers.  By this time, the money and the relationships were pretty much gone.

I do not know if anyone knows how horrible the life of the post professional athlete is.  I do not know if anyone cares.  Some of the athletes themselves are starting to speak up.  I suspect others may keep their silence through shame.

I firmly believe that a ban of all professional competitive sports — and a ban on all competitive school athletics — would represent a significant advancement of the human race.  The New Orleans Saints story is just a sobering reminder as to why.

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