Chilling Out with the Big Cat

Rayfield Wright, the football Hall of Famer for the Dallas Cowboys from 1967-1979, isn’t sure he’ll watch Super Bowl XLVIII this coming Sunday.

If he chooses not to, I’ll join him – although for slightly different reasons.

We both want to view it. To different degrees we both have been conditioned to want to watch. It’s the American thing to do on Super Bowl Sunday, right?

I preached in a church last Sunday where it was announced that next week the congregation again would gather for it’s annual Super Bowl Party. So evidently there’s some religious warrant for watching too.

But Mr. Wright, who was known during his playing days as “Big Cat” (currently just ten pounds over his playing weight of 255 pounds on a 6 foot 7 inch frame), may not join in the fun. That’s because “his attention span has grown too short” and “he’s too depressed to sit through an entire game, even the biggest one of the season.”

The New York Times this week detailed Rayfield Wright’s story in an article entitled “Time Running Out.” (1/27/14, p. D1)

His first game as a starter as offensive tackle for Dallas was against the Los Angeles Rams in November of 1969. He was lined up against Deacon Jones, the defensive end for the Rams, when Jones taunted Wright by asking, “Do your mama know you’re out here?” That distracted Wright and made him ask himself, “What does my mama have anything to do with this?” The lapse of concentration was unfortunate since, with the snap of the ball, Jones slapped “his dinner-plate-size right hand violently against Wright’s helmet,” knocking Wright backwards and unconscious.

That first concussion was just one of many to follow in a thirteen year career with the Cowboys.

And he’s not alone. Better than 4,500 former players are suing the National Football League for keeping “concealed for years what it knew about dangers of repeated hits to the head.”

Earlier this month Judge Anita B Brody, a U.S. District Judge in Philadelphia, rejected, at least on a preliminary basis, a $765 million settlement offered by the N.F.L., questioning whether the sum was adequate to cover 20,000 professional football players over a 65-year period.

The Times reports: “Studies have repeatedly shown that N.F.L. players encounter dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases with greater frequency than the general population. Many players can look at Wright and see what their future will hold. Those who try to ignore the grim possibility of life after football are fooling themselves.”

Wright, however, seems to favor the proposed settlement, not necessarily because it is fair, but because his “time is running out” and he desperately needs the money now.

I’ve got a different reason – or set of reasons – for sitting out the game.

They are basically religious reasons, but there are civil reasons also.

I played some football in high school and college, and I got hurt in both venues. Knee injuries. And who knows what the physical violence did to my brain? But for years I was a devoted fan of both college and professional football.

Only in recent years have I begun to put all of that in question, as I increasingly saw a connection between this violent sport and the violence that wracks our society.

I know that hasn’t been proven beyond doubt. But really, how could it be otherwise?

Kids in grade school and junior high and high school and college being encouraged, from coaches and fans in the stands, to “hit ‘em again, hit ‘em again, harder, harder; hit ‘em again, hit ‘em again, harder, harder.” And years and years of Americans watching the TV screen where violence is played and replayed with relishing approval.

I made up my mind a few years ago that I didn’t want to be complicit in this kind of violence. So I didn’t watch a single game during the 2012-13 season. I confess to being sort of proud of myself.

But I’m not proud of myself this year, a season in which I lapsed back, first into sneaking a peek at the set on Sunday afternoons and Monday and Thursday evenings, and then watching whole games.

But then I read about Rayfield Wright this week.

And I read the Gospel Lesson from the lectionary for this coming Super Bowl Sunday. It’s about who God blesses: the poor in spirit, those who mourn and the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for the cause of righteousness.

I’m praying that I won’t have a relapse on Sunday.

And if the Big Cat sits this one out, for whatever reason, I know I’ll be chilling out in good company.

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