The Theory of Chaos

Sunday, August 06, 2006

You move your fingers to look for feeling

I wanted to post this evening exulting the return of the NFL, at least in pre-season form. That's enough for me, it will help me survive until the real thing in September. And that post's coming to, with all the usual snark.

But tonight a young man named Bruce Perry was knocked down and didn't get up, and that made me think about a few things. See, Bruce Perry was drafted in the 7th round, the last round. The player chosen at the end of this round is annually awarded the title "Mr. Irrelevant" - because no one expects much from you. He barely made it into the league he'd probably spent half his life preparing for. The average NFL career is something like four years, and he's starting his second, having seen sporadic action last year only because injuries to players above him on the depth chart pressed him onto the field.

Four years isn't really much of a career, especially when you haven't spent any time preparing to have another one. And for all the hype, the mansions and the diamond earrings most of these guys never become millionaires. For some of them, their NFL dream might be their family's best chance to live in a real house. And to get there, they play hundreds of games, thousands of downs, thousands of hours of practice. And they always live with the possibility that, in this minute, they might be crippled. In this minute, like Korey Stringer, they might die. And even if they don't, their body will remember the punishment for the reat of their lives.

Something about the way Perry landed didn't look right. The way his legs splayed in one direction while his torso went another. But in the seconds after he landed he was moving his hands, flexing his fingers. That's the first relief - movement in any extremity. But I didn't see the legs move. While trainers surrounded him, immobilized him, called for a stretcher, I thought it was his spine. I thought that his dream had lasted one year, and now, with less than two minutes left in a meaningless pre-season game, he'd run with the ball and those were the last steps he'd ever take. What do you learn about yourself in those minutes on your back, wondering what has happened to your body?

The players on both teams bent to their knees. One player, a rookie taking the field for professional competition for the first time in his life, put his head in the grass and wept. Was it his heart going out to his teammate, or was he suddenly just not ready for it to cost this much?

As they wheeled him past the bleachers towards an ambulance, he gave a wavering thumbs-up to the crowd. They cheered. Minutes later the report came in - a concussion. A shock to the brain - one that can have lasting effects, but you can walk. You can think. You can shake out the cobwebs and play again. He might well be out on the field next week.

How strange to be relieved - it was "only" a concussion.


Post a Comment

<< Home