Cincinatti's Jeff Burris was down on the field for over 12 minutes during the Bengals-Bills game, after obviously(?) knocking himself out trying to tackle Buffalo fullback Sam Gash headfirst. CBS reported later that Burris' X-rays were negative, that he wouldn't be back in today's game, but would probably be playing next week. Fortunately, it appears that Burris is OK, although I have yet to see any footage that confirms that is true (beyond the flashed thumbs-up sign, made fashionable/mandatory by Jerry Maguire).

This is an excellent example of the Iron Curtain of Hyperreality at work.

First of all, the injury stoppage of play: it seemed to me that CBS gave this one a different treatment than they normally do with other injuries. If it was an ankle, knee or shoulder, we would see the injury recreated by instant replay from every angle imaginable and in excruciatingly detailed slow motion — they want us to feel the pain the player feels, we are supposed to sympathetically recoil as if we were the ones hurt on the play.

Not with neurological injuries though. My count (albeit from memory) was four replays, far below the number for a "normal" injury.

It was also noted during the stoppage that both Bengals and Bills medical personnel were working on Burris. While I am certain that these individuals are deeply concerned for the welfare of any injured player, I am not certain what all of these individuals were actually doing all at the same time, except perhaps providing the appropriate balance of force for a spinal board procedure.

Unless, and more importantly, this same bevy of doctors was there to provide the perfect wall to hide the procedure from the panoptic gaze of the television cameras. Neurological injuries do not make for good hero copy.

Later, the disinformation: CBS' Don Criqui (who ironically has supported spinal cord research in the past) noted that "X-rays were negative." Well of course they were negative — with a neurological injury there are no bones to break.

He then said that Burris wouldn't be back for the rest of this game, as if anyone returns for the 4th quarter of a game after being placed on a stretcher and carted off by ambulance. Not even Willis Reed was that much of a sportocratic hero of pain.

Finally a remark to the effect that Burris might be back next week: non-committal, yet positive-sounding.

The point of all this? So long as injuries are biomechanical — with an emphasis on the "-mechanical" — then we can still conceive of these (cyborg) athletes as machines, churning out plays, points, statistics and wins; they are assets belonging to the team that may be replaced at any sign of deficiency. If we are forced to confront the humanity of a serious neurological injury on the other hand, we must shake ourselves out of our narcotic slumber — if only for minute — and realize that these are flesh-and-blood human beings playing an extremely violent game to quench our collective bloodthirst on Sunday afternoons, and that at any moment they are only a play away from being paralyzed, brain-damaged, or killed. It is very difficult to consume product with that kind of guilt hanging over your head.


One response to Nervous

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  1. Rodster says:

    um, Oct. 2003? Exactly how, in your elaborate way of explaining time, has it taken me so damn long to read this particular post? Smithers, if only I wasn't so brain damaged I'd remember to give you shit for not making me read more of your stuff more often.

    And whatever happened to that planned voice-to-voice update we were gonna have?