‘Bad’ wheel(s) of fortune

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I am perplexed. For a week after the Chicago Bears were smacked down by the Green Bay Packers in route to claiming the NFC Championship, the chatter was not about the “Pack’s” upcoming matchup against the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Jaws were “swollen” over the heart, or the lack of heart, of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Hey, whatever the reason was that he departed from the most important game for the Bears in over two decades; well, that was between God, his head coach (Lovie Smith), his teammates, the nearest light post and finally his conscience. Whatever happened to the premise of “to the victor goes the spoils?”

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The Bears, lost, lost, lost. How many times do I have to say it, say it and say it. Now you have “Sir” Charles Barkley a former workman in the “painted” area of the NBA emerging from the “big house” doughnuts in one hand, whip in the other having the nerve to “weigh in” on the opinions of other football players. Barkley is a two-headed opinionated mouthpiece, who feels that he has been given the license to allow anything to jump out of his mouth disguised as the truth.

Listen to what Charles had to say about the criticism that Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew levied against Cutler. “I was mad at the players, to be honest with you,” Barkley said on the “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “I think it was inappropriate and wrong to question a guy’s heart. Now reporters, they’re going to do what they want to. They’re entitled to their opinion. But as players, I don’t think it’s appropriate to question another guy’s heart.”

“That crosses the line, because you don’t know. If you go back and start looking at all the stuff that’s been said, clearly one of the more vocal critics was Jones-Drew, and then you find out he missed the last two games with a bad knee. And he was really the first guy who crucified Jay. You have to be careful, because in the two most important games of the year, he sat out with a bad knee. And then it really makes him look like an idiot now.”

No Charles, I beg to differ. If a running back has a knee injury, no matter how slight, his effectiveness will usually be impacted a bit more than a quarterback, ya think? Once a running back exits the line of scrimmage he is on his own. If he slides like a quarterback to avoid a tackle or runs out of bounds to avoid contact many mouths will begin to run. Things will be said like, “if he would have stayed in bounds, he could have gotten the first down. If his injury was that serious, he should have not been on the field in the first place.”

The hearts of athletes have been questioned for years. Take the case of the late great Pirates superstar Roberto Clemente. There was a time that Clemente was experiencing various ailments during his career. People suggested he was a hypochondriac and maybe he needed to travel to Puerto Rico to visit a “witch doctor.” There were even rumors floating around that he might be ripe for the trading block because of being so-called injury prone. Clemente even kept a diary in regards to his injuries but he was still expected to take the field and play every day, injured or not.

The new topic of discussion is concussions. Up until 10 years ago, how much attention was paid to this very serious type of head injury? How many players from the 1950s-80s suffered brain trauma that was minimized and/or swept under the rug just to make sure that the bottom line was not traumatized? Cleveland Hall-of-Fame running back Jim Brown was once asked if he had ever suffered a concussion. “Well, I don’t know if I had a concussion. I got dinged. We called it getting dinged, where I couldn’t remember the plays,” said Brown, 74, who, needless to say, isn’t sure of the year or the opponent. He does remember that he was hit violently in the back of his neck and that he never left the game.  Brown added, “I didn’t get knocked out, so I could still function, but I just couldn’t remember the plays. So I told the quarterback to tell me each play—tell me before each one of them what my assignment is, and I will carry it out.” Does the word “dinged” ring a bell, you getting your bell rung, ding-a-ling-a-ling sound familiar? The human brain is the core of life and death. It is not a bell to be rung at dinner time, play time or any other time. There are hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to make sure that the game of pro football is entertaining. Let us all now create a mandate directed to the NFL, AFL and CFL to spend a designated percentage of their profit on research to develop safer and more effective equipment. It makes sense because athletes would remain healthier, making the quality of the game better.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741.)

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