I mentioned on Friday that I would return to the Simmons suspension this week. Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky has written a pretty comprehensively reported piece on it and I don’t have any pertinent details to add. My overall reaction to the piece and what’s at stake in it is too shrug my shoulders. Simmons has had multiple run-ins with the ESPN brass before. He’s become an extremely profitable brand and has, it would appear, developed the ego to match. It seems silly that a guy would be suspended for what is, by the World Wide Leader’s standards, a quite-lengthy suspension, for having cursed on a podcast. It’s also quite obvious that Simmons was itching for a confrontation with his employer. Maybe he’s frustrated by the network’s coverage of Goodell. Maybe he wants to move on. Maybe he just felt like he needed a vacation.
Regardless, it continues to be remarkable, at least to me, that using foul language or making gestures indicative of such language, raises so many hackles in our culture, when other much more obviously grotesque behavior and depictions constitute the media air we breathe.
The misplaced alarm and sense of decorum, when it comes to sports, reaches its apotheosis in football, a brutally violent game the playing of which, the accumulating evidence suggests, is resulting in severe long term damage on massive scale to its participants. On Saturday, in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines continued what is surely the death spiral of the Brady Hoke era with a dismal 30-14 loss to Minnesota.
But as numerous commentators have pointed out, the disgrace of note wasn’t the play of the Wolverines: it was the conduct of Michigan’s medical and coaching staffs. Sophomore Shane Morris started the game at QB, replacing the struggling senior signal-caller, Devin Garder. Morris did not have a good game, and hurt his leg during the second half. A short time later, he took another shot and got up limping. At that point, as the Ann Arbor News’ Nick Baumgardner recounted, ESPN color commentator Ed Cunningham said, “At this point, just for the safety of the player, I think you have to get Devin Gardner in there…I know you want to get the guy experience … but it seems a little dangerous to me.”
Then things get worse. Minnesota’s Theiran Cockran launches himself at Morris’ head on a subsequent pass play, hitting Morris in the head with his own helmet and leveling him. You can see from the video Deadspin posted that Morris is both limping and almost certainly woozy from the shot to the head. At one point, he slumps into the arms of his teammate, tackle Ben Braden. But inexplicably, he does not come out of the game. At that point, Cunningham and play-by-play man Mike Patrick were incensed:
Ed: THEY HAVE GOT TO GET HIM OUT OF THE BALL GAME!
>> Mike: I’M TOTALLY WITH YOU. HE HAS GOT TO COME OUT.
I MEAN, HE WAS WOBBLY AFTER THAT. FORGET THE LIMPING.
>> Ed: YOU’VE GOT TO EJECT THIEREN COCKRAN. THAT IS TARGETING.
HE DROPS HIS HEAD. HE LAUNCHES. IF IT’S FORCIBLE CONTACT AND IT MOVES UP INTO THE HEAD AREA, I CANNOT BELIEVE COCKRAN WAS NOT CALLED FOR TARGETING AND NOT ONLY EJECTED FROM THIS GAME BUT THEN HE WOULD BE BE EJECTED FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE SECOND. YOU HAVE TO CALL THAT A TARGETING PENALTY.
>> Mike: THAT CERTAINLY LOOKED LIKE IT.
>> Ed: I CAN TELL YOU THAT NUMBER 7 IS STILL IN THIS GAME IS APPALLING. IT IS APPALLING THAT HE WAS LEFT IN ON THAT PLAY. TO THROW THE BALL AGAIN AND AS BADLY AS HE WAS HIT BY COCKRAN AND COCKRAN SHOULD HAVE BEEN EJECTED AND MISSED THE REST OF THIS GAME AND NEXT WEEK.
HAVING A QUARTERBACK IN THE GAME AFTER A HIT LIKE THAT, THAT IS TERRIBLE LOOKING AFTER A YOUNG PLAYER!
Michigan released a statement after the game insisting that they only follow the highest standards in caring for player safety, blah, blah, blah. That’s a joke, under the circumstances. Hoke said he didn’t see Morris limping or wobbly after the play, which strikes most people as about as truthful as Roger Goodell’s claim that he had no idea what was in the Ray Rice elevator tape until a couple of weeks ago.
But perhaps most disgraceful of all was this statement from Hoke: “Shane’s a pretty competitive, tough kid. Shane wanted to be the quarterback. Believe me, if he didn’t want to be, he would’ve come to the sideline, or stayed down.” Football coaches talk all the time about “accountability,” a generally meaningless word in sports parlance, but one that is suppose to convey the idea that people will be held responsible for their behavior. They also talk all the time about how they’re the leaders of men, the molders of character and, most fundamentally, the boss. Even if it’s true that a 20-year old kid wants to go back in the game, the coach’s responsibility is crystal clear – you don’t put players in positions in which their ability to perform is compromised. Mike Shanahan trotted out this same bullshit when he left an obviously wounded RGIII in against the Seahawks in the disgraceful 2013 playoff game that should have ended Shanahan’s career and may have ruined Griffin’s. But this conduct is that much more offensive coming from a college coach.
Brian, at Mgoblog, went off on Hoke and his staff today for their negligence and incompetence:
It does not matter whether Morris was concussed or not. What matters is that Shane Morris showed obvious signs of a concussion immediately after taking a wicked head shot and was permitted to stay in the game, then re-entered some 90 seconds after departing, well before any serious concussion check could be completed. The NFL’s process takes 8-12 minutes. The NHL requires players suspected to have sustained a concussion to be removed from the ice and taken to a quiet place for evaluation.
Michigan was flagrantly negligent about Shane Morris’s safety. Period.
And then they lied about it. To your face. Because they think you’re too fucking dumb to do anything about it.
I know the standards of conduct of a media organization do not parallel those of an athletic organization. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition suggests something fundamentally perverse. In one corner of the big-time sports eco-system, a guy paid to entertain merits a three-week suspension because he cussed on a podcast. And in another corner of that eco-system, a man paid large sums of money to be “accountable” for the college students under his charge fails one of them in the most fundamental way he can, apparently without consequence?