Writing anything anti-football won’t make me many friends in these parts. But with all our guns locked and loaded on a greedy athletic director and his inept department as of late, I thought I would focus mine elsewhere.
Yes, the coaching and medical staff made an error on Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Shane Morris needed to have been indefinitely sidelined after he suffered a violent blow to the head and came up wobbly with concussion-like symptoms. But who are we kidding? Football is inherently a violent sport, a hotbed of gung-ho testosterone and drunken aggression. Debilitated brains and bodies have always and will continue to always be its inconvenient byproduct.
Just two weeks ago, the NFL itself was forced to concede, after years of litigation, that 28 percent of retired players develop long-term cognitive problems that manifest “notably” earlier than in the general public. (Yes, that’s over one in four players with severe brain injuries.) How many studies are necessary before it’s clear that slamming 250-pound men into one another can’t be good for them?
Blaming Michigan coach Brady Hoke and University Athletic Director Dave Brandon for not protecting Morris is as ridiculous as blaming Muhammad Ali’s coach, Joe Martin, for Ali’s current vegetative state. The problem is systemic, not individualistic. At least boxing is honest about its brutality.
Imagine for a moment that Michigan football was not off to its worst start ever. Imagine that we won on Saturday, and are 5-0 so far and that murmurs are already brewing that we can win the Rose Bowl. Oh the glory!! Now, imagine that the whole Shane Morris incident played out the exact same way. In this counterfactual history, tell me honestly: Would your athletic department vitriol be as cutthroat? Would there still be shouts (first from this newspaper) to fire Hoke, a 10,000-signature-and-still-growing petition to fire Brandon and impassioned protests before the president’s house — and risk wrecking a legendary season?
No, there’s just no way.
Morris’s concussion is the perfect ploy, player safety the dishonest front for fans to hide behind, claim moral superiority from Brandon and his business cronies, and hopefully, if they scream loud enough, get what they really want: those W’s.
Because winning comes first in this city, and everything else second. Michigan fans expect nothing less. How else could it be true that the “medical and coaching staffs did not see the hit,” as Brandon wrote in his statement that reads, if you know anything about Brandon, as a crafty and failed attempt to quell a PR nightmare. You’re going to have me believe that not one of the maybe 30-person medical and coaching staff on the field saw the hit? Dave, you’re going to have to do better than that.
The staff didn’t want to see the hit. Morris was the team’s last hope. And if the fans were right now riding a winning wave and not a losing one, I bet the outcry would have been much more muted.
The die-hard fans will scream that I’m not a Wolverine, that I’m spurning Michigan’s deep football tradition. So be it. Some traditions are just outdated.
I know that’s not realistic, though. There are too many students and alumni that live to their bone marrow for Michigan football.
As I write (Sept. 30, 11:41 p.m.) the MOST READ stories on this paper’s website are as follows:
1. LIVE BLOG: Students gather for ‘Fire Dave Brandon’ rally on the Diag
2. Student petition calls for President Schlissel to remove Athletic Director Dave Brandon
3. Brandon’s statement exposes institutional dysfunction within the Athletic Department
4. SportsMonday Column: Brady Hoke must be fired
5. Dave Brandon releases statement addressing Shane Morris incident
In fact, between Sunday and this moment, nine out of 10 of the MOST READ articles have been football-related. (The 10th is that hilarious sorority rush parody.)
It’s about time we got our priorities straight, because at the end of the day, a game will always be a game. We’re clearly capable of organizing quickly and loudly — Tuesday’s protest and petition proved as such. Can’t we mobilize around issues with actual stakes? Say, 110,000 fans cheering and protesting for tuition equality, diversity or sexual assault prevention?
Yardain Amron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.