I’d like to get this out of the way early; I have no new news on Luke Kuechly. We know that he is in the concussion protocol after being carted off the field last night, and that is ALL we know. I am not a doctor, I don’t even play one on TV. The only people who would know anything about this situation are currently sitting in their offices on Mint street, and I think it would be best if the frenzy over the “what if” scenarios revolving around a couple minutes of television would stop.
Now, with that out of the way, there is a reason that people can’t help themselves but to speculate and worry about Luke. Luke Kuechly is more than just a superstar player, he represents everything right and good about the game of football in general. He is nearly universally liked, even loved, and I think that seeing him reduced to tears whether due to pain, circumstance, or emotion is one of the hardest things I’ve seen on a football field.
I believe that many sports fans in general have a romanticized idea of what really makes a game intrinsically good. There are traits that we can tie to specific moments, places, or people that in ways are similar to a religious epiphany when you are around them. There is an idea that the “spirit of the game” inhabits certain people, places, and things more than others. It explains why that, for example, the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series can result in one of the largest gatherings in human history during their victory parade... or why people who otherwise don’t care at all about baseball stayed up all night to watch it happen. Present company included.
On the personal side, there are players who can be considered “Pillars of the Game” or rather, people who seem to be carrying this spirit with them. I fully believe Luke Kuechly is one of those people. He is adored by many, respected by his peers, let’s his play do the talking, and doesn’t get caught up in the riff raff outside of the game. There is this perception that he’s a lunch-pale warrior, despite his generous contract, and that he is a living, breathing, superhero because he does things on the field that no one else can replicate. I could literally fill this entire article with gifs of Luke Kuechly doing extraordinary things, and no one would think it to be “a little much.”
That’s why watching him sit on that cart with starry blank eyes, sweat and tears running down his face hurts so badly. It only becomes worse when the initial word from the team is that he is in the concussion protocol for the second time in his career. It brings to light that not even the best of the best are immune from the foulness of head injury. That the best of us, literally the best of us, can be brought down by something that is a known and unfortunately normal part of the game.
It doesn’t just make us hurt for Luke Kuechly though. It brings to light some sad realities about football and the NFL. We are seeing this (concussions) more often. We know the long lasting effects (CTE) are terrible. Players in general are retiring earlier, good players, and the quality of play league-wide is decreasing. We are seeing all this, and the worst part of all of it, is that the league is still willing to gamble player health in exchange for money.
Thursday Night Football is a joke, a bad joke that some of us are compelled to watch once a season because our team is playing, but overall just a giant money-grabbing joke. I know it, the league knows it, the players know it. It isn’t fair to ask these players to play football again a mere 4 days after they played their last game. That isn’t enough time to recover, it isn’t enough time to gameplan and practice, and it leads to injury and sloppy play.
VIDEO:— Black & Blue Review (@BlackBlueReview) November 18, 2016
"The league preaches player safety, but then you make us play a game three days after playing another game." https://t.co/wS2uxXAzYs
Tolbert and Coleman were willing to say it, but it would be safe to assume that many are thinking it. The NFL’s ratings are down, and I would challenge that a lot of this has to do with the feigned care for player safety that the league claims to possess, but yet is willing to forsake for another pile of money to add to their gigantic vault of it.
Are we ever going to see it stop? I’m not really sure. My grim outlook for the NFL is that eventually it will no longer be worth it for the best of the best to come and play anymore. You’ll see the promising young athletes pursue safer sports, or just use football for the free academic ride to pursue a more conventional career path. The league will still exist, but the quality of play will continue to decline and the viewership will continue to decline along with it... because the “Pillars of the Game” simply won’t come knocking anymore.
My dystopian view of the NFL’s future shouldn’t shift the focus away from what is important right now, however, and that is the health of our favorite Pillar of the Game. Number 59 in your programs, but number (the other) number 1 in your hearts... I join the legion of athletes wishing Luke Kuechly the best in his recovery from whatever ails him (this is just a small sample)...
Keep your head up #59! Nobody plays the game harder than you my man. Heal up Quick! #KeepPounding— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) November 18, 2016
Hate to see my guy @LukeKuechly go down, get well soon my man sending prayers your way!— Kenjon Barner (@KBDeuce4) November 18, 2016