Yes, Whitney Houston died, and Rick Santorum is the latest hot thing who isn’t Mitt Romney. The man who will likely be the next premier in China has been here touring the U.S. But the big news this month, really, has been a football game. The fact is that the Super Bowl on February 5 was the most-watched T.V program. Ever, that is.
This really isn’t a surprise. For the last two or three years, the Super Bowl has been the most-watched television show in history. It’s just that more people watch each year, and this year was no exception.
For as long as I can remember, the Super Bowl has been more than a big deal, all but a national holiday, with millions and millions of people going nuts and looking forward to and watching the game. Even those who aren’t football fans - although not all of us - tune in, and even the commercials are a big deal, not to be missed.
No doubt this is exactly the way the National Football League want it. No doubt it set it up this way. As millions and millions buy into this big show, the NFL rakes in millions and millions of bucks.
But as the NFL loads up with cash, from not only the Super Bowl but also its other games, there are NFL players who are hurting. Seriously.
Two Los Angeles Times sports columnists wrote about this a day or two before the big game. One, Bill Plaschke, wrote about the very serious problem of concussions and head and skull injuries suffered by the players and how the NFL has been awfully slow in doing anything about it. The other, Bill Dwyre, wrote about the NFL leaving retired players out to dry, often in crushing poverty (partly because of lots of medical bills, including for head injuries?).
As Plaschke pointed out, players are no longer allowed to return to a game after their heads have been knocked. No more slap on the back and running back onto the field, dizzy, after having their “bell rung” - a change that came only much pressure, including from a former player committing suicide last year by shooting himself in the chest so that his brain could be examined, and isn’t much talked about. Plaschke wrote about how, at a pre-Super Bowl conference put on by the NFL, hundreds packed a large ballroom to hear what was more or less a pep talk by Commissioner Roger Goodell while just a handful of reporters were in a small meeting room for a panel of physicians talking about head injuries.
Dwyre wrote about how retired NFL players, who attracted all those millions of fans reaping all those millions of dollars for the league, have had to fight, often unsuccessfully, for some sort of pension and healthcare, with the league seeming to have the motto of “Delay, Deny and Hope They Die.” He mentioned one retiree, Jungle Jim Martin, who another retiree found living in a trailer in a field and with a large sore on his face and a hole cut in his tennis shoe so that his foot could fit. Martin’s daughter said that he needed a better place but couldn’t afford the first and last month’s rent. The retiree who found Martin wrote a check on the spot to cover the payment. Martin died in 2002, but things are barely better now, with the NFL having started to pay its former players $124 a month.
This is a very important - indeed, tragic - matter that demands attention. But it doesn’t sell big-screen televisions or go well with Bud Lights and Doritos. And it takes rather than makes money.