Career Calling

October 24, 2015

The Last Play of the Game, and the End of a Life

 

I’ve always been a sports fan, and watching football has been one of my favorite pastimes.  Over the last few years, however, it’s been a guilty please at best and, maybe, hypocrisy at its worst.  A few years ago, I attended a presentation on brain injuries that woke me up to the cost football players pay to entertain fans like me.  PBS’s Frontline series went even deeper into the issue, showing how pervasive brain injuries are for professional football players.  The news has not gotten better.

On Thursday, a 17 year old football player, at Chicago’s Bogan High School, Andre Smith, died after a game.  He was the seventh high school player to die in the U.S. this season.  At first, it was reported that he was injured on the last play of the game, but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, he walked off the field and collapsed as he was leaving the field.  No one knows the exact cause of death, and there will be an autopsy next week.  Here’s what we do know:  He died playing football.

Is football so dangerous that it should be made illegal?  Once upon a time, I scoffed at this question.  There is risk in everything we do.  Players willingly participate in the sport, which they know is dangerous.  I’ve used all of those reasons to convince myself that football is the same as basketball and baseball.  It’s a game.  But something interesting happens when we compare football and hockey.  It is possible to play a much less violent version of hockey than we see in the NHL.  Fighting is banned in the international game.  Checking is limited or banned in many leagues.  Unless you’re playing some kind of touch or flag version of the game, football is all about violence, hitting another person with your body and knocking them to the ground.  Fans like me often cheer loud when both the offensive and defensive player collide at full speed. Violent hits make us cheers, and we do not ask the question:  What is happening to their brains and bodies when such collisions occur?

This blog is about career and work issues, and whether they are amateur or professional athletes, football players work very hard at what they do.  They practice, lift weights, and eat special diets to maintain a certain weight. They learn complicated plays and signals that are called out before each play.  Paid or unpaid, their work needs to be taken the same way we consider other workplace or work-like recreational activities.  Is this game too violent however it is played?  Tomorrow I am meeting two friends to watch the Carolina Panthers play the Philadelphia Eagles.  We meet several times over the course of the season, but it’s getting harder for me to watch football given what we now know about the price paid by those who play the game, those who are working for our pleasure.  Andre Smith’s death has made me question my complicity as a fan.  Is it time to turn off football?

 

P.S. DNAInfo reports that Andre’s Smith’s autopsy has been completed.  It found that he died of football related injuries, “blunt force trauma” to his head.

February 1, 2015

Losers before They Won

 

Both coaches in today’s Super Bowl, Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, have coached championships teams.  They are regarded as the best at what they do.  Both have also led teams that were not successful.  When Carroll coached New England, many experts thought he would never be a great coach.  The same is true of Belichick’s time with the Cleveland Browns.  Both coaches had faith in themselves and their talent.  The picked themselves up and gave themselves another chance to succeed.  Successful people often have a low point in their career.  Their critics call them losers.  Real champions like Carroll and Belichick end up with the last laugh.

November 30, 2014

Is Slavery Making a Comeback?

Deadspin has linked to a report from the Tampa Bay Times, which has conducted an investigation on a church that uses its flock as indentured servants. According to the report, New Beginnings takes in homeless people and addicts, confiscates their government aid, and makes them work at menial jobs for their keep. Some of their assignments include working concessions for local pro sports teams. The NFL, MLB, and NHL are not directly involved, but these organizations and team owners need to look into this matter. I’ve written before about wage theft, which is horrible. At least those employees are free to work at another job. In this case, it seems that an alleged church has ignored both legal and moral condemnations of such behavior.

September 27, 2014

Talking Your Way Out of a Job

 

Bill Simmons was recently suspended by ESPN for comments he made about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Whatever you think about Simmons, Goodell, or any of the players recently suspended by the NFL, here’s the thing to remember: Doing or saying something that hurts your employer’s reputation can lead to being terminated. The same is true of another type of speech: social media. Many people have taken to Facebook or Twitter to be critical of their employer or supervisor. In many states, such action is grounds for dismissal. Be careful before you do something that can put your income at risk.

One more word about Bill Simmons. I often find him funny and sometimes insightful. He is also a good businessman. If ESPN decides to get rid of him, he will have other opportunities. We should all follow his example. Have a Plan B for your career and build a reputation that will make other employers want to hire us.

Talking Your Way Out of a Job

 

Bill Simmons was recently suspended by ESPN for comments he made about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Whatever you think about Simmons, Goodell, or any of the players recently suspended by the NFL, here’s the thing to remember: Doing or saying something that hurts your employer’s reputation can lead to being terminated. The same is true of another type of speech: social media. Many people have taken to Facebook or Twitter to be critical of their employer or supervisor. In many states, such action is grounds for dismissal. Be careful before you do something that can put your income at risk.

One more word about Bill Simmons. I often find him funny and sometimes insightful. He is also a good businessman. If ESPN decides to get rid of him, he will have other opportunities. We should all follow his example. Have a Plan B for your career and build a reputation that will make other employers want to hire us.

February 2, 2014

A Career Management Lesson from the Super Bowl

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning suffered a serious neck injury a few years ago.  The experts said his career was probably over.  Manning believed in himself, worked hard in rehab, and has had two great years playing in Denver.

The experts said Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson was too short.  His arm wasn’t strong enough.  Wilson believed in himself, and he has turned his team into a consistent winner.

Believe in yourself.

September 8, 2013

Sabbath, September 8, 2013

[On Sundays this blog looks beyond the world of work and careers in Sabbath.]

The National Pastimes

I grew up a baseball fan and still love the game.  Baseball is the summer game, and it has a fascinating history that goes back more than 100 years.  A baseball game can turn in an instant on a pitch, hit, error, or base-running mistake.  People who love baseball like the game’s pace, which is slow and deliberative.

America’s other pastime is much more fast and ferocious.  Today is the first Sunday of the NFL season.  No one seems to care about an off-season filled with stories about head injuries.  Pro football rules the American sports scene.  It’s not unusual for me to watch two or three games on Sunday.  And, as hypocritical as it sounds, I still get excited when there’s a big hit.  Every week there are offensive and defensive highlights that relayed from Monday through Saturday.  Football invites viewers to get into the game in a way that baseball does not.

Part of the difference between the two sports is frequency of games.  There are only 16 games in an NFL season; baseball plays 162 games.  A win or loss in football is worth 10 times a loss in baseball.  A great baseball team can have two 5 game losing streaks in a season.  That would be disaster in the NFL.

Football’s also a better sport for TV.  In reality, both sports take about 2 ½  – 3 hours to complete a game.  Football seems faster because it is easier to follow as teams move up and down the field.  While strategy in football is much more complex than baseball, the movement of players and the ball can be followed without the same attention that baseball requires.  A squeeze bunt or passed ball happens so fast that only a sophisticated fan who is paying close attention understands the impact.  Football has a clear stop before each play that gives fans a chance to know how many yards are needed for a first down, how close their team is to scoring.  Nothing is so simple in baseball.

Baseball calls itself America’s pastime, and it holds that title as a legacy.  Football rules.  Fans want to sit in front of a large screen and party.  They want to go to a bar and enjoy the game as a social activity with friends.  Baseball asks for more from its fans.  Maybe it asks for too much.  I will continue to watch and love both games, but I’m not going to fool myself.  In 2013, pro football is America’s pastime, if not its social religion.

December 18, 2011

Sabbath, December 18, 2011

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 4:51 pm
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[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that ponders work and life.]

Sidney Crosby’s Workplace Injury

Sidney Crosby is only 24 years old, and he is acknowledged as one of the best players in hockey today.  The tragedy is that Crosby missed half of last season because of post-concussive symptoms.  After returning to the ice this year, he is again on the disabled list because of this condition. 

Writing in Grantland, Ken Dryden takes on this problem with the broad intelligence that marks all of his writing.  Dryden addresses NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and challenges him to deal with the problem, especially the sport’s macho, fight-based culture.  My issue with Dryden’s wonderful analysis is that he diagnoses a sickness but suggests no cure.  I also have no solution.  In sports like hockey and football, played by large men traveling at fast speeds, there will be collisions that result in head injuries.  What can we do?

The NFL has taken some steps to protect players and limit concussions.  Blows to the head are penalized and fined.  “Launching” to make a tackle has pretty much been taken out of the game.  But many football and hockey players still incur head injuries.  Colt McCoy, quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, received a head-to-head shot from Steelers linebacker James Harrison.  He told the medical staff that his hand was injured, and he was allowed to go back in the game.  Only after the game did the doctors and trainers discover that McCoy had suffered a concussion.

We need to look at this problem from another perspective:  workplace injuries.  If a meat processing plant was found to have several workers receiving serious cuts, OSHA would be on the scene.  Professional athletes are working people.  They have short careers and often spend the rest of their lives dealing with pain and disability caused by their sport.  It’s one thing to see a ex-player like Mike Ditka walk with a limp because of injuries sustained on the field.  It’s another to consider the last days of Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, and Mike Webster, all of whom suffered from post-concussive conditions and died horrible deaths, Duerson and Waters committing suicide.

Attitudes need to change on several fronts.  As Dryden argues, league presidents and owners need to address the problem more forcefully. Players and their unions need to be realistic about the impact of these injuries.  It’s one thing to need a knee replacement in your 40s or 50s.  There is no cure for dementia.  Fans might have to make the biggest change.  Like millions of other sports fans, I have spent most of my life cheering the big hit.  Stadiums roar when a tackler crushes a wide receiver or running back.  Then they go silent when a player lies limp on the field.  We live in two worlds: loving the hit and hating its aftermath.  We need to think more about the people working on the field and the lives they live when their uniform comes off.

Will Sidney Crosby play hockey again?  As a fan, I hope so.  I once saw Crosby push the puck between the legs of a defender and then put two moves on a goalie before flicking the puck into the goal.  It took two seconds, and it was beautiful.  But, as someone who cares about working people, I hope Crosby does what is best for his health and future.  More than that, I hope that league officials, owners, players, and fans get serious about addressing the problem of concussions.  The games we love might see great changes, but the result will be worth it:  healthy players living longer lives.