I wrote this in January, part of it was submitted to the WIAA(Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association), and more in wake of the tragedy of Jack Jablonski.
Sports have increasingly become a mainstay in society, and the passion that fans give to sports is second to the loved ones in their life it seems. However 2011, and now the early parts of 2012 have many people rightfully reexamining sports and where they stand. There's been an outcry amongst fans of the more violent sports that they are "destroying the game" by protecting players. While true in some aspects, I feel like we need to sit down and realize that this is in fact, just a game.
Early in 2011 we were taken aback by the tragedy of Bryan Stow, whom according to the police report did nothing more than be a fan of the Giants. He was mercilessly beat outside of Dodger Stadium and put in the hospital for an extended period of time. He was beaten up because he was the last in a line of Giant fans that the two men who beat him were picking on. They of course only knew of Stow the Giant fan, not of the real Bryan Stow, the man who was a paramedic and saved lives as a job. When did we get to this point, that a simple allegiance to a franchise can get you beaten? Let's not pretend this is a one-time incident either, there are plenty of scuffles in stadiums everywhere across all sports.this is just one instance that escalated to near death.
Hockey had a horrible summer, Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak all tragically passed away, some as a confirmed suicide, some as a combination of things that could be constituted as suicide. One thing that they all shared was the fact that they were "tough" guys in the NHL/AHL they often took shots to the head, whether fists or hits. Derek Boogard was someone I knew better than the other two because he was one of the most likable players off-the-ice. You'd often see him at the Wild bar just down the street from Xcel after home games, he never let the fact that he slipped on a jersey change who he was, and would often buy drinks, or just sit and talk normally with people, such as myself. So why does he change to us when he puts that uniform on? Why do people wish headhunting on players? After all, they're playing a game, sure they're getting huge paychecks to go with it, but if he was any other guy, I doubt we'd be wishing this much harm on him.
Sidney Crosby is another example, there are more than a fair share of Penguin fans distraught with their star player and captain because he won't go back on the ice. He's taken a fair amount of time to come back from this concussion, and while some may not like him as a person, watching his masterful passing and sick shot is a treasure, and I think we'd all regret it if he turned out like Eric LIndros. It would be in everyone's best interest for everyone to fully recover from injuries instead of coming back to soon, taking two to three effective years off the end of their career, for only the glory of one year.
Then there's the NFL of course. Roger Goodell has made a personal mission out of ensuring the safety of players, and based on all of the lawsuits pending right now, it's a good move. We saw concussions end careers, or marr them beyond recognition before, but we just assumed they should suck it up and get on the field. Football fans are probably some of the most perspectiveless people on earth as well. Most believe that teams should win at any cost. Many people voiced frustration with way Goodell was "wussifying" the game of football. Now ask yourselves though, is it better to watch players get hurt, and have it effect them the rest of their life, or is it better to ensure the safety by having clean, effective players? While I'll concede that hits on the QB have become somewhat of a joke and could be a little more lenient, I believe that they are overall good for the game, because no offense to Brian Hoyer, Kerry Collins/Dan Orlovsky/Curtis Painter, Chase Daniel, I'd much rather watch Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees throw the football.
It was only a matter of time, but this competitiveness and hate-driven sports has made our ways into high school. In Wisconsin alone, fifty three underclassmen tore ligaments in their leg during football, there were a reported seventy six concussions, and probably numerous that went undiagnosed, and then on January 2nd, Minnesota was hit with the biggest tragedy of them all. Simply playing in a high school hockey game, Jack Jablonski was paralyzed. On a normal play, Jablonski was chaing a puck into the "dirty areas" of the rink, and was rammed into the boards by two opponents from behind, nothing terribly dirty, but still a dangerous play, as the two opponents removed themselves from the situation all we could see was Jablonski on the ice, not moving. A sixteen year old kid, paralyzed, while playing a game. It's a hit we see all the time in the NHL, and one of the two boys who hit them admitted he was going for the "big hit" not the puck.
Now these three individuals have to live with what occured. Having been a high school athlete, I've dished out my fair share of injuries, the worst being breaking a kids leg during a hockey game, however, it's widely believed that Jablonski will never walk again. Can you imagine being one of the two that hit him, having to live forever knkowing that you essentially hurt someone's quality of life, over a game. Yeah it's the "breaks" of the game as some say, but in reality, doesn't a safer environment help everyone? Jablonski was your typical Minnesota hockey player, and honor-roll student, great prospects to go to one of the in-state D1 colleges, and possibly a career in the NHL or overseas. Now there are days he probably wonders if he'll ever leave his hospital bed.
Sports in and of themselves are just games. and I, almost more than anyone, understands the competitve fire in these games,. Whether it's between players or fans, but the reality is, it's just a game, played by people. They are essentially just like us, so why do we not treat them as such? Perhaps we need to take some time, and realize it's just a game.
Since I wrote this we've had WR Kyle Williams of the 49ers recieve death threats after muffing two punts. And Tom Brady and Wes Welker have recieved unmet criticism after a Super Bowl to forget, once again proving I think it's time we sit back and take the time to appreciate the beauty of sports, as well as realize it's still, Just a Game.