More on LaVar Arrington's Comments


The former Redskins linebacker tweeted me yesterday asking me, on the basis of his entire interview, to reconsider my post yesterday. I watched the video and would suggest, if you're interested in the subject, you do the same.

A few things:

1.) My assumption was that Arrington had been interviewed in at least partial response to Warner's comments and Seau's death. Actually the interview took place last December. I think that's important because, in comments, I grouped Arrington with Hoge and Toomer. I think Arrington's comments are different. At one point he responds to a friend who won't let his kid play until high school, and does so with respect and intelligence.

2.) From what I can tell (there are cuts in the interview) most of it is about Arrington's relationship with his own kids, and it moments sprawls into a bigger questions about kids coming up in America. But generally, Arrington is talking about his own kids and his own beliefs. 

3.) On the broader issue of football, I still disagree. Arrington's argument is that the great problem is that people aren't playing the game right, But I think a guy like John Mackey played the game right. The scariest thing about Malcolm Gladwell's piece on football was that CTE wasn't merely about concussions or "big hits," but about the regular contact you can expect to see in a clean, well-played football game.

4.) I am thinking of Chris Henry. For years, after he was drafted, Henry was maligned by fans, and generally thought to be a joke. His continued run-ins with the law were utterly mind-boggling. The worst thing, for fans, is a talented player who simply can't discipline himself. When Henry died, he was 26 years old. He was not a lineman, a linebacker or a safety. He had no history of brain injury. But he did have CTE. 

5.) Normally I'd make a joke about LaVar and Troy Aikman here. But that seems inappropriate. You can see video of Arrington effectively ending Aikman's career. I saw that game and, like a good Cowboys fan, hated Arrington. Which is to say I had the upmost respect for Arrington and the ferocity with which he played the game. 

It was a metaphor--as football was--for how I wanted to go through life. Attacking. Embracing contact. Running to the fight, not away from it. I still have those values. But there have to other ways of displaying them without repeated blows to the head.

6.) I still object to the term "sissyfication." And I think this is important. A lot of what LaVar says in that video on manhood, is in my bones. I would go further and say, especially as a black man, given our issues, I especially feel those values. But like a lapsed Christian, I believe it, more than I know it. 

Physical courage will always be important. But more important is understanding that people who are not macho, who are often not even men, regularly exhibit that courage. The fact is that the world has changed. The steel mills have closed. We don't live like our fathers anymore. We need a better vocabulary for men.

7.) I want to thank LaVar for reaching out. My apologies for misconstruing the context.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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