A little background: After spending a week in Mississippi during the winter break with my father, grandparents, cousins and uncles, it was finally time to go home.
A day before my flight back to Charlotte, my father and I stayed in a motel in Memphis right outside the airport. Being that it was only 6:00 p.m. when we checked into the place, we decided to go to the movies and see “The Hateful Eight”…which came out the next day!
So instead, we watched “Concussion” about Dr. Bennet Omalu and his discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in former NFL players.
A little more background: my father gave me a Pittsburgh Steelers winter cap for Christmas which I have worn every day since getting it.
So when I watched the film with my Steelers cap and within the first 25 minutes of the movie, I saw three different former Steelers players suffering from CTE die, two of those three players kill themselves, the level of uncomfortability had reached astronomical levels.
I grew up a football fan, both college and professional. I remember inviting my friend over to watch the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, and I remember going to my dad’s friend’s house to watch them lose to the Packers in the Super Bowl.
For years, I would get the new version of Madden football, an NFL jersey of my favorite player and cards of my favorite players. My first and most prized sports card is my Junior Seau USC football card.
However, when I look at the card today, the first thought that pops in my head is not the day I got it or my uncle comparing me to Seau when I was young because how hard I hit my older brothers in football. It is now coming home from baseball practice in 2012 and turning on ESPN to see Seau’s mother breaking down in tears to the media announcing that her son has been confirmed dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. He also had CTE.
After the movie ended and my dad and I walked out the theater, we were silent for a couple seconds.
It is not like we have not heard about CTE before or heard about NFL players killing themselves, but there was still a sense of awkwardness in the air.
Then I tried to lighten the mood by saying, “Probably a bad choice wearing this for the movie,” pointing at the Steelers cap on my head. He laughed, and we were able to start having a normal conversation.
We discussed the movie, Will Smith’s performance (that deserved an Oscar nomination!), and the multimillion-dollar lawsuit the NFL had to settle with hundreds of former players.
And during that entire conversation and ride home, I wore my Steelers cap. I did not take it off until we got into the room, where we immediately turned on the Monday Night game between the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals.
So did anything change?
I still get hyped up every time the Steelers play football. When I watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play, I twirl my terrible towel and don either my Antonio Brown or Troy Polamalu jersey. I have played fantasy football each year.
Even when a linebacker hits a running back at full speed, possibly causing a concussion, possibly inching a player closer to CTE, I still get excited.
I got pumped during the AFC Wild Card game when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier hit Bengals running back Giovani Bernard so hard that he fumbled the ball.
I did not notice until I sat down that Bernard had suffered a concussion.
I remember when baseball was going through its steroid era in the 2000s, I did not stop watching games. I remember cheering when Barry Bonds broke the home run record.
So maybe I am a dumb sports fan that just does not care as long as I can watch a game every sunday in the Fall.
Still, I find NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s “Protect the Shield” motto, as in protecting the league from embarrassment, very silly.
The shield is fine. Its job is to take damage.
The league is fine, just look at the ratings.
It is the players who need the protection of a shield. Or from the shield.