I love football.
More specifically, I love college football. I mean, the NFL can be wonderful. I like to say that I watched – and held my breath on – probably 95% of Barry Sanders’ carries as a Detroit Lion, and I to swear to god, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. If life / other commitments don’t intervene and the Lions are on, I’m watching with the same of emotional investment I’ve always had. Which means I’m a sad, broken person, because we’re talking about the Detroit #$%^#^ Lions, but still.
College football is better. It has marching bands, and cheerleaders, and alumni, and ex-players that you might actually know, and fight songs, and traditions that go back decades, and the same stadium that they’ve played in for 100 years, and…well, I could go on. I have done so, on many occasions.
Michigan college football, to me, is the pinnacle of the sport. Going to a Michigan game on a sunny Saturday afternoon is an experience unlike any other. We go and watch the drumline steps show, walk with the band to the stadium, sit down 15 minutes or so before Carl Grapentine howls “baaaaand, take the field!” into the PA system, we sing Hail to the Victors at the top of our lungs as they march to and from the north end zone, and…my god. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. I’m not kidding – look!
Ten years ago, if you’d said I might start to have misgivings about any of that? About sitting there, in that stadium, next to the last person I’ll ever love, and just soaking in it? No way.
But something is changing for me.
Urban Meyer (and Jim Tressel before him) is a scumbag, enabled by a scumbag administration and defended by scumbag fans that demonstrated in his defense after news broke that he’d harbored a known spouse abuser. In College Park, Maryland, DJ Durkin’s staff didn’t give a player dying of heatstroke an ice bath, nor call for medical attention, for an hour, presumably to teach him a lesson, or some sort of "be a man and buck up" idiocy. Literally all they had to do was put him in an ice bath, and he’d be alive today. In East Lansing, an administration that had to try not to see a serial sexual abuser in their midst has continually and repeatedly allowed its football coaching staff to cover up and excuse the rampant misbehavior of their players. Penn State seems to think they’ve done their penance for their sainted coach harboring a known sexual abuser. There are Penn State fans – many, if not most of them – who think that Joe Paterno got railroaded, that he didn’t deserve to get shitcanned, sexual abuse victims be damned.
Three of these schools (Maryland is the exception, because they’re Maryland) have been, to varying degrees, beating up Michigan up a little bit lately.
On October 1, 2016, Michigan Left Tackle Grant Newsome, was lead-blocking a run play in the open field. Outweighed by at least 100 pounds, Wisconsin’s defensive back’s assignment was to occupy Newsome so that another defender would be free to make the tackle. He executed what’s known as a “cut,” essentially throwing himself at Newsome’s legs. The exchange, or something similar, happens on just about every single running play in a game. Huge, fast men throw themselves at their opponent, usually not with any intent to injure (although in this case, we’re talking about Wisconsin, who somehow escapes scrutiny as the biggest group of cheap-shot artists on the planet), only to occupy or subdue the opponent for that play.
This time, on this play, Newsome’s knee exploded, and his leg was broken. He had vein and nerve damage. Doctors later had to perform emergency surgery to save his leg. He spent the next 30-plus days in the hospital in a painkiller-induced haze. Doctors wondered if he’d ever walk again.
But he busted his ass for two years, trying to not only walk but to play again. I have no idea how close he ever got to that goal – I suspect that he was able to run and move at what a normal person would describe as an elite athlete level, but nowhere near elite, division 1 football player level. A couple weeks ago, he officially gave it up and retired. He’s been hailed as an incredible young man – and he is, if you listen to him speak. He will absolutely be successful in whatever he chooses to do. College football, in this case, will turn out to be an incredible opportunity for Grant Newsome. He got lucky...and here's where I circle back to Urban Meyer et al.
Less lucky? Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair. Courtney Smith. Jerry Sandusky’s victims. A whole list of young / old / male / female victims in East Lansing. Hundreds of now-twenty-year-olds that have already guaranteed that they will contract early-onset dementia and worse. They’re all victims of a college football (and in MSU’s case, college sports) culture that places wins – and the millions of dollars of revenue that result from them – above literally anything else, up to and including the health of the players. Go ahead and name something that’s more important than wins and money. Nope, wrong. Money. Someone asked Lloyd Carr what he thought about the expansion of the Big Ten, and his response, delivered with a sneer and gritted teeth was a single word.
So this is where we sit. I love love LOVE college football. I will be shouting along with Hail To The Victors, just like I always will. But it’s getting harder and harder to watch it without misgivings.
And with that out of the way, convention dictates that I completely change gears and write my annual Big Ten Preview.
Convention dictates that. Good taste dictates that I do it as a separate post.