On Cheering Concussions

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This is a pretty gripping speech from Eric Winston, after fans cheered after Matt Cassel was concussed (there's some debate over what the fans were cheering for):

"We are athletes, OK? We are athletes. We are not gladiators. This is not the Roman Coliseum. People pay their hard-earned money when they come in here and I believe they can boo, they can cheer and they can do whatever they want, I believe that. We are lucky to play this game. People, it's hard economic times, and they still pay the money to do this. 

"But when somebody gets hurt, there are long lasting ramifications to the game we play, long lasting ramifications to the game we play. I've already kinda come to the understanding that I won't live as long because I play this game and that's OK, that's a choice I've made and a choice all of us have made.

"But when you cheer, when you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don't care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel—it's sickening. It's 100 percent sickening. I've been in some rough times on some rough teams, I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than in that moment right there."

Some slight pushback. Whenever players talking about knocking an opposing player out the game, I really feel like the explanations get muddy. The standard explanation is to say we celebrate "hurting" the opposition, not "injuring" the opposition, which always struck me as saying we like watching car crashes but don't like that people die. I also think it's long been standard to celebrate your team knocking out a hated opposing player, particularly the quarterback. One defense is to say that it's only sickening to celebrate when it's your own quarterback. But that doesn't seem to be the thrust of Winston's point. "I don't care who it is" would cover the opposition.

The dance between football's culture of inflicting pain vs. causing injury is fascinating. The ritual is usually to cheer for big hits, and then stand in shock and silence when--as tends to happen--a player is left sprawling for long minutes on the field. I'm not sure this is a football thing, or even something relegated to violent sports. Cliff-diving is a thing.

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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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