N.F.L.’s Next Man Up Ethos Persists Through Injury and Pandemic

N.F.L.’s Next Man Up Ethos Persists Through Injury and Pandemic

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It’s by no means a very easy transition, the CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz stated ultimate Sunday, transferring from discussing a gruesome season-ending harm to speaking about soccer performs, however since that’s what he and analyst Tony Romo had been tasked with, that’s what they did.

It’s what hundreds of thousands of TV audience did, too, after Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott used to be yanked down through Giants defensive again Logan Ryan at such an attitude, and with such power, that his proper ankle buckled. Prescott, his eyes welling, used to be ferried off the sector at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a scientific cart.

The sport, as all the time, went on. A brand new quarterback, Andy Dalton, got here in for Dallas. The Cowboys beat the Giants. Prescott spent the night in surgical procedure.

A variation of this scene turns out to spread each and every week within the N.F.L. Heads bow, prayers are stated, avid gamers kneel round a teammate felled through a torn ligament or ruptured tendon or damaged bone. It used to be emotional looking at the aftermath of Prescott’s harm, the previous N.F.L. quarterback Brian Griese stated, when teammates and coaches surrounded him in a hushed stadium.

“They do unbelievable things — they run through a wall sometimes and get back and pop up and run back to the huddle — and it’s easy to forget that they are human beings,” stated Griese, now an analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” in a phone interview. He added, “It’s not natural or normal for somebody that we watch every week, and we root for, that in one moment they’re going to be the hero, and in the blink of an eye, their season’s over and they’re done, and there’s ramifications for their career. And we take five minutes and move on. That’s not normal. And I hope it never feels normal.”

Within the chilly calculus of the N.F.L., avid gamers are devalued and commodified, packaged for intake on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Essentially the most seductive narratives are participant comebacks, and the more severe the harm, the simpler — the extra inspiring — the go back. The relationship is inescapable: A life-altering harm is adopted through months of bodily and psychological anguish, after which, optimistically, a occupation starts anew.

That is what Prescott is dealing with after enduring the misfortune of a compound fracture and dislocation of his proper ankle.

It used to be a stroke of atrocious success for any individual who had began all 69 video games for Dallas since getting into the league in 2016; who, making a bet on himself after declining a long-term contract extension, used to be on tempo to shatter the league’s single-season passing report; and who were prepared to percentage his vulnerabilities, admitting to melancholy within the wake of his brother’s suicide in April.

It used to be a good play, a soccer play, one with out malice or intent. Different moments across the league would possibly have regarded worse in actual time — Malik Jackson’s throttling of Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow in Week 3, A.J. Johnson’s sack of Jets quarterback Sam Darnold in Week 4 — however the recipients of the ones hits in the long run returned, having escaped critical hurt.

The league’s most respected avid gamers are its quarterbacks, but the measures it has taken to protect them — enforcing helmet-to-helmet hits, calling roughing-the-passer penalties, fining defenders for how they land on quarterbacks after sacking them — are by no means infallible. Prescott’s entire life changed because of a fluke play, much as Alex Smith’s did 23 months ago.

After enduring 17 surgeries and a compound fracture to his right leg so grisly that the traumatic aftermath threatened life and limb, Smith has emerged as the N.F.L.’s avatar for perseverance, a model for Prescott as he begins his recovery. A few hours before Prescott’s ankle folded on Sunday, Smith ran onto the grass at FedEx Field to quarterback the Washington Football Team, his first game action in 693 days.

Replacing the injured Kyle Allen — sidelined by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey — Smith told reporters after the game that it was “almost a blessing” that he entered with little notice. He didn’t have much time to think, for instance, when All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald clung to Smith like a backpack while sacking him. Watching, you might have gasped. Was his leg going to collapse again? No? OK, good. Fourth down.

“As fans, we’re able to push these things aside to move on in order for the larger goal, which again mirrors an American value: We want to win,” said Dr. Eric M. Carter, an associate professor of sociology and justice studies at Campbellsville University in Kentucky and the author of “Boys Gone Wild: Fame, Fortune and Deviance Among Professional Football Players.”

“And I think the violence of the N.F.L. has just become so embedded that we don’t think about it anymore. As bad as the whole C.T.E. issue is, how often do most fans think about that on a Sunday? We don’t. That level of violence and hypocrisy of the N.F.L. has just become so normative that I don’t think we pay any attention to it.”

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