|The Ultimate World Cup of Hockey Preview||LeBron James: A Performance for the Ages||RIP Muhammad Ali: The GOAT||Steph and the Warriors came out to play|
In the American sports film classic North Dallas Forty (1979), professional football player Phil Elliot (Nick Nolte) raids the team medicine cabinet for a light pre-workout snack of Benzadrine, Codine, Kamazine, and beer. When the team doctor catches Elliot in the act, he seems more perturbed that Eliot stole his beer than that he just downed a pill cocktail. In The Program (1993), college freshman running back Darnell Jefferson (Omar Epps) endures what appears to be a lung puncturing hit from a 250+ lb linebacker during scrimmage. After the hit, Coach Sam Winters (James Caan) rushes onto the field and puts on his medical doctor cap, explaining to Jefferson that if he is “hurt,” he can still play, but if he’s “injured,” he cannot. Jefferson, fresh from his first remedial tutoring session, immediately diagnoses himself as “hurt” and continues practice.
Later in the 1990s, as American cinema started to present more raw interpretations of sports culture, Doctor Harvey Mandrake (James Woods) of the Miami Sharks in Any Given Sunday (1999) delivers this vicious diatribe:
I’m going to consult with a player? What are you
talking about? I know his answer! They couldn’t take a piss in the morning, without the pills. You want to play innocent? F#%k your innocence! You don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question. I didn’t have to ask him, because I knew the answer. These men are football players, they are gladiators.
They will not live with shame, like you. And long ago, they made that choice.
And I’m not going to take responsibility to stand between them…
Each of these scene challenges the audiences’ perception of American football ethos behind closed lockeroom doors. Just how much loosely, if not wantonly, is medical terminology and diagnosis applied to preserve football lore as epic battle ground for wounded gladiators? Routinely, these films have been criticized for being “too over the top” – surely, medical decisions in football aren’t treated so informally, erring to preserve auras of “toughness” at the cost of actual life expectancy.
However, after ESPN NFL analyst and former Giants team captain Antonio Pierce’s rebuke of Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs for remaining on the disabled list for last Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks when when the two players were both diagnosed by team doctors as “injured,” it almost seems like that these film scenes have American football ethos down cold. In fact, one could argue the future football scenes could afford to even be more extreme (well, not Oliver Stone, he’s already enough so). Pierce stated on WFAN radio on Monday:
“To me if you don’t have an injury that needs surgery…you need to be out there.”
He went on to say:
“You got to play every one [game], every one is important.”
According to Pierce’s statement, an “injury” alone is not sufficient justification to sit out during a game; you now have to be “injured” and require surgery. When Pierce meant “surgery,” did he mean immediate surgery, or surgery that could be postponed until the end of the season? Moreover, should high school and college players subscribe to this standard as well, or does it just apply to players in the NFL? We’ll leave these questions alone for now. The more immediate concern is just how many NFL (NCAA?) players and personnel adhere to or impose upon other players these predisposed distinctions. One could say that Pierce is just another garrulous former player-turned-media analyst running off headline grabbing scoldings against former teammates to “toughen up.” But, then again, before Pierce took the broadcast booth, he was a captain of the New York Giants. Doesn’t that mean he had an eminent presence in the locker room, where he continually waxed rhetoric on “playing with the pain,” “toughness,” gladiator creeds, and so forth? And as Pierce was a model player, then what makes one think that a few other hundred influential NFL players and personnel aren’t imposing these various informal disabled list requirements in the locker room?
Should we simply interpret Pierce’s statements as an outlandish shock to our “innocence,” or rather, as impetus to investigate (or rather just accept, embrace, and move on) the NFL’s ethos concerning treatment of the wounded? Then again, perhaps our perceptions simply won’t change, and soon it will be high-time for another fillmmaker to portray his “extreme” take on this matter.