Ray Lewis and deer antler spray has been the biggest story in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. During the run up to football’s biggest day, is the “Sports Illustrated” deer antler article about to become football’s androstenedione moment?
Ray Lewis has grabbed center stage for the second time in his career for the wrong reason during the Ravens Super Bowl week. 12 years ago it was he and Brian Billick stonewalling the media about his involvement in a murder. This time it was his Lance Armstrong like character assassination of the media and any individual who would dare question his veracity about the use of a supplement.
Is this the moment we will remember 15 years from now as football’s time of reckoning? Will the networks, owners and the unions continue on their profit binge fueled by billions of dollars from television network coverage and merchandise sales. Just as the baseball world ignored gargantuan home run hitters, the football universe knowingly turns a blind eye to the obvious. Every Saturday and Sunday for five months, mammoth sized men, who possess sprinter speed and Olympic level power crash and collide into each other like human missiles for the entertainment of millions.
In an ironic twist of fate, perhaps a teammates of Lewis may have unwittingly signalled the reason for change. Ravens safety Bernard Pollard was quoted last week “the league is trying to move in the right direction but at the same time [coaches] want bigger, stronger and faster players…the only thing I’m waiting for is a guy to die on the field…but when you’ve got guys who are 350 pounds run 4.5 and 4.4’s…I just believe one day there’s going to be a death that takes place on the field.”
When somebody nicknamed “The Enforcer” comes out with a quote like that, the public should take note. Pollard, last seen trying to exterminate Stevan Ridley, has a pretty good grasp of what football is like at the field level. And he knows that ever bigger and faster players colliding into one another is a recipe for disaster.
With thousands of ex-players currently pursuing legal action against the NFL for not protecting its players against brain injury, will the NFL continue to tempt fate and ignore the obvious truth. A policy that makes players a bit smaller and slower might hurt football’s visual spectacle and television appeal. Television network money is the engine that drives the league. But by failing to act, the risk might be even greater. Even if, as Ed Reed said, athletes like Junior Seau “knew what he was signing up for when he joined the NFL” does the league and its union have a responsibility towards the young men who take that risk and are the driving force behind the multi billion dollar industry.
To do nothing, to close one’s eyes and ignore common sense, is to march closer to Bernard Pollard’s reality. At what size and speed does the deer antler sprayed body reach critical mass, and how will casual fans react when and if that moment happens? How many more brains like those of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau need to be donated to science before American kids choose a different athletic venue?
Muhammad Ali is the most famous American athlete of the last half century, but his sport is now little more than an afterthought. The nation watched as a shaking Ali lit the Olympic cauldron in Atlanta in 1996, and a generation of its athletes went in different directions. To do nothing might be risking the next generation of Junior Seau’s, who might realize what they are signing up for, and deciding to pass.