Kansas celebrates victories in football, our morally charged national pastime

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

I wrote this column once on Thursday. I struggled for hours, trying to balance my decades of football fandom on the one hand with my moral confusion about the risks football players take.

When I was almost done, I wrote to my editor that “I kinda hate what I’ve written so far”. As I rewrite the column now, I hate my words again – but not because my words failed me.

I hate my words now because of the pain they must describe.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s Thursday night injury was one of the most heartbreaking moments in sport I saw. In an NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Tagovailoa hit the ground after being sacked, a legal football tackle that sent him spinning hard to the ground. His head recoiled and hit the ground for the second time in five days. Sunday, during a game against the Buffalo Bills, another bag had bounced his helmet on the grass.

Both times, his impairment, whether it was a “back injury,” as the Dolphins put it, was visible from every angle of replay. On Sunday he tripped and fell – an elite professional athlete unable to walk. On Thursday evening, his hands rose in front of his face, clenched in an apparent “fencing response”, a sign of traumatic brain injury.

Yet just six days ago, Kansas State was devoured by a fun football spasm.

The University of Kansas Jayhawks football team earned a 35-24 home win over Duke – a phrase that sounds a lot more like an elite college basketball game with a catastrophic scoreline than a clash of two undefeated football teams. The victory leaves KU looking in the mirror in disbelief, repeating, “We are 4-0. We are really 4-0.

Meanwhile, Kansas State upset No. 6 Oklahoma, 41-34. The seven-point lead the Wildcats built in the first quarter was the difference as the Wildcats and Sooners battled it out for the rest of the game. The road victory propelled K-State to a 3-1 record.

Only the Chiefs’ fourth-quarter collapse ruined a hat-trick for our favorite football teams in Kansas.

The weekend of unlikely wins prompted my son’s carpool to talk about intrastate trash. The Wildcat fan bragged that his team was ranked, while admitting that KU was just one place off the leaderboard. My son, the KU fan, bragged about his undefeated Jayhawks, never mind that he couldn’t name a single player on the team.

Welcome to Kansas. Fair Weather Football USA, my son.

For now, football is once again overwhelming our conversations in Kansas. Some of the women in my classes at KU lament that their conversations with guys their own age inevitably turn into discussions about fantasy football lineups, game point spreads, and injury lists for next week’s opponents. When we have good football news, we revel in it.

For now, football is once again overwhelming our conversations in Kansas. Some of the women in my classes at KU lament that their conversations with guys their own age inevitably turn into discussions about fantasy football lineups, game point spreads, and injury lists for next week’s opponents. When we have good football news, we revel in it.

Not so much for me. When it comes to football, I often play the role of bummer, an autumnal Scrooge. I sometimes struggle to muster the pigskin mania that so many others easily conjure up.

Many Americans love football. Millions of boys, now men, have banded together to play in their pee-wee league, middle school, or high school. The balletic violence of football draws us in, as they watch the ball carriers race past the lineman who collides with the line of scrimmage.

This violence in football has become the American reflexive allegory of war. Commentators speak ofwin the war in the trenchesnot to mention games (once the highlight of the college football schedule) between branches of the armed forces.

Buzz Bissinger, while promoting his new book “Mosquito Bowl”, spoke on the “Fresh Air” Podcast this week on how the symbiotic relationship between football and the military began. During the draft days of World War II, Bissinger said young men often signed up to play football at a military academy to avoid serving on the front line. If we’re wondering how football became tied to B-52 flyovers, camouflage uniforms, and comparisons of quarterbacks to “field generals,” World War II seems like a place to start.

Bissinger’s insights into why we intertwine football and war provide useful context and temper my cynicism about how military branches still use football to recruit young servicemen. Even so, it’s hard to fathom how the NFL uses military patriotism to wave the flag around a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, a collection of teams owned by wealthy families. who often misbehave.

Because football and cross country were my fall sports in high school, I don’t have the nostalgia that sends other men yelling at visiting referees and coaches on behalf of the local football team on Friday night.

When I was a teenager, examining my 5-foot-9, 140-pound stature didn’t spark football bravado. I imagined looking more like a dummy with helmet and shoulder pads wobbling on, rather than a warrior in his grill armor costume. Because football was not for me, it is further away for me than other fans, although local teams bring us closer to meaningful matches.

Over the past few years, hundreds of traumatic brain injury headlines have flooded the heads of parents like my wife and I as we decided to let our son play football. We now know that football can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Even in the face of our son’s protests, we refuse to risk repeated concussions, depression, memory loss and depression. This jarring splash of medical research and personal anecdotes has kept our family and many others in check.

Data shows participation in tackling football has dropped 39% between 2006 and 2018. Three million fewer boys dress each year. While other factors may contribute to these numbers, the risk of head injuries and possible long-term side effects dominate my conversations with other parents.

The crackle of helmets and shoulder pads at the line of scrimmage has some fans loving the game. To me, it’s a sickening reminder of the risks to players. Many of them are still teenagers, waiting for their brains to develop further while simultaneously injuring that same brain.

Sometimes I ostensibly work to distance myself from football, trying to convince myself that this brutal game is immoral. Thursday night, as I watched Tagovailoa struggle to exploit his lying moves on the grass, was one of those nights.

Later, team officials said Tagovailoa was conscious, had sensation in all of his extremities, and would likely return home with the team. It is far too early to assure or predict his recovery.

But you should have seen me Saturday night when a Texas A&M player hit the post a field goal attempt that would have won the game “I screamed with my friend Aggie.

You should have seen me when KU sealed their victory against Duke. I reported the result to my son as soon as he got in the car.

You should have seen me when Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to a almost impossible comeback against the Buffalo Bills last season. My buddies and I bought drinks for the bar while we were jumping around like kids.

My concern for player safety can sometimes create a thin veil between me and the game. This veil keeps me at bay during my rational moments of watching games and traumatic times like Thursday nights.

But like so many others in Kansas, I still watch, grappling with the dark elements of a game that has us in its grip.

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