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Posted at 4:20 PM ET, 01/27/2011

When commitment is just another word for nothing left to lose

By Ezra Klein

PH2011010203456.jpg

Responding to Ben McGrath's New Yorker article on football and brain injury, Ta-Nehisi Coates searches his own feelings about the sport and admits that "in some measure, pro football is quite beautiful because it gives us human beings willingly giving up themselves for something they love," that there's something inspiring in watching someone sacrifice so much to choose "a militant vivacity instead of a bland longevity."

I don't want to deny the deep, genuine commitment professional football players have for the sport they've chosen. Love of the game is real, of course. But so is an absence of options outside of it. If Hines Ward had a contract to star in three major motion pictures, or to release three albums, but that contract was null and void if he got too banged up to remember his lines, I think there's a good chance he would stop trying to play through concussions.

The life of a professional athlete is a weird one. You are one of the very best in the world at something that's celebrated and talked about and watched, but your set of skills doesn't prepare you for anything outside your sport. The field isn't just where you earn your pride, paycheck, and sense of purpose: It's the only place that's really willing to have you. Losing that can be another kind of death -- the death of the only life and job you've really known or can imagine. That's why so many players fight as hard for bland longevity as for ephemeral vivacity, remaining -- or returning -- to the game long after their best days are behind them, and long after their bodies have begun begging them to quit.

John Mcdonnell Photo

By Ezra Klein  | January 27, 2011; 4:20 PM ET
 
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Comments

Although it is hard to root for a team headed by a rapist -- Go Steelers!

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 27, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

The life of a professional liberal blogger is a weird one. You are one of the few that are paid to re-post Democratic talking points, but your set of skills doesn't prepare you for anything outside your field. The field isn't just where you earn your pride, paycheck, and sense of purpose: It's the only place that's really willing to have you. Losing that can be another kind of death -- the death of the only life and job you've really known or can imagine. That's why so many liberal bloggers fight as hard for bland longevity as for ephemeral vivacity, remaining -- or returning -- to the field long after their best days are behind them, and long after their readers have begun begging them to quit.

Posted by: cummije5 | January 27, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

You WaPo guys must not read the front page of the NY TImes. Just today: "Pitcher Spurns $12 Million, to Keep Self-Respect." Because of his injured shoulder, pitcher Gil Meche of the KC Royals retired--foregoing $12 million on his contract--because he didn't feel he'd be able to "earn it." So not all players fight for bland longevity. At least in baseball.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/sports/baseball/27meche.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 27, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

This is unbelievable BS from Coates and Klein both. My wife suffered a terrible brain injury and I work among many other people who have. The consequences of these things are horrible, and the young people entering into the game surely have no idea how bad they can be, because I'm not even sure I do: these are things which can fundamentally change your personality and perception of the world.

The ability of people like Coates to pretend that supporting this system is anything other than the amoral, revolting thing it is, even after the reprehensible behavior of the NFL -- which has been unable even to keep its pet neurologits in line -- amazes me.

Posted by: KieselguhrKid | January 27, 2011 8:05 PM | Report abuse

This is unbelievable BS from Coates and Klein both. My wife suffered a terrible brain injury and I work among many other people who have. The consequences of these things are horrible, and the young people entering into the game surely have no idea how bad they can be, because I'm not even sure I do: these are things which can fundamentally change your personality and perception of the world.

The ability of people like Coates to pretend that supporting this system is anything other than the amoral, revolting thing it is, even after the reprehensible behavior of the NFL -- which has been unable even to keep its pet neurologits in line -- amazes me.

Posted by: KieselguhrKid | January 27, 2011 8:10 PM | Report abuse

--*but your set of skills doesn't prepare you for anything outside your field.*--

How DARE you?!? I'll have you know that Klein has a DEGREE in POLITICAL ***SCIENCE***!!! He can do ANYTHING. AN EE THING! Why, if Klein wants to, he can round up a gang large enough to enact laws that threaten his fellow citizens with impoverishment or incarceration (or worse) to "encourage" them to live their lives as his great learning and wisdom tell him they should. That's the sort of aspirations that drive HIM.

Meanwhile, those poor NFL players, about 50% of whom already have college degrees, can pursue their studies or add to them, as the league runs an extensive continuing education program.

http://www.nfl.com/playerdevelopment/continuing

Klein reminds me a little of The Senator from France...

http://www.snopes.com/photos/politics/kerrysign.asp

Posted by: msoja | January 27, 2011 8:11 PM | Report abuse

This is unbelievable BS from Coates and Klein both. My wife suffered a terrible brain injury and I work among many other people who have. The consequences of these things are horrible, and the young people entering into the game surely have no idea how bad they can be, because I'm not even sure I do: these are things which can fundamentally change your personality and perception of the world.

The ability of people like Coates to pretend that supporting this system is anything other than the amoral, revolting thing it is, even after the reprehensible behavior of the NFL -- which has been unable even to keep its pet neurologits in line -- amazes me.

Posted by: KieselguhrKid | January 27, 2011 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Also, NFL careers last an average 3.3 years, hardly long enough to derail one's long term prospects.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/15527-long-average-career-nfl-player/

Not all retiring players are carried off on stretchers.

Posted by: msoja | January 27, 2011 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Sounds a little bit like being an academic. Except for being celebrated, talked about, and watched. Oh, and the paycheck is different too.

Posted by: dollarwatcher | January 27, 2011 9:51 PM | Report abuse

@msoja,

while the average NFL careers may last that long many never make it that far and can still be physically harmed by the sport while being paid nothing in high school or given a free chance at a degree in college.

The studies in traumatic brain injuries are just beginning to bear statistics and they're frightening to say the least.

https://www.braintrauma.org/tbi-faqs/tbi-statistics/


More die from TBI's than a lack of health insurance.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 28, 2011 9:00 AM | Report abuse

You could say the same about politicians, no?

Posted by: aml_lewis | January 28, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

--*More die from TBI's than a lack of health insurance.*--

We must legislate manditory football helmets paid for by The Rich!!! Or why does Klein want people to die?

Posted by: msoja | January 28, 2011 12:13 PM | Report abuse

cummije5-- WIN!!

Posted by: cdosquared5 | January 28, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I see that trolls have discovered the Washington Post.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | January 28, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, you have a future winning high school essay contests... great stuff

Posted by: cdosquared5 | January 28, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I can recommend "Racing the Sunset" by Scott Tinley. He was a pro triathlete, now a lecturer at San Diego State U.

Posted by: DougK1 | January 28, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

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