We are a microcosm of the world outside. That was how Cris Carter summed up the last ten days of NFL headlines on ESPN this morning. The players and their families mirror the average guy sitting in his living room, watching other men play. What goes on outside goes on inside, too.
Yes, he actually said outside. Since I'm spending my days with Kate Shugak in the Alaskan Bush, I'm quite familiar with the concept. Those who battle to survive, who come up against the elements 24/7/365, who care for one another (or respect the other's solitude), they know that they are sui generis. There is no way anyone who lives outside can share their outlook. Only they know what it's like. It's theirs and theirs alone. The rules are around, but bend to their convenience... and no one looks askance. Rangers and state troopers announce that they are not in the room, not seeing what might otherwise be reportable events. It will be taken care of in the Park; no one outside need be involved.
In the same way, Cris Carter seemed to be saying, NFL players live in an insular society, feel immune, don't pay heed, have their transgressions excused, and die just like the rest of us.
The NFL has an enviable support system for the players and their families. Jovan Belcher had participated in those programs. He was still angry enough to shoot the mother of his three month old daughter nine times before turning the weapon on himself in the Chief's parking lot. He shared the moment with coaches and staff, leaving them with images they can never erase.
I know this from personal experience, as you recall.
Josh Brent, defensive tackle for the Cowboys, killed his friend by flipping the car he was driving while intoxicated. Those same sportscasters repeated what coaches and TBG and I have been saying for years: nothing good happens after midnight. In our shorthand, TBG and I look ruefully at one another and say,"While leaving a strip club at 3 am....." and sigh.
This goes beyond not doing anything you wouldn't want printed on the front page of the New York Times, my parents' admonition to their children from the time I could hear. This touches on irresponsible behavior, like drinking and driving, and on the ready availability of guns, as Bob Costas bravely pointed out by reading the end of a piece by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock during his half-time report on Sunday Night Football.
That resonates with me because of the absurdity of the situation. Football is a violent sport. In his 30 for 30 biography, Bo Jackson scoffs at a coach's exhortation to leave blood on the saddle. Sure, says Bo, I'll be dead of heat stroke and you'll still be marching down the sidelines, screaming about blood on the saddle. At a certain point, the words really do begin to matter, don't you think? Pushing big, strong, young men to, as TBG's high school coach called his favorite drill, Beat Your Buddy Bloody, has to leave the athlete feeling invincible. No one would venture on the field otherwise. Cris Collinsworth talks about this all the time; he's said you have to be a little crazy to play professional football.
A little crazy is okay..... feeling invincible is okay..... but not outside.