Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why It Hurts

Finally free from the conscripted duties of toiling in the trenches every waking hour seven days a week to finish the huge new addition to the National WWII Museum in time to welcome this year's Super Bowl visitors to New Orleans, I shall once again endeavor to take some notice of matters which seem to matter, here in this little space.  This particular piece may appear at first far afield from our usual concerns, but as it has to do with the abuse of power in service of raw greed, it, in fact, seems entirely appropriate to your somewhat worn out, yet still intrepid, loyal labor correspondent.

The pain referenced in the title to this piece has been occasioned by the rape of New Orleans, its good name, and all of our citizens by Mr. Roger Goodell and the NFL.  Mr. Goodell is the Commissioner of the NFL, and on behalf of the team owners which comprise that organization regularly exercises virtually autocratic powers of vast variety in a consistently narrow manner to mercilessly protect and advance the greedy interests of the NFL, screw everything else.

Here are the facts.  The NFL has been pushed hard up against a serious health and financial crisis occasioned by the life-threatening and debilitating consequences of serious concussions which result from the very nature of the way the brutal game of football is played, especially on the pro level, and the awesome legal and monetary claims now being lodged by the victims and their families. So, it is natural that the NFL would be anxious to contrive to convincingly project an aura of  concern for player safety, and adopt the posture of safety standard enforcer in ways it never has before.  It is also the case that not only is New Orleans the site for this year's Super Bowl, but absent any significant negative externalities, the New Orleans Saints football team likely had as good a chance as, nay, really better than, any other NFC team of being in the contest. But that would not be the most welcome or best financial payoff for the NFL.  This is so because the residents of the host city are going to be tuned-in to the broadcast of the event in huge proportions, just because it's in their town; and the viewership overall is greatly enhanced by having teams from two other major markets participate. That means a hell of a lot of money is on the line.  Simple arithmetic (thank you Bill Clinton).

Enter the negative extrenalities in the form of Roger Goodell and his so-called "Bounty Gate" accusations against the Saints organization for encouraging the infliction of injuries - especially head injuries - on members of opposing teams.  This cost the Saints the services of its head coach and defensive coordinator for the season, numerous key starting players for many games, any chance for a run at the NFC championship, and, hence, a berth in the Super Bowl.  Early on in this drama, there was the release of a rather incendiary recording of the defensive coordinator apparently importuning his charges to "kill the head" of this or that player on the other team.  I will admit it even briefly persuaded me that the Saints were guilty.  But there was scant or no other "evidence" produced.  Then came the passionate denials by Jonathan Vilma and others, as well as the very persuasive legal and logical rebuttals they advanced, which effectively erased and overturned the simplistic conclusions that had hastily been drawn from the above referenced incendiary tape of the defensive coordinator in full-throated, flagrant, not to taken seriously or literally, coach-speak.  To top it all off, there has not been even a single player injury referenced as a result of the "head hunting" tactics supposedly undertaken by Saints players.  Rather, comments and attestations from players around the whole league assert that the Saints played the game no differently than any other team.

But how convenient it was for Goodell and the NFL to screw New Orleans in order to affect a grave pretense for player safety heretofore never evinced - and in fact contravened by the refusal to recognize any connection between concussions and long-term brain impairment.  No doubt the early stages of a PR campaign to shield the NFL from gigantic financial legal judgements looming as a result of the few cases already filed, with tons more to come.  And into the bargain Goodell and company took the opportunity to knock New Orleans out of contention for a Super Bowl appearance in their own home town, so as to insure the highest viewership possible, all for the money, baby, all for the money.  These guys are greedy bastards who care not how many innocent they hurt, nor how hurt their employees are by the brutality of the game which makes them so rich and powerful.

I am not the most rabid football fan by any accounting, although I do like the game, and will watch the Saints play whenever I can.  As a kid I participated in organized playground football, and was pretty good.  I was fast.  In our little age group and neighborhood, there were none faster. And I could catch; a skill acquired I'm sure during the countless afternoons my buddies and I swarmed around my dad upon his return from work, and pressed him into quaterbacking duties for both teams in our pick-up games. 

He had the hands of an artist: large and strong, yet supple with long, almost feminine looking fingers.  His spirals rivaled those of any QB you've ever seen on TV.  I can still see him releasing them from his outstretched, uplifted fingers as gently as introducing a baby bird to its first free flight.  His passes rose on a carousel spin, not rapid or drilling, but with a smooth and musical rhythm.  It was almost impossible not to catch his perfect throws.  So I guess it led me to believe I could catch anything, and go on to snatch from the air even stuff  I had no business holding on to, what with having inherited my mother's rather stubby and blunt Germanic fingers.

When I was a relatively young teen, I was lucky enough to attend the Sugar Bowl with my dad in the old Tulane University stadium, when Archie Manning starred for Ole Miss. That was the pre-Superdome era. By high school, I was too rebellious to be interested in anything organizied, especially sports.  But the years have their way with all of us, and soon enough I was working, married, and with children.  In the early 1970s I worked with my father on the electrical installation at the Superdome.  By 1988 my wife, two boys (ages 13 and 9), and I were in attendance at the Dome for the Saints first playoff game.  It started well for the Saints, and my kids were ecstatic.  But it turned into a virtual runaway win for the Vikings, and tears for the kids.  A tough lesson in how to take it on the chin and keep going.  Both my sons are really strong Saints fans, along with my wife.  The older son, who played football thoughout his high school years, has season tickets.  He and my daughter-in-law make most of the home games. 

These few facts, while superficially distinct from, are not unlike the simple reality lived by most long time New Orleanians.  After decades of loyally loving and supporting football's answer to baseball's Cubs, Saints fans finally were rewarded with a Super Bowl appearance and victory in 2010.  That game was played in Miami.  This year it could have happened here.  And it probably would have.

The odds against having a team good and lucky enough to get to the big game in one of those rare years when the game is played here suggests that no one now living in New Orleans will ever have the chance to see it happen again.  Read against the background of a script written by lifelong memories, this is unforgettable.  It is unforgivable. 

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