It’s the eve of another National Football League Season and the tub-thumping is off the charts. Ratings have never been higher, revenues never greater, profits never grosser. A dedicated army of media apologists is poised in breathless anxiety to claim a seat on the bandwagon of what they lovingly call “America’s Game.” As if there were no other.
Hereabouts, a sixth championship has been conceded to the Foxboroughs, the regular season promising to be a cakewalk. As football’s own Dorian Gray, Tom Brady promises never to be better than at the age of 40. The president himself is a charter fan. Is this a great country, or what?
As the stray dissenter that I devoutly remain, may I say, “Please wake me in February.” But there’s no escaping it – save for booking passage to St. Helena – and as it happens, there are other scenarios in the NFL this year that should command even more intense monitoring than the usual romp on the glory road. Two developments that have trickled down the last month – even as the troops were dutifully banging heads in their pre-season camps – are noteworthy.
First, and at long last, payments from that billion-dollar slush fund established over four years ago to reimburse NFL alumni claiming long-term suffering from their football careers have begun. Halleluiah! Although, that it has taken this long to even start this vital process is an outrageous scandal. How many Junior Seaus have departed to the great gridiron in the hereafter while lawyers, admittedly on both sides, were fumbling with this thing further, driving the players and their families bananas? Nothing about this is pretty.
About 85 percent of the roughly 21,000 NFL alumni still with us have signed up for reimbursement, with still more to come before the final deadline, giving rise to concerns that the billion bucks the owners were forced to pledge that are scheduled to be dispersed the next half century won’t be near enough. More bad news for that merry band of plutocrats. We may have a better fix on this by the end of the season.
Secondly, came shocking revelations from the scientists at BU probing the most serious health issue facing football alumni, the malicious degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. We now know that of the 111 ex- NFL players who’ve been examined posthumously, 110 were afflicted with CTE damage. Equally sobering, it seems to me, was the finding that 91 percent of the ex-college players examined (no NFL experience) also exhibited damage and, while to a lesser degree, it’s little less troubling. Reading between the lines you sense the scientists themselves are even shocked. Watch for this research to pile-up in the coming months and years.
“Sis Boom Bah,” indeed! Here’s the central question. Can any game long survive such a chilling state of affairs, which is now beyond dispute. The road to the NFL begins in Pop Warner. When do the moms drag their kids off the field?
Some passing observations on other things, if you will:
• This space has little to offer on the NBA in general, and the Celtics in particular, basketball being not my game. But is it possible the Celtics will be getting a big break if their so-called blockbuster deal with the Cavaliers gets nullified? As of this writing, ongoing quibbling over the hip of Isaiah Thomas, a key piece in the huge package Boston surrendered, strongly suggests that possibility.
While local hoop scribes have been enthusiastic with the caper bringing flashy Kyrie Irving to town, neutral observers seem unanimous in branding it a major blunder by Danny Ainge. Even the impartial appear to think he’s nuts.
So who’s right? The ever-daring Ainge, or the NBA’s conventional wisdom? One notion that might give Ainge pause is the delight the dumping of Irving has stirred in Cleveland, where he seems to have worn out his welcome, earning, it is said, the nickname, “Ky-Me.” Not a good sign. If the Celtics’ leprechauns are on the job, this deal will get wiped out.
• And while dispensing unwanted advice to our local pets, here’s some for the Bruins: Be firm in your avowed intention, my good GM Sweeney, not to peddle Czech hotshot right-winger David Pastrnak if and when you find you can’t sign him for what you deem reasonable. It’s true you’ve been more than fair in your offer to the kid – $6 million per for as long as he wants – and that he’s being unreasonable – no surprise there – and that you have an intolerable payroll cap that gives you little choice.
But your customers don’t want to hear it this time. They swallowed hard when, successively, Messrs. Kessel, Seguin, and Hamilton were exiled for their impertinence. But they won’t this time. Peddle Pastrnak for some package of picks and prospects, and you’ll end your season before it begins.
• Lastly, some words, mercifully brief, on the outrageous alleged Fight of the Millennium lately conjured by a couple of mercenary bums and propped up by the usual bevy of frauds and thieves who lurk around Las Vegas like so many hyena. The Mayweather-McGregor fiasco was a con job. Nothing more! It didn’t have a shred of authenticity as a sporting event, nor the right to be called a boxing match or valid title fight.
In my sporting days, I loved boxers and their people. They were what they were, but they were also real and true and believable and Lord knows they loved their brutally thankless and ancient dodge. You should grieve that what’s left of boxing should be reduced to this. The bums carve up a half billion bucks and the tired old sport fades the more in the desert wastes. It stinks!