The NFL's House of Pain


I think everyone should read Tom Junod's piece on how pro football players relate to injury. I don't know that it's very surprising, but it is illuminating. I think this section says a lot:

"I'm going to tell you something," says PJ. "Anybody who tells you that they feel bad causing an injury is probably lying. How can you feel bad? You're going up against a guy who is just as big and strong as you are. Your coach tells you to go kick his fucking ass. Your teammates tell you to go kick his fucking ass. Your father and your brother tell you to go kick his fucking ass. The media tells you to go kick his fucking ass. Before the game, your wife tells you to go kick his fucking ass. So you go and you kick his fucking ass. And if he gets hurt, how can you go back and say, 'I didn't mean for you to get hurt like that.' You're taught to hurt people. How can you say you didn't mean to?" 

Ed Reed says he didn't mean to. "This year, I took out an offensive lineman against Philly. It was bad technique on my part, and I took out the center's knee. Our coach talks to [Philadelphia coach] Andy Reid all the time, so I told Coach to send my respects for the center and let him know I didn't mean to hurt him, man. It was just the second game of the year, so he lost his whole season. That one preyed on me, man. I didn't know him personally, but I wanted to let him know that I had the utmost respect for him." 

At first I had a hard time reconciling these two thoughts, but as I turned them over, it made a lot of sense. What Ed Reed feels bad about is the fact that he has endangered someone's livelihood. Had Jason Kelce (the injured center) played the very next week, I doubt Reed would have felt bad. 

When I watched football, I loved watching Ed Reed. Great safeties (like, say,  Rod Woodson) are some of the most beautiful athletes in sports. They often combine the ability to inflict great violence with the ability to turn a sturdy defensive stand, effectively, into kick return. The latter is a beautiful thing to see. Reed has these long legs and takes these great strides. It's awe-inspiring watching him play. When I watch Ed Reed, I feel like I am watching a master artist at work. But the craft is wholly premised on great--life-altering--violence. What tangled Junior Seau's brain and ultimately ended his life, is what Ed Reed--and all players--actually do. There's just no way to escape that. 
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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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