This past Monday, two events helped frame America’s conscience. A professional football player, Damar Hamlin, suffered a life threatening cardiac event in front of millions of fans, on both live television and in a packed stadium. On this same day, a small town Chief of Police was shot dead by a menace to society with little, if any audience. The media has reported on the progress of the stricken player on virtually every newscast since he went into cardiac arrest while the killing of the officer has garnered scant mention and little interest. Our response to these two events leaves me fairly seething with anger. Here is why.
Damar Hamlin is a young and talented multi-millionaire who has agreed to risk his health as a professional entertainer on a stage where serious injury and long term brain damage is a likely event. While death is not guaranteed as in Ancient Rome, he can be rightfully compared to the Gladiators that entertained the Roman legions with violence, death and dismemberment. Football is an inherently dangerous sport and we are consumed with the violence that elicits oohs and ahs when the contact is violent. It is also a beautiful athletic endeavor wrapped in the most successful marketing scheme since the introduction of the Mustang in 1964. Young Damar was generous and respected in his community, an ambassador for his trade, but still yet……a millionaire entertainer who understands the risk when he suits up.
Sometime during that same day, Brackenridge, Pa. Police Chief Justin McIntire was shot and killed by a thug named Aaron Lamont Swan, Jr., who was later that day shot and killed by other police officers after a protracted chase. McIntire was 46 years old and much loved in his community. Police officers also understand the risks associated with their profession, but America considers the 33 officers shot dead in 2022 as nothing more than a footnote in history, paling in comparison to a cardiac event suffered by a single NFL player. While officers understand the risk they are taking, their reward is not adulation and buckets of money, rather the safety of those in their communities. It is work that is neither glamorous or entertaining. Chief McIntire and most police officers do not have the deep pockets of an NFL player, but he clearly placed the lives of others ahead of his own interests, a very noble gesture. Rather than millions, the Chief gave himself, a nobility that far surpasses the notoriety on a gridiron.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a marketing genius on a level with Lee Iacocca, has announced that a tribute to Hamlin will be made before the start of every game this weekend. The Monday night game featuring Hamlin’s unfortunate medical emergency was suspended because of the anguish suffered by the players. Various coaches, keen on promoting the NFL brand, talk of the terrible pall this event has cast over their squads. Goodell has said, “this has been a very difficult week……we continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin……..and appreciate the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family…..” Let me assure you that when an officer is cut down, the anguish is real and deep, but the police do not suspend their day and go home to worry. They suit up and mull over the death of a fellow Centurion while wrapping themselves in image armor and carrying on the business of serving and protecting.
To put all of this in perspective, consider this. If football were to be banned, nationally, today, America would keep doing what America does and we would find another pastime. If policing were to cease to exist today, America, as we know it, would also cease to exist. Yet, we shower todays Gladiator equivalents with love, adulation and gobs of money. If I were to ask you to name a famous gladiator from Ancient Rome, most would immediately recall the great Thracian Gladiator, Spartacus. If I were to ask the same question about a famous Roman Centurion, you would be thunderstruck. Some things never change. How profoundly sad is the esteem we accord our Centurions of today.
Have a great week