Vince Shuta: Engineer, Writer and Raconteur
Football or Rollerball
I got an interesting glimpse this week into the mind of the professional athlete. It’s nothing new really. It’s the same glimpse that we get whenever we see one of these people do something that seems patently self destructive in order to win a game.
It happens all the time really. So many people have been caught taking steroids and other chemical enhancements that we don’t even get shocked anymore. “Oh, another one cheating to get ahead.” It doesn’t really hit us anymore. And we don’t really feel any empathy because they’re cheaters who got caught. Everyone loves the stories from yesteryear about NASCAR racers trying to find “an edge” with illegal modifications to their cars. But let a modern day guy get caught a quarter of an inch too low after the race, there’s an uproar.
No I don’t entirely understand the psychology of it, but that’s a blog entry for another time.
What I saw this week did not involve cheating. Instead, it allows us to see something of the culture of professional athletes, which I think we will find is a far more intense place than any fan realizes.
I’m a huge Pittsburg Steelers fan, and one of my favorite players is Hines Ward. He’s inspirational. He goes out, does his job, gets hit really hard, and comes up smiling—consistently. He gives it as good as he gets it, and blocks for his teammates as hard as anyone in the game. He’ll do anything for the team. Corporate managers should have posters of him in the hallways, getting up from a brutal hit smiling, or helping one his teammates with a maximum effort block.
We’ve all been “blindsided” by one situation or another. How important is it to get up smiling?
And again, what manager doesn’t want his employees giving their all, even when another team member will get the glory?
We, the fans, never really give a thought to what’s driving Hines to be such a good football player. We just accept that he is just that, and enjoy the game. Well, we got a little glimpse of that this week, and it was a bit startling to the uninitiated.
In the last game, Ben Roethlisberger took a knee to the head. He was tackled, and one of the defensive backs accidentally bumped him in the head with his knee. I’m not sure what it’s like having a couple hundred plus pounds of muscle run at you as fast as he can and smack you in the side of the head with his knee unintentionally. I’m not guessing it’s any kind of fun.
At any rate, Ben got a concussion. It wasn’t an obviously bad concussion, and the next day he felt fine. He was asymptomatic. He planed to play against the Baltimore Ravens. Later in the week, he started getting headaches after practice, and the doctors decided that the concussion wasn’t healed yet—hence, no football for young Ben.
This wasn’t decided until the day before the game, which seemed to annoy a certain percentage of the Pittsburgh players. In a way I can understand that. My initial reaction when Ben got hurt was that no matter how he felt, he shouldn’t play against the Ravens. The odds of getting another concussion when playing the Ravens are always good, and getting a concussion on top of a concussion is not conducive to a long, happy and productive life. Even from a football perspective it’s a bad idea, because Ben could be lost for the season—or forever if the hit is career ending.
What was somewhat surprising to me is that Hines seemed to say that Ben should have lied to the doctors about how he felt so that they would let him play. Hines says he’s done it, and other players do this all the time. For all we know, Hines had a concussion in the game as well.
Consider that we’re learning more and more about concussions, largely as a result of the increasing number of retired NFL players developing serious brain maladies. I’m sure Hines does. He’s not unintelligent or unaware I’m sure. He’s just operating at a level of competitiveness that goes well beyond the comprehension of the average fan (like me.)
You see, I love to see the Steelers win, but I’m still a fan if they lose. I’m a fan of the players, the coaches, the history, the work ethic. I’m not just a fan of the wins. I don’t want to see the players hurt, because I’m a fan of them. I don’t want to see the future of the current team mirror the fate of the Steelers from the 1970’s. A lot of those guys ended up dying young or with permanent physical or mental problems because we didn’t understand certain dangers in the game. Back then we didn’t know better. Now we’ve got no excuse.
I know players like Hines want to win. They’ve got an incredible drive, or they wouldn’t be competing at that level. It’s just that simple. However, someone has to start reinforcing the fact that if they damage themselves it’s bad for them, their team, and the sport. If you’re hurt, be honest and sit out. If you don’t care about your own health, then consider this: at some point there is going to be a body of data that the NFL is destroying all the players that fans like me care about, and then you’ll hear calls to Congress for regulations. From there, it becomes “If we can’t make it safe we should do without it.” Eventually, stories of our favorite players—like Mike Webster dying at 50 (http://espn.go.com/classic/obit/s/2002/0924/1435977.html)—will sour the game for people, and it will lose popularity. I grew up watching Mike Webster—those teams helped forge me into a Steelers fan. I can’t help but feel bad and almost guilty. I cheered him on while he was used up like a commodity.
By saving yourself, Hines, you’ll be saving your sport in the long term. If I start reading obits of current Steelers within the next couple of decades, that’s really going to turn me against a game I love to watch..
If the nature of the games is going to destroy people, and there’s nothing we can do about it, then perhaps it’s time for a new game. If we’re going to keep playing the game, it’s going to require participation from the players to make the game safe enough to play.
You know, being pro-life is less avant-garde nowadays. Current polling (as of the time of this writing) indicates that the majority of people call themselves pro life. For reference, here’s a link to the Gallup poll results:
So I know that 51% of you agree with me. That’s pretty good backing. To the other 49%, I thought I would make an appeal. I don’t expect to convince too many people to change their views on such a hot topic, but I would like you to understand how I’ve come to my conclusions. (If you haven’t written my off as a radical religious conservative wacko, then I have a shot at this. If you have, well, I can live with that too, but I’ll still give it a shot.)
Don’t worry; I’m not going to take a religious approach with this. Yes, I am a Christian, but if I have to convert you to a religion to convince you of a policy, then I’m probably not going to get very far.
Instead of approaching this from the vantage point of a Christian, I’m going to approach it from the vantage point of an engineer. Enough people group us in with the scientists that we can go to most of the same parties. Thus I claim the right to discuss things from a scientific perspective.
It’s well documented that the genetic structure is defined at the moment of conception, and this is not a new concept. What has developed is our understanding of how much that means. People used to think of this in terms of eye color, hair color and height, and that’s about it. Now we’ve learned that the genetic structure influences almost every aspect of a person. When people say “he got that from his grandfather,” it has a real scientific meaning now.
So when we are dealing with a fetus, we are dealing with a person. That much people understand. The fact that we can use ultrasound to watch this person grow inside the mother aids in this understanding. Everyone has seen these pictures. Yeah, it’s a tiny baby, but it’s a baby none the less.
One of the oldest arguments for right to choose, is that if the fetus cannot survive outside the womb, then it cannot be considered a person. This always confused me, because a newborn baby can’t survive all that long outside the womb on its own. Heck, let’s go further. How many parents would feel comfortable leaving your kid home alone for a week? True Macaulay Culkin did fine, but it was obviously a questionable thing. If self sufficiency is our measure of whether a person is a person or not, then a parent can kill their child as long as they’re living under the parents’ roof.
If that seems like a silly line of argument, then let us look for the line of demarcation. Obviously a one celled child can’t make it on his or her own. However, babies are born radically premature almost every day, with a fantastic survival rate. So somewhere between point A and point B, we have a survivable human being. Where is that point? When does a child really become a human being? Is it determined by the ability of our doctors to keep the kid going? Is our definition actually based on our level of science?
No, when you come down to it, the growth of the fetus is such a progressive and variable thing, that it is totally unpractical to say “at two months, thirteen days, and seven minutes, this is a person.” At best with this method, you would need to have a medical panel approve each abortion, after evaluating the child’s development.
So we’re back to conception or delivery, as the line of demarcation. Using the moment of delivery as the line has produced such horrors as partial birth abortion, where you have a baby that could be delivered any day stabbed in the head with a sharp instrument. As a line of demarcation, it works from a point of setting up paperwork, but fails rather miserably in dealing with reality.
The truth of the matter is, everyone inherently knows that the moment of conception is a big deal. Pregnancy is a big deal. Ask any mother if they didn’t start learning about their child’s personality from the moment they were pregnant. Ask my wife about what foods she craved that are now my son’s favorites, or about the time we got caught in traffic and he started punching her in the bladder. As a father, I got a deep sense during my wife’s pregnancy that this was a person we were dealing with here. It truly struck me.
“What about women’s rights,” you ask. I am totally for women’s rights. I think they have the right not to be subjected to the devastating trauma of abortion. I feel very strongly that every woman who has had an abortion has been in some sense tricked to hurting themselves very deeply. Society has told them that this is ok, but internally they know that it is not. Studies have shown on numerous occasions that women who have abortions suffer increased rates of mental illness afterwards. http://www.drwalt.com/blog/?p=1003. Once you accept the definition of a person as coming at conception—which I would argue is the only logical place to call it—this becomes an argument about one person having rights over another. Once you allow that, you open up a huge Pandora’s box.
Actually, if you look at the science of things, abortion amounts to granting one person the right to kill another outside the context of war or self defense—and by self defense I mean that the preservation of life is at stake, as most abortions are not performed in his circumstance. Again, science and medicine have developed to the point where a necessary abortion is an extreme rarity.
I do not with to minimize the hardship of an unwanted pregnancy. I do believe that a mother who endures the pregnancy, even if it results in a child being given up for adoption, will endure less suffering than a mother who aborts her child. Every person hold vast potential. And now matter how many logical structures we build up, Reality beats them down and presents itself—the result is an enduring pain.
To be pro-choice, you’ve got to be willing to say, “The child’s entire life is not more important than the mother’s wishes.” The mother has to truly believe this in her heart to survive the abortion unscathed. Even if you believe the first statement, statistics have shown the latter doesn’t happen frequently enough to allow the process to continue.
2012 or Bust
I was sitting on a park bench reading a book the other day, when my state representative happened by. He took a seat next to me, and started to eat an apple. I tried to appear as engrossed in my book as possible, as I was desperately afraid of what conversation might come about.
“So!” he asked brightly. “What do you think of the health care legislation?”
I sighed and closed my book, and gathered my thoughts in the same way that a person might carry an armload of M and M’s.
“I’ve got to say, it has me a bit confused.”
“I’m glad I happened by then! Let’s talk.”
“Well, what are the goals of the legislation? Let’s start there.”
My representative beamed with pride. “Our goal is to make sure everyone has healthcare, to lower costs, and to make sure everything is fair!”
“Worthy goals indeed; how are you going to make it happen?”
“Well, first off, we’re going to punish anyone who doesn’t have health care! To be honest, I’m not sure why this hasn’t been tried before. It’s worked very well with car insurance. I mean yes technically you don’t have to have car insurance if you don’t have a car, but since most people do it’s practically the same thing.”
“So, what about the people who can’t afford health insurance—in the same way they can’t afford a car?”
“Oh that’s easy! We’ll have a public option so that everyone can afford health insurance. The government will pay for it.”
“And this insurance will cover less than normal insurance?”
The rep looked shocked. “That would be cruel! Do you think our poorest members of society deserve less than the wealthy?”
“Oh not at all! I merely was wondering why anyone would pay more for the same insurance coverage.”
“Oh people do it all the time! That’s like asking why anyone would shop anywhere else but Wal-Mart.”
This point I had to concede, but still I pressed on. “Even so, you have to be prepared for the possibility that everyone will want the public option. What then?”
The representative beamed. “Well then! The government could hire all the people that used to work at the HMOs and such, and manage the entire healthcare system! It would be fantastic, because then we could really control costs!”
“Really? I would think trying to manage healthcare for nearly three hundred million people would get a bit unwieldy.”
“On the front end, sure there will be some increased costs, but we can more than make up for it on the back end.”
“The back end?”
”Yes! Doctors and hospitals, and especially pharmaceutical companies! Have you seen the cars those people drive? Can’t they buy something that isn’t made in Germany for once?”
“I don’t know too many nurses who drive Porches.”
“Never mind the nurses. We’ll try to cut them some slack I guess. But there is a lot of money being made in healthcare! Why should people try to profit off of other people suffering?”
“Well, there is a lot of school involved here. It takes a tremendous amount of work to become a doctor or a biochemist or anything like that. And it’s not like the jobs are easy once you get there. We’re talking long days and life and death decisions! Even the managers have to manage properly or people will die. If they all can make the same or more money doing something easier, with less pressure, why wouldn’t they?”
I stared blankly at him for several seconds. When I realized he had nothing to add, I continued. “Aren’t you claiming that the whole problem is that all these people are greedy?”
“Well, these people are obviously! But given the right people we can have them working for a song!”
“Where are you going to find these people? The next generation will have been brought up thinking medical people are all money grubbing evildoers, out to scam the sick. Why would they even consider entering the field?”
“My dear man,” he replied. “We don’t need to worry about the next generation.”
“We don’t?” I said, incredulously.
“Not at all—we only have to make it to 2012.”
”What, are you talking about the Mayan prediction about the end of the world?”
“What? No not at all. I’m talking about the next election. Anyway, what’s that you’ve been reading?”
“A book on homeopathic cures for common ailments—it looks like it might come in handy.”
All characters in this story are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental…and disturbing.
Incidently, I submitted the above story to the Scranton Times/Tribuine, and got the following response: ”
Thanks for your submission but it’s just way too long for us to accomodate. It’s more than 800 words.
The maximum length for a letters to the editor entry is 400 words. ” And here I thought I was being pithy.