Football & NASCAR – Blood-sports

The Sunday and Monday sports sections of newspapers appear more than anything else as hospital-emergency-room reports of the activities of the preceding day/night. The reason: Television drives sports, i.e., the money generated by and through the medium dictates what is and is not exciting enough to garner viewers. Apparently, the marketers have discovered that athletic prowess and/or skill with machines are not conducive enough, and consequently have placed a premium on blood and gore to accentuate the mayhem involved in most competitions.

This is true on all levels of sports, beginning in earnest in high school. Football is now a blood-sport and fans either cheer or groan – depending on their loyalties – when the quarterback finally sits up, wonders where he is and may or may not be helped to the nearest disappointed trainer for the usual question of a concussion-victim as to his name and the date. At least two such NFL quarterbacks went down thusly over the weekend. One of them was having a bad day for the home team, so the fans cheered as he lay prostrate for several minutes. Weird.

Back in the spring, Bounty-gate took place when it was revealed that NFL New Orleans Saints players were being paid “bounties” for the deliverance of incapacitating injuries and agonies to their opponents. The defensive guru, JonathanVilma, received a one-year suspension by the NFL for his alleged participation in the program that allegedly rewarded players for “kill shots,” “cart-offs,” “knockouts” and other injurious hits on opposing players. Three others received lesser discipline, as if bloodletting and other trauma are judged by level of attainment. This didn’t happen in a vacuum, so the guilt probably can be shared up-the-line.

According to the NFL web-site remarking an Associated Press analysis, 3,377 players have sued the NFL, charging that not enough was done to inform them of the dangers of concussions in the past, or to take care of them today. Many things could be done to make football safer, but don’t hold your breath. Helmet-to-helmet blows and body-slam blocking are here to stay, lest the sport become boring.

I’ve never watched more than a few minutes of any NASCAR Race. Not knowing the finer points such as the use of a restrictor plate, watching cars roar by gets boring after a while for people like me, but I have to admit that watching the pileups shown on the news elicits ahs and ohs. However, I’ve always heard about Talledega as the real snake-pit, so I tuned into the last two laps on Sunday and – VOILA – just in time for that glorious 25-car pileup in the last half-mile or so as the drivers did whatever was necessary for top positions…and all those points and all that CASH. Apparently, no one was hurt in the four-lane-wide 200-mph melee, and I saw one car flying like a plane over the whole scene, its driver, who was trying to hold the lead, admitting later that the smashup was his fault. Two cars finished.

The cars were all moving in the same direction and that doubtlessly accounted for driver-welfare, though sometimes drivers are critically injured or killed, but I was reminded that the NASCAR officials had been questioned earlier this year about the constant bumping and spinning-out caused by the drivers, all of it intentional, whereupon the movers-and-shakers said there would be no adjustments. The fans love it. Macho-stuff for big bucks!

And that’s true. The narrow track at Bristol, Virginia, was dangerous and thought to need another lane a few years ago, and one was added to make it wider and therefore safer, whereupon attendance at the races went down precipitously. So, predictably, that new lane was taken out, thus guaranteeing that the drivers would once again deliver carnage as entertainment. NASCAR is safely in the blood-sport category again at Bristol.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner at Talledega five times and in the Sunday field, complained about what that race had become and said that there’s been enough carnage. Drafting (two cars bumper-to-bumper in order to increase power and cut down on drag) is inordinately dangerous but has become popular, with the rear driver just nudging the wrong way (or right way, depending on motive) spinning the front-car out completely, often wrecking many others, while the rear car goes merrily along…or not, depending upon the spin.

As I remember it in the long ago, tackling and blocking were carried out from the waist down and head-hunting was not the game. There were more pads than used now but the helmets were like cardboard compared to the current space-like contraptions, not that they do much good because tackling and blocking now are from the waist up and helmet-to-helmet or helmet-to-chin action provides for a sure “cart-off,” the surest way to big bucks. According to Bloomberg, the average salary for a NFL player was $1.9 million in 2007. Many, however, such as prized quarterbacks, make many times more and sign long contracts.

Restrictor-plates that diminish the volume of air intake to engines were required at Talledega to hold speeds to about 200 mph but they aren’t used in every race. There was a time when the drivers used skill and the car-owners depended on brains but it doesn’t take much talent or gravitas to nudge a car out of a race, just the killer instinct and the craving for big bucks. According to Yahoo Sports, Earnhardt made $30 million from all sources in 2009. In a 19-year career, Jeff Gordon had made $110 million in track-earnings by 2009.

It seems that leagues, amateur and professional, have made strides in foreclosing the use/injections of steroids and human-growth-hormone, drugs that turn ordinary guys into monsters, but in this TV-driven money-as-the-most-important-component age, blood-sport is alive and well…okay, unwell.