The Denis Crawford Column
The more I think about Chris Simms and his ruptured spleen, the angrier I get about how a vocal minority of fans is slowly eroding the NFL into nothing more than professional wrestling. Earlier this year I wrote that I believe the fans that like players such as Terrell Owens enjoy him more for his “mic skills”, to steal a phrase from wrestling, than his football skills.

A few days after Chris Simms’ surgery I perused fan forums around the country and listened to a variety of electronic media. In yet another sign of the fall of human decency, I heard that as the days passed the concern shifted from whether or not Chris Simms would have a normal life to whether or not his playing with a ruptured spleen was truly an example of being “tough.” One convoluted post I read seriously argued that if Simms did not know his spleen was ruptured, then he wasn’t really showing toughness by staying in the game.

So not only do certain football fans need to have taunting and poor sportsmanship displayed throughout the game in order to enjoy it, but they also need something more than a destroyed organ on the field to consider a man tough. I guess the next logical step for them is to enclose the playing field in a steel cage and make the players remove their helmets. How sad.

What is even sadder though is how the media is catering to these types of fans. Remember, many people including former Buc Steve Young have made journalistic hay out of debating whether or not Simms is tough enough to play.

Jacked Up
But then again, consider the network Young works for. ESPN has a segment called “Jacked-Up” where four announcers show multiple slow motion shots of a player getting nearly decapitated with almost orgasmic glee. They actually laugh over footage of prostate players that have been knocked senseless.

It makes me think of the old George Carlin line about sports announcers. “When they say the player JUST suffered a concussion,” Carlin said, “What they are really telling you is that he suffered a brain injury.” Maybe using the term brain injury would cause certain fans to realize that every single player in the NFL is tough and maybe we shouldn’t revel in injuries or judge the men who need time to recover from them.

But these men long ago determined that Chris Simms was not tough. Why? Simms had the audacity to be born Phil Simms’ son and take up the game of football, that’s why. On top of that, Simms had the unmitigated gall to play at Texas and not live up to the unrealistic expectations placed on him. He further upset people by being drafted and starting a solid if unspectacular career.

The final straw for some though was that Simms’ body would actually be injured when subjected to repeated beatings from defensive players streaming through the Bucs sieve like line. Wow. It’s a wonder Simms wasn’t sent to the electric chair. Instead some labeled him soft and the mantra was picked up week after week.

Character witness
In fact one of the “character witnesses” in this debate over Simms’ toughness was the Baltimore Ravens defense. In game one Ravens players commented that Simms “whimpered” after a particularly vicious hit. That gave all of the so-called experts further proof to label Simms soft despite the fact that Simms got back up after all of the hits and lined up to play again.

Of course the Ravens defense would be considered experts on the subject of toughness by the media. They have toughness expert Ray Lewis on the team. Ray Lewis, a man who Atlanta police considered to be a key part of a homicide. The Ray Lewis who pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in a homicide case to avoid murder charges.

The Ray Lewis, who once counseled teammate Jamal Lewis on how to balance prison and football, is considered some kind of diplomatic liaison on the NFL by the brilliant minds of the media. He is often wired for sound during games, his face graces magazine covers and he is often sought out for sound-bytes.

So this past week has taught me this calculus as employed by certain fans and announcers: If you have your spleen ruptured in a game but are a bland character from a non-controversial background you are not tough. If you are guilty of obstructing justice in a homicide trial but become a very good NFL linebacker you are tough. Am I the only one appalled by this?

I understand that the players of the NFL make money that most of us can only dream of. I can understand that this disparity would create jealousness and a jaded eye. Economics alone cannot explain it though. Maybe fantasy football, which reduces humans to numbers; Madden games which reduces humans to cartoons and ESPN which reduces humans to caricatures has done more harm to football over the past ten years than most are willing to admit. We are now at a point where a ruptured organ is still not considered serious enough to change perceptions.

But I’ll give it one last try. Consider this scenario. Simms’ so called “whimper” happened after a vicious hit against Baltimore. What if Simms spleen was injured on that hit? Would the fact that he came back to play two more games before his organ finally failed change any of the minds of those who still think he is soft? Think about it.

Denis Crawford, October 2006