Thursday, August 16, 2018

It’s Broke, Part One

Two separate stories are vying for attention in my brain. And it seems to me that they are the same story.

Story number one: the death of a college football player from the University of Maryland and the subsequent focus on the toxic culture of football in College Park. The coach has been placed on administrative leave. A member of the training staff has been fired.

Story number two: the video of a Baltimore Police Officer viciously beating a man on a Baltimore street while his partner does little to intervene. The officer was suspended with pay. (He has since resigned and been criminally charged.)

The world of football at UMD and that of policing in Baltimore are steeped in a culture of violence. The particulars are not exactly the same, but the sickness goes deep, to its core. I don’t believe, in either case, that it’s a few bad apples that ruin it for everyone else. Both are deeply and thoroughly infected by destructive attitudes. It’s not a bug in the system, as they say. It is the system. It’s baked right in.

I have not come to this conclusion overnight.

Football has long been a hotbed of toxic masculinity. In high schools football often takes precedence over many other aspects of school life. Often schools and parents look the other way at incidents of alcohol or drug use and sexual assault by players. 

Look at what happens when we combine that with all the money involved in college football.  It drives a motivation for winning at any cost and we see, time and again, what those costs really are. College players whose well-being is sacrificed, whose education is secondary. 

In the pros the players’ bodies are destroyed and their right to exercise free speech is mocked and sanctioned. The powers that be will tolerate a certain amount of substance abuse, violence against women and sexual assault, but often draw the line at being gay or speaking out against police violence.

On top of all this, the ongoing research into traumatic brain injury and the many human examples who bear it out are reason enough to declare this a broken system.  

I was in an online discussion about the UMD incident where one man said,

All of football has got to go. NFL, college, high school. Shut it all down.

The response to his comment was, essentially,  “Dude! Let’s not go that far.”

He went on. (Shared with permission)

You can't keep running a system where coaches are paid huge sums of money, which forces them to take a game so super-seriously that they wind up pushing children to the point of exhaustion or death. The only good solution is to stop being a Division I football school. Hire a less intense coach for way less money, and make it clear that, as a school, we don't really care about wins and losses. We just want the children to have a healthy and balanced experience. If you do anything short of that, you're just signalling that you're okay with a system which is intentionally designed to chew up and destroy young bodies and brains. 

I have been struggling all week with how to fit this into one post, and now I have reached the conclusion that I can’t.The second part of this story deserves its own post. 

Today, football. Tomorrow, Baltimore Police and what connects the two.

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