April 21, 2014

Bo Knows

January 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Football lost its luster for me long ago, but on Sunday I tuned in to watch the Redskins because frankly, Robert Griffin, III is just that special. Fast on his feet, and just as quick-wited, RG III has it all and he had Washington buzzing about a rebirth not just of football in this town, but of sports dynasties that might stretch from Nationals Park to Fedex Field.

And that of course brings us back to all the tsuris that was in the air about Stephen Strasburg last September. After listening to the idiotic rants of John Feinstein and Dave Zirin, I remember drawing a comparison between Strasbug, who had just been shut down, and RG III, who had just suffered a concussion. Sitting Strasburg was a wise move and looks wiser still given the events on Sunday. I was not surprised that the Redskins rushed their young star quarterback out onto the field two weeks after his brain injury. We think we love football as a blood sport, for the very basic head-to-head banging it glorifies. But as it is played now, there are just too many serious and career-ending injuries. The game as it has come to be played really should end.

It claimed one of my favorite baseball players of all time, a remarkably talented young man who played both sports. I never saw Bo Jackson play football after he left Auburn, but watching a baseball game with Bo in left field, or even better, in center, was just waiting for a highlight reel to happen. Willie Wilson and Danny Tartabull were very fine defensive outfielders, but Bo Jackson was something very special.

I remember watching a game in 1990 with Bo in center at Kaufman Stadium. A ball was hit toward the wall and Bo’s two pistons were pumping hard from the start. He was running to his right paralleling the wall as the ball came down. At full speed, he did not so much as jump, as just run up the wall. He planted one stride in the wall fabric and then another as he climbed to grab the ball. Did he take two steps on the wall, three, or maybe even four? I forget. But he never lost his stride and came off the wall with the ball nestled in his glove like it was a hot dog a vendor just handed him. Then he threw back into the infield where George Brett or some one else from that great Royals team was there to receive it.

it was an amazing feat and I will leave the quibblers to rate the best catches of all time, but for my money that was it.

Bo Jackson was lost to a football injury. What a surprise. He tore up his knee like RG III did on Sunday. Both events are tragedies for sports in general because the two men are such unique talents. I hope RG III does not go the way of Bo Jackson.

They are very similar, though. Both Bo Jackson and Robert Griffin are such bright men generally that you know they will prosper regardless where life takes them. Bo Jackson has found plenty to do with his life since injuring his knee and was totally engaging on a recent ESPN special on his career. He was making his own arrows for his bow hunting and as he talked you could see the same passion and intelligence burning through every word. Guys like RG III and Bo Jackson will excel regardless on what stage life ultimately places them.

I take no satisfaction from RG III’s injury and wish him only a fast recovery and a long career leading the Redskins to many championships. But I will second guess the game of football generally. It uses people. It uses them right up. I am not going to quote statistics about the average career expectations of football players, how many of them end up maimed for life by injuries. Others with a better handle on such facts have already said it. No one much was listening then and too many will fail to draw the proper lessons from Mike Shanahan’s tragic over reach with RG III yesterday.

Mike Shanahan did not have to value RG III like Mike Rizzo did Stephen Strasburg. Football doesn’t really work that way. He would have been laughed off the field had he benched Griffin and shelved the team’s chances for a playoff win. What was he going to say? That he cared about the longer term value of his player? Rizzo had a bad enough time of it. Shanahan might well have been fired.

And that is the real shame of it. There are too many very talented guys like Robert Griffin and Bo Jackson who will play only a few short years before leaving. Too many “leatherheads” end up with a constant ringing in their ears that will become early Parkinsons Disease. Or they will just never walk without pain because Football maims too many for life.

It would do the sports world well if more people would compare the decisions made by the Washington Nationals with Stephen Strasburg and those made by the Redskins with RG III. Football needs to be less a blood sport, less a sociopath’s paradise where head-hunters are paid to hurt others. There is enough competitive fire in the game that I loved as a kid to draw fans even after they are weaned from their lust for blood. We should be about reclaiming all of our sports for a sane level of competition.

It would allow us to treasure extraordinary talents like RG III, Bo Jackson and Stephen Strasburg not just as shooting stars, but as long term sources of entertainment and satisfaction. What happened to watching quarterbacks like Bart Starr, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas, and yes, Fran Tarkington, whose careers lasted decades, not just a few years even when they ran all over the field.  We need to give them the best possible chance to have long and successful careers. And to do that it might help if we muzzle those who want to throw them away for the glamour of the moment.

There were so many who wanted Strasburg pitching in the playoffs last October. But “Bo knows” that a long life and a long career provide many opportunities, many competitions to come. It would be better if some of the rest of us could “know” that as well.

 

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