Good morning/afternoon/evening, it’s good to see you again. I’m sorry I’ve been so absent; I hope we aren’t apart for so long next time.
Anyway, I saw a news story that broke over the course of Sunday/Monday, regarding Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Cassel and OL Eric Winston. Cassel was injured during the Chiefs 9-6 loss to the Ravens this past week; more specifically concussed. He was woozy on the field, and took a while to get to the sideline. During this episode, as with any injury, players on the field stood/knelt/sat in reverence, knowing very well that it could have been (and could soon be) them in Cassel’s position, and gave the same support that any coworker should offer when someone is injured on the job. This is the one time during sport that everyone settles down, forgets about the result, and just hopes that everyone comes out okay.
Except that didn’t happen. “Everyone” includes fans, and fans at the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City started cheering their less-than-talented QB as he didn’t get up. Some observers were upset by this at the time:
A “Brady Quinn” chant is breaking out with Cassel down on the field injured. Don’t turn into Philadelphia fans, Kansas City.
— Danny Parkins (@DannyParkins) October 7, 2012
but nothing compared to the cluster**ck that emerged when Cassel’s offensive linemen Eric Winston; his homeboy, a part of his protection corps, the guy who is there in the foxhole with him while receivers run away (not to mention a guy who is at least partially responsible for the knockout hit) blew up on the cheering Chiefs’ fans after the game.
“…when you cheer, when you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don’t care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel — it’s sickening. It’s 100 percent sickening. I’ve been in some rough times on some rough teams, I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than in that moment right there.’
That is a pretty strong statement from a guy playing on a 1-4 football team that doesn’t seem to have much of a past or a future. We all face our adversities in life and in our jobs and careers, so for him to say that this was the worst moment in his working life should be noted. And it has been.
“…when somebody gets hurt, there are long lasting ramifications to the game we play, long lasting ramifications to the game we play. I’ve already kinda come to the understanding that I won’t live as long because I play this game and that’s OK…”
This is a very candid quote from any football player, especially a 6’7″, 300 lb. man paid to crash into another 300 lb. man. These players know what they’re getting themselves into, and they know that they will face these injuries either to themselves or a teammate some time in their career, so long as they are around long enough. But as a professional, as someone paid to crash into a 300 lb. man, every player is looking out for one another; looking after each other’s physical health, mental health and of course the paycheck. A concussion is tough to watch in any circumstance (see Jason Bay’s long walk off the Citi Field grass), but when your teammate is on the ground, concussed, and the people in the stadium that came to support the team, including the quarterback, are cheering because the quarterback is no good at his job, it’s pretty jarring.
“We are athletes, OK? We are athletes. We are not gladiators. This is not the Roman Coliseum.”
There has been a lot made out of this quote, and a lot of it is summed up in Jason Whitlock’s Plea From A Chiefs Fan. Football fans love the physical nature of the game; you don’t get that kind of pushing and shoving and hitting anywhere but football and fighting (MMA/Boxing/Wresting–not WWE) where the human body is being used in a way that can be dangerous to everyone involved. So a guy like Cassel taking a big hit that knocks him down for a few minutes is basically second nature to the NFL audience. The notion of safety and health are not in mind at this moment….rather, fans can only think about how terrible Cassel and the Chiefs have been, and use the opportunity to voice their pleasure that something is changing in Kansas City, if only for an hour last Sunday.
Chiefs fans are mad at their franchise, as Whitlock explains. They hate the owner, they hate the general manager, they hate the coaches, and they hate the players. They hate their team because their team gives them nothing but agony in return for undying devotion and affiliation. Football fans generally feel married to their favorite team; it isn’t exactly a healthy relationship, but it’s one that they cherish as much as they loathe. There are times where we find ourselves stuck in situations with people who become a burden, and a release from that person is considered a relief. This is the feeling of relief a handful of Chiefs fans felt when they saw Cassel go down: their burden of a quarterback is gone, at least for the moment.
To me, this logic is insane. Although I could be mistaken, Matt Cassel doesn’t know any of these Chiefs fans personally, and vice versa. Neither party is necessarily concerned with the well being of the other, so Chiefs fans cheer how they feel about their team, not Cassel. What doesn’t change, though, is that Matt Cassel sat on his behind in the middle of the field, barely knowing where he is, and his supporters are cheering, and he has to see it and hear about it for days and weeks to follow. This is not a healthy place for any person to be, NFL QB or not.
Sports give you and I and everyone else a chance to escape from ourselves, and invest all of our emotion and being into a team sport we watch on TV. Around the world, we human beings do this very well. We get excited, get happy, get sad, get angry, get upset over these TV shows. I cried when the Mets missed the playoffs in 2008, and Shea Stadium closed down forever. The fine line between our real lives and the lives we live centered around our favorite athletes and sports teams blurs in moments like these, and we lose control of our emotions. Unfortunately, the few fans in the stands at Arrowhead this past Sunday completely forgot to care about their fellow man when the line blurred, and we now have an upset lineman and a story to talk about all week.
So it goes in the NFL…