I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it must be like for NFL players during the dog days of summer to have to give up their lives of luxury when they arrive at training camp.
In some ways, all of us can relate to such a drastic change in schedule, because when we were kids, come the first week of September we had to trade in the halcyon days of summer in favor of returning to the highly regimented daily grind of the school year.
For many of us —- summer brought such freedom and joy —- while September brought such entrapment and, at times, the burden of inescapable pain.
Imagine then what it must be like for an NFL player during the off-season who can immerse himself in the luxuries of his own freedom and the privilege of residing in sheer opulence and driving the back roads and highways in utter surround-sounding splendor —— knowing that in matter of days, he will be awaking to hotel alarm clocks and reporting “as punctual as a Star” (Emily Dickinson) to the daily array of meetings, workouts, physical therapy sessions and on-the-field practices, sometimes in the throes of oppressive heat.
I have often wondered whether professional football, from a player’s standpoint, is a form of prostitution. After all, if it weren’t for the opportunity to earn piles of cash, who would sign up to have their bodies (let alone their minds) subjected to such physical trauma and abuse?
Over the past few days, I have been binging episodes of “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+.
The gist of the series is that Alex Levy’s (Jennifer Aniston) iconic co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) has been fired by the executives of the show because he has been accused by multiple present and former co-workers of sexual misconduct and abuse.
In some ways, the show attempts to make some parallels of Mitch Kessler’s power plays on women to those of Harvey Weinstein’s. Yet, as the series plays out, Mitch Kessler’s character becomes keenly nuanced. You see —- unlike the numerous times where women adamantly said no to Harvey Weinstein’s inappropriate sexual advances, Mitch Kessler contends that all of his affairs were consensual and were for a time, yearned for.
Now —- don’t get me wrong. There is no question that Mitch Kessler is a sexual predator who uses his fame and power to manipulate vulnerable women into providing him with sexual favors often as a quid pro quo, which, because of his larger-than-life ego, he believes were eagerly welcomed.
However —- on a night where Alex Levy leaves her husband to host a charity function at their ritzy Manhattan penthouse so that she can go for a good long car ride through the streets of New York with her former co-host and confidante of over 15 years —- Mitch Kessler pulls his Mercedes to the side of a lonely avenue, and after hugging and kissing Alex, he has some very profound things to say:
“Pain is the most innate part of the human experience I can think of.”
“The world is unfair and sad. It’s ugly. And we hide from it in our wealth.”
These statements ring poignantly when we see Alex and Mitch being flown off in the middle of the night to cover the mass shooting at the concert in Las Vegas —- where they both question how much pain and human suffering they, as reporters of the news, can possibly continue to endure.
Hours later we see how Mitch copes with the pain. He had just been given an all-night 50th birthday party at the studio where he was doted on for hours on end by his co-workers and an ensemble of scantily clad Rockettes. At his party he praises one of the pretty, young staffers and then requests that she be one of his assistants to come with him to Vegas instead of his lead assistant whom he has fallen out of favor with —- thus, after all of the horrifying coverage that he and Alex provided, Mitch lures the young assistant up to his swanky Vegas suite and imposes his will on her.
The stunning paradox of human pain is so often manifested in the dubious and regretful ways in which individuals compound it and perpetuate it, all for a moment’s attempt to escape from it.
Alex utters her own significant statement when he says, “All jobs are f***ed up. You do things you don’t necessarily choose to do in exchange for RELEVANCE and MONEY and you cannot let it kill you.”
Anyone who is a subordinate in the work place can relate to Alex’s profundity here. If you are not the one calling the shots, typically you are often being forced to work some else’s agendas. Yikes.
For example, as a varsity basketball coach in the midst of a 22 win, league championship season, I was commanded by the headmaster of the school not to play all five of the black students on the team at the same time, because, he said it was “bad PR for the school.”
Each of us likely has a litany of examples of how we were asked to do things at the work place that we didn’t agree with. (Please feel free to share your own example or two)
When one applies the notion of pain to football players —- it’s not just the inevitable physical pains that every player must try to cope with and endure on a daily and weekly basis, it just as much applies to the pain of losing, the pain of self-doubt, the constant fear of failure, the fear of serious injury, the PTS that comes with incurring a serious injury that requires months of often excruciating rehab and —- quintessentially —- the constant pressure on all players to succeed, persevere and conquer.
Football players are like boxers —- the pain is only satisfying when he wins —- but is doubly devastating when he loses. Per Simon and Garfunkel:
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
”I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains, he’s still remains
No one seems to know exactly what Malcolm Butler is going through right now that caused him to mull retirement and relinquish his $6M contract for this season —- yet maybe the pain of the game has caught up with him.
While no one seems totally convinced that Larry Fitzgerald has hung up his cleats for good —- maybe the pain of the game has caught up with him. Maybe Larry feels a while lot happier knowing he’s now his own boss.
DeAndre Hopkins tries to cope with the pain by taking Wednesday practices off. He had surgery a few years back to put a ‘tightrope” in his oft-injured ankle, so that he can mobilize it from week to week. Wednesdays off seem to give DeAndre Hopkins an added edge on a physical and psychological level.
While it’s tough on any team when players miss practices, I have started to wonder whether it would be wise for the Cardinals to make Wednesdays “Hop Day” so that he can help the entire team do what he does to get his mind and body ready to attack the rest of the week with great gusto.
On “Hop Day” the team could have position group meetings to go over the week’s game plan —- and then the players could follow DeAndre’s’ lead by doing whatever it takes to get, as they say, “their minds and bodies right.” Perhaps this could be a huge morale booster for the entire team —- one that could eliminate the backlash that often comes with giving some players preferential treatment.
Pain management is the most crucial aspect of anyone’s job and, for that matter, anyone’s life. There are healthy ways for individuals and groups to combat pain. Sure, it is sweet for those with money to be able to turn their homes into a sanctuary or haven of sorts. But, material comforts are not a panacea. Nor, obviously, is drug, alcohol and substance abuse. Nor, obviously, is manipulating masseuses or mistresses into performing salacious sex acts.
For NFL players the RELEVANCE (FAME) and MONEY (LIFESTYLE) are the great allurements.
But, as we all know, for NFL players —- those allurements often come at a tremendous physical and mental cost.
Therefore, I hope the Cardinals’ organization is providing all of the leadership and support it can to assist the players in finding healthy, cooperative and collaborative ways to cope with pain so that they can keep finding inspiration in the joy of teamwork and consummate pride in playing the game they love.
The comfort of teamwork is often what gets so many of us through the pain. As poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.”
“True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain —- but also being moved to help relieve it.”