We keep thinking that someone’s damaged future from playing football in the past will finally resonate in the “they knew the job was dangerous when they took it even if they didn’t” crowd, but sadly, Jim Plunkett’s story of constant pain will not do the job any more than anyone else’s.
Plunkett, the former Heisman trophy winner, Stanford and Oakland Raiders star and San Francisco 49er fly-by quarterback, told the San Jose Mercury News’ Elliott Almond all the things – Bell’s palsy, constant paralyzing headaches, an uncertain neurological future – that make his life, in his description, “suck.”
His daily agony is the price of being a football “tough guy,” a quarterback who took frightful beatings and kept coming back for more, and eventually won two Super Bowls with the Raiders.
Was it worth it? That is an individual choice, but we live in a world where no stories get untold and where the acronym “CTE” is as important to the sport as “TD” and “W-L.”
Plunkett is one more story on the pile that almost certainly won’t move anyone too committed to the entertainment value of the sport to rethink it. Even the casual fallback argument, “Well, it’s a violent game played by violent men,” speaks to a willingness to dismiss the inherent cruelties of the game as the price someone else must pay for your enjoyment.
Does Plunkett’s story deserve greater impact? Junior Seau killed himself and it didn’t matter. People have done what they do in all other societal segments – they pick their position and do not move from it.
But it does speak more to us and our tolerance for our own fun that we are so quickly able to process other people’s sufferings for that fun. And so it continues to go – entertainment beats education every time.