Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 28, 2010

Smashmouth football

Filed under: sports — louisproyect @ 4:42 pm

As a long-time football fan, I root for the home team—either the Jets or the Giants. The Giants were widely expected to make a run for the Super Bowl this year, but their much vaunted “smashmouth” defense let them down. Meanwhile, the Jets did much better than expected under Rex Ryan, a new coach who had previously been defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. In an article that ironically appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, reporter Mark Sappenfield highlighted the talents that Ryan brought with him:

In the Jets vs. Colts AFC championship game Sunday, the New York Jets and Head Coach Rex Ryan will be trying to prove that smashmouth football can still succeed in today’s NFL.

But even amid some good fortune, Ryan has remained unsurprisingly unabashed: His goal is to bring the forgotten gospel of bloody knuckles and splintered teeth back to football, one grind-it-out Jets win at a time.

The most violent, but effective, player on defense for the Baltimore Ravens is Ray Lewis who is near the end of his career. Here he is in action:

Like most fans, including the hapless fictional hero of the interesting but uneven “Big Fan”, I got a kick out of such violent attacks on the football field without giving them much thought unless it resulted in the paralysis of somebody like Boston Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley who was left a quadriplegic after a brutal tackle by the Oakland Raiders Jack Tatum in a preseason game in 1978. Stingley eventually succumbed to heart disease aggravated by his paralysis at the age of 55. Here’s Tatum assaulting a wide receiver along the same lines as a Ray Lewis performance.

I don’t think I’ll ever watch another football game, however, after watching a segment about football concussions on Brian Gumbel’s HBO Real Sports program. It makes the connection between football concussions and the early onset of Alzheimer’s and highlights the role of Harvard graduate Chris Nowinski in putting pressure on the NFL to better protect its players. Nowinski suffered concussions as a football player at Harvard and as a professional wrestler after he graduated Harvard. Despite professional wrestling’s obvious fakery, you can get injured in the ring in the same way that a stuntman can get injured or killed during filming.

You can watch the HBO segment in its entirety on Youtube:

Watching someone like Ralph Wenzel, who is only two years older than me, suffering from Alzheimer’s is pretty hard to take. My mother, who passed away in a nursing home nearly two years ago, had all sorts of problems toward the end of her life but thankfully Alzheimer’s was not one of them. When I used to visit her, it was always hard to get past the sight and sound of Alzheimer patients in the ward who were in various stages of mental disintegration. Although I am of course frightened of the idea of developing Alzheimer’s, I accept that as a possible fate as I penetrate deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness that is old age (I turned 65 two days ago.) But if I became an Alzheimer’s patient at the age of 67 like Ralph Wenzel who once told people that he couldn’t count the number of concussions he had suffered during his career, I would feel like the victim of a crime not the natural process of aging. The corporate bosses who have forced such men to return prematurely to the football field after suffering a concussion belong in prison. In some ways, they are worse than murderers since they are responsible for robbing human beings of their most precious gift, the ability to think.

I also recommend that you take a look at Chris Nowinski’s website. With his Harvard degree, he is not the typical jock. As a professional wrestler, he took time to speak out on young people getting involved with politics, particularly through registering to vote. You might also be aware that professional wrestling not only requires immense physical gifts; it also requires the ability to craft a persona for yourself. Initially Nowinski styled himself as a villainous snob from the Ivy League (not that hard to do!) and even used the ring name Chris Harvard. While it is difficult to figure out whether this was meant to shore up his villainous image in professional wrestling, Nowinski also assumed the role of “race traitor” akin to the hero of “Avatar”, as his wiki page indicates:

On the May 26, 2003 edition of Raw, Christopher Nowinski helped Rodney Mack defeat Bubba Ray Dudley in a “White Boy Challenge” and joined Theodore Long’s group “Thuggin’ And Buggin’ Enterprises”, a group of African Americans who worked a race angle in which they portrayed themselves as being victims of racism and being held down by the “White Man”.

A remarkable character, to say the least. Let’s hope that his six concussions do not eventually rob the world of his talents as spokesmen for the gladiator victims of the bread and circuses in today’s version of the Roman Empire.


  1. Jeff Stover was a star defensive end for the 49ers. He had a large cardboard picture of his posted at his gym indicating all the operations he has had. I asked him how his body held up relative to his team mates. He then told me about the damage that his teammates had sustained.

    He was strong enough that he survived fairly well. Once he accidentally knocked me down in a basketball game. Fortunately, I was not hurt. When noticed me on the ground & turned to someone and said, “I never felt him.”

    Comment by mperelman — January 28, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

  2. I stopped watching in 1972– Bears-Lions game– second string receiver for Detroit, Chuck Hughes, died on the field, without being hit. Supposedly, “his heart burst.” Probably, he blew out an aneurysm with repeated doses of amphetamines.

    My mother knew better than me, blessed her departed Yiddish heart– would not let me even try out for the high school team– “Nobody’s going to try and bash in my son’s head,” she said. Except her of course.

    Comment by S. Artesian — January 28, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

  3. According to an a documentary series that used to run on A&E back in the 80s called “Living Dangerously” the average NFL player’s career is only 3 years. That’s why their seemingly exorbitant salaries should not be a subject for derision. Since pro- wrestling was brought up I wonder if Louis has done a review of the film “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke? He probably has and I missed it? It was a worthy film, sad, depicting tough working class life with great acting.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 28, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

  4. […] See the article here: Smashmouth football « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist […]

    Pingback by Smashmouth football « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist | teste — January 28, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  5. The level and intensity of violence in football has increased over the years in direct proportion to the importance and value of the “game” to television and organized betting. There is no such thing as “unnecessary roughness” because violence is the most necessary ingredient the sport has to offer. Now, it’s all too violent and too rigged, fixed, arranged, dishonest.

    Comment by Richard Greener — January 28, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

  6. While I agree with the entire gist of this thread, and while it’s true that I haven’t heard the call “unnecessary roughness” in quite a while, the refs these days do specifically make an effort to protect blows to the head. I caught only a few quarters of the playoffs this season but in that brief time in one game a player got called for a “blow to the head” on a quarterback (which really on replay showed it should have been a “face masking” call) and in another game during an end zone catch the defender lead a tackle with his helmet into the receiver’s helmet and was called for it, not “spearing” but something like that, so there has actually been a stepped up effort to minimize head blows.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 29, 2010 @ 1:33 am

  7. Exercise seems to be the key to good health at all ages. Dr. Gabe Merkin’s website has good health advice for older folks. He is 77, I believe.

    Comment by Mark — January 29, 2010 @ 2:28 am

  8. It is my belief that the increased size of today’s football players is an important factor in the severity of injuries, and is also presents a perverse incentive to use steroids when young to attain these sizes.

    I remember the stir that William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry’s league debut made back in 1985, when he was drafted by the Bears at 330 lbs, starting the year with a playing weight of 308. These days, a 300 lb lineman is not regarded as particularly large, and it would not surprise me if the playing weight in other positions has increased somewhat proportionally.

    A modest proposal that I have sometimes entertained might be to gradually introduce team weight limits. This could both reduce injuries and make for a better, more agile style of play.

    Comment by cs — January 31, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  9. Being from Chicago and living there 1n 85 word on the street was management lied about his real weight. His lockerroom nickname was “Biscuit” because team mates said he was “one biscuit shy of 400 lbs.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 31, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

  10. […] first wrote about Chris Nowinski back in January of 2010 after seeing him on Brian Gumbel’s HBO Real Sports program. It is worth […]

    Pingback by Head Games; They Call it Myanmar « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 22, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

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