NFL 2011

Michael Vick's Head Injury is the NFL's Worst Nightmare
The stadium scene.
Sept. 19 2011 2:46 PM

NFL 2011


Michael Vick. Click image to expand.
Michael Vick is helped off the field during Sunday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons

As Michael Vick spat blood onto the Georgia Dome turf on Sunday night, millions of Americans winced. What a waste, to lose all of those fantasy points on a fluke collision.

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

Vick's concussed brain, Peyton Manning's neck, Jamaal Charles' torn ACL, Arian Foster's balky hamstring—thanks to fantasy football, NFL fans feel more emotionally invested in body parts than in the human beings who possess them. Foster, the Texans running back, said recently that fantasy players' lack of humanity sickens him. That's all well and good, Arian, but let's ponder the alternative: In a world without fantasy, nobody outside of Houston would know who you are.


Fantasy football is just the newest way for sports fans to objectify athletes. Grantland Rice "godded up" the ballplayers, treating them as flawless, mythic superstars. Today's football and basketball stars are most often depicted as either money-grubbing louts or agglomerations of tweaked, sprained, and lacerated ligaments and organs. I prefer the biological approach. It's at least more honest—as the annual scouting combine shows, NFL players really are treated as cuts of meat who can run around cones. If anything, the fantasy-driven injury-report obsession makes us more protective of guys like Foster and Charles and Vick. These are our players, and their injuries are devastating to our teams. That's probably the closest we'll ever get to bridging the chasm between athlete and fan.

The Falcons-Eagles game—which Atlanta won 35-31 after Vick's third-quarter departure—also proved for the billionth time that football violence is not predictable or categorizable. Roger Goodell has futzed with the league's rulebook in an attempt to ratchet down the game's most-frightening-looking injuries: hits to the quarterback's head, kill shots on defenseless receivers, blows to kamikaze special-teamers. Vick's concussion, caused when an Atlanta Falcon knocked the quarterback backward into his beefy Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans, reveals the limitations of this exercise. For the NFL, this was the worst kind of head injury—one it's impossible to spin as a consequence of rule-breaking.

Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson's hit on Philly's Jeremy Maclin, by contrast, fell right into the NFL's naughty-play bear trap. As Maclin caught the ball across the middle of the field, Robinson launched himself into the air, tagging the receiver under the chin with the crown of his helmet. While slow-motion replay makes instantaneous on-field movements seem more calculated than they could ever possibly be, Robinson's hit did seem unnecessarily vicious. If any type of play could and should be excised from the NFL, this is it.

Though the NFL has said it's willing to suspend players for whatever hits it happens to deem illegal this week, no player has yet missed a game for pummeling a defenseless receiver. Robinson, a repeat offender—he was fined $25,000 last year for knocking out the Eagles' DeSean Jackson—could be the first. If the NFL doesn't sit Robinson down, Goodell, et al., will look hypocritical for failing to enforce a rule they've lauded themselves for introducing. If the league suspends him, it will set a precedent: One suspension will lead to a whole lot more.

So, what do you think Goodell's going to do, Barry? And do you agree with the Concussion Blog's Dustin Fink that NBC was spinning for the NFL in saying that the obviously woozy Vick had a "neck injury"?




The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Mad About Modi

Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.