Rayfield Wright, the football hall of famer for the Dallas Cowboys from 1967-79, 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 the congregation again would gather for its annual Super Bowl party. So evidently there’s some religious warrant for watching, too.
Wright was called “Big Cat” during his playing days, as he weighed 255 pounds and was 6-foot-7. But he may not join in the fun 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’ Juliet Macur detailed Wright’s story this week, revealing his current health issues caused by head injuries during his NFL career.
His first game as a starter at offensive tackle for Dallas was against the Los Angeles Rams in November 1969.
He 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?”
This distracted Wright and, with the snap of the ball, Jones slapped “his dinner-plate-size right hand violently against Wright’s helmet,” knocking Wright backward and unconscious.
That was the first of many concussions to follow in a 13-year career with the Cowboys.
And he’s not alone. More 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 NFL.
She questioned whether the sum was adequate to cover 20,000 professional football players over a 65-year period.
“Studies have repeatedly shown that NFL players encounter dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases with greater frequency than the general population,” Macur wrote.
“Many players can look at Wright and see what their future will hold,” she added. “Those who try to ignore the grim possibility of life after football are fooling themselves.”
Wright, however, seems to favor the proposed settlement. His position is not necessarily based on its fairness, but because his “time is running out” and he desperately needs the money now.
I have a different reason – or set of reasons – for not watching the game. They are basically religious reasons, but there are civil reasons also.
I played football in high school and college, and injured my knees at both levels. Who knows what the physical violence did to my brain?
Nevertheless, 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 have increasingly come to recognize the connection between this violent sport and the violence that wracks our society.
I know this connection hasn’t been proven beyond doubt. But I wonder how could it be otherwise?
Kids in grade school, junior high, high school and college are being encouraged by coaches and fans in the stands to “hit ’em again, hit ’em again, harder, harder; hit ’em again, hit ’em again, harder, harder.”
I believe that decades of watching violence played and replayed on TV with relishing approval has likely had a detrimental affect on us all.
So I made up my mind a few years ago that I didn’t want to be complicit in this kind of violence.
I didn’t watch a single game during the 2012-13 season, and I confess to being sort of proud of myself. But I’m not proud of myself this year.
I lapsed during this football season, first sneaking a peek at the set on Sunday afternoons as well as on Monday and Thursday evenings, and eventually watching whole games again.
But then I read about Rayfield Wright, followed by the Gospel lesson from the lectionary the Sunday of the Super Bowl.
The text from Matthew 5 is about who God blesses: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and 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 in good company.
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.