From NFL Hall of Famers to the corrupt 2016 Olympics
Of late I have developed conflicted feelings about the sporting world and lost interest in teams and players, which has led me to boycott the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for the first time—except for the sprinting events. At the same time, for the first time ever, as the farthest thing from a football fanatic, who never watches college games and few pro games, I viewed the entire day-long National Football League Hall of Fame induction ceremony and found myself utterly absorbed and repeatedly in tears while listening to men who had come up from the very bottom of our socio-economic ladder in America and reached such heights in the bone-crushing and wildly emotional game of professional football.
Having sampled football up until the tenth grade and realizing it was for kids more gladiatorial than me, there is this respect and admiration for those who continue to play. My father, who played big league baseball and faced fire-baller Bob Feller without a helmet and was an amateur boxing champion out of tough Chicago, also found football simply too brutal in the stone-age era of the 1930s when he was recruited by the University of Illinois to play for the legendary coach, Bob Zuppke, whom he characterized as a “miserable goddamn heartless sadist.”
“Football players at that level are a different breed,” he always said, with a touch of awe. “They’re not like other people. They’re a select club of men.”
Nowadays, these men play for more money while enduring even more pain and brokenness because they’re bigger and faster and smash into each other with horrifying force, so much so I wince and hate to look at the players who after collisions lay writhing in agony, their magnificent athleticism temporarily and sometimes permanently crippled. To face such savagery, and even dare to be paralyzed, as in some cases, their courage is something us mortals cannot possibly relate to or understand, only stand in awe of.
And perhaps that is the reason I tried but could not hold back tears while listening to Orlando Pace, a black giant, talking about his mother, who raised him and his sister while working two jobs in Sandusky, Ohio, the camera panning to his mother and sister dabbing at tears as they sat under a warm Ohio sun.
John Madden, home and ailing, possesses such profound respect for these men he could hardly get through a taped introduction of the deceased Kenny Stabler, a slender Alabaman quarterback who, on badly damaged knees, stood the charges of thunderous defenders for over a decade and won games with guile and daring.
Kevin Greene, all-American boy and ex-Boy Scout, talked of his dad, a retired Army officer wounded in Vietnam, the camera panning to this man who struggled to keep his composure as Kevin gave him full credit for teaching him the military discipline to succeed in such a tough business.
The most impressive speech was by an ex-owner drummed out of the league, Ed Debartalo, a diminutive man so in love with his players that he immediately visited them, in the locker room after injuries and took care of their futures as family. His message to NFL powers that ran him out of the game was to treat these men as he had; a chastising of their greediness and ruthless inattention to the physical and mental debilitation these men suffer long after retirement.
If these men brought tears and cheers, Brett Favre brought roars and copious weeping. The toughest of the tough, he barely made it through his speech without breaking down, but brought down the house when talking about how hard his dad was on him, yet at the same time, behind his back, extolled his character and determination to his coach, something I think all jocks and their jock dads have experienced, including myself.
All of these speeches were delivered by a bunch of big old sentimental slobs. At times they were awkward, unpolished but always sincere, and always moving, boy/men still, thanking just about everybody who helped them get there, the memories so poignant, the game so dear to them, the teammates and coaches so valuable, that it wasn’t really about them, but the totality of the experience, from peewee football to the prized NFL that has broken the heart of so many gridiron stars trying to make it.
Small wonder American football fans are so crazy about these gladiators.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio are the accumulation of decades of the IOC turning a magnificent competition into a corrupt grab-bag of billionaires and politicians on the take. It is about the rich pushing around the poor, and in some cases taking their homes to build monstrous and soon-to-be obsolete sports complexes, as in countries like China and Russia. It’s about a broke country like Greece going broker. It’s about a country like Russia, caught red-handed in a colossal cheating scheme and then let off the hook by the political whores in the IOC knuckling under to the latest global bully, Vladimir Putin.
It’s about the Russians recruiting desperately impoverished migrants from Eastern Europe to build their complexes, withholding their pay, housing them in sheds, disposing them as lifeless carcasses when they’re sick and broken and used up—and dead. It’s about this very same country forcing their poorest people out of their homes and out of their turf, paying them nothing, essentially breaking them, while billionaire oligarchs become richer, and we in America, along with the IOC, stand by as we wave our flags of superior athleticism—another vehicle to buoy our image to ourselves and the world.
It’s about Brazil, a country caught in an economic tragedy so severe that people are literally starving to death, and protesting, somehow spending billions to put on the usual pomp and pageantry and the construction of soon-to-be abandoned venues as, like Greece, get fleeced by the greed-hogs from the IOC.
It’s about NBC manipulating the emotions of every American TV viewer with its saccharine music accompanying maudlin depiction of certain athletes and their heart-breaking situations, a literal soap opera, while two-minute commercials seizing on the gullible masses stuff their corporate pockets.
Every year, since I can remember, the Olympics arrived every four years as something great, but as time passed it became this monster of flag-waving, country-chanting hypocrisy, another money grab perpetrated by a pack of rapacious scoundrels known as the IOC, a group not unlike NFL owners whose entire goal in life is to stock-pile more treasure and territory and keep their foot on the neck of their slaves.
I just want to watch the sprints. §
Dell Franklin grew up in the rough-and-tumble of sports in Compton, Calif., where his father, “Moe” Franklin, a professional baseball player, built a shoe business and supported a family. Dell writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. Visit Dell’s website at dellfranklin.com.