The Middle Seat, Between Two Pro Football Players — That's My Kind Of Air Travel!

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Kerry Joseph pre...
The Argos in action...Image via Wikipedia

So I’m sitting in the departure lounge for an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Winnipeg. I notice a lot of very good-looking men in the room.

Very large good-looking men, several who walk with that distinctive sort of stroll that marks a very skilled, very confident athlete.

Turns out I was sharing the Airbus 320 with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, off to play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their second game of the season.

Not flying business class, not flying charter. In with us civilians!

I sat beside one of the coaches, a former player, who at 37 is considered old. (!) On the other side was a player whose thighs were the size and consistency of tree trunks. As I can be a nervous flyer, this was a lovely surprise.

How could I be nervous when surrounded by row upon row of testosterone and muscle?

I did wonder briefly, if the plane crashed and we all perished, if I might make it into a footnote of history — “Football Team Lost….and Writer.”

The coach was intensely curious about the life of a writer and I was intensely curious about the life of a pro athlete. And what did we have in common? What else?

Orthopedic surgeries! Another person to whom the phrase “bone on bone” means something. We traded notes on our meniscus repairs. Fun!

Two of my favorite movies, ever, are football movies: Any Given Sunday and North Dallas Forty. Which, for a woman who has yet to even see a live football game, is a little odd.

400,000 High School Football Players Got Concussions This Year: What Exactly Is The Point?

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25:  NFL Commissione...
NFL Commissiomer Roger Goodell;Image by Getty Images via Daylife

There is a photo in today’s New York Times sports section that breaks my heart — former player Brent Boyd, who suffers headaches, squeezing his face between his huge palms. (The photo on the Times’ website is so tightly cropped it only shows an impassive Goodell. Boyd’s huge shoulders don’t make it into the frame.)

The story details why it matters so much that the N.F.L. reconsider how badly it’s willing to injure its players – because a whole new generation of younger athletes, and their coaches, are modeling their behavior accordingly. Coaches routinely tell an injured athlete to “walk it off” and most teams have no ready access to a physician to know when a player needs to get off the field now.

“More than 1.2 million teenagers play high school football every fall, and hundreds are seriously injured by concussions and other brain trauma…About 400,000 concussions occurred in high school athletics during the 2008-9 school year — more in football than in any other sport” says the Times.

Have you or someone you know or love ever suffered a concussion? It’s scary shit. Two summers ago, my sweetie took a fall while riding his bike, falling hard — even wearing a bike helmet and not going that fast — onto the sidewalk. He was able to ride up to meet me, his shorts torn and a weird look on his face. “What day is it?” I asked him.  Right answer, immediately. “What’s your name?” Ditto. Count my fingers. Right.

“What did you make for breakfast an hour ago?” He shook his head. Off we raced to the local hospital. I sat up with him most of that night, as doctors told us to make sure there were no side effects or changes in his behavior or physical condition. It was terrifying and he has not ridden a bike since. I know he will, at some point. But he’s an adult, under no social or financial pressure to throw his body into situations that can, and likely will, hurt him physically, both now and decades from now.

Surely no sport — no ghetto-fleeing, life-changing college scholarship — is worth this cost. Is it?