On Friday, Michigan linebacker David Ojabo had his draft stock crater when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the latest phase of the multi-month “job interview” known as the pre-draft process. As noted by former NFL cornerback/return specialist Bucky Brooks of NFL Media, the reaction to Ojabo’s injury by the people in attendance was troubling. And, in my view, telling.
“I know the NFL is a cold business but watching the lack of concern or empathy from the scouts, coaches and observers following David Ojabo’s injury bugs me,” Brooks tweeted. “Perhaps someone should’ve checked on him instead of grabbing the ball and moving to the next drill. Just a thought.”
The video, attached to Brooks’s tweet, says it all. Ojabo goes down, and there’s no reaction. Nothing. Instead, someone strolls out to retrieve the ball that Ojabo dropped, like Paul Crewe at the end of The Longest Yard (both versions).
It’s nothing personal against Ojabo. That’s how they feel about every prospect. The only difference between Ojabo and players currently on teams is that they are currently on teams. If Ojabo had been on a team when he collapsed in obvious distress, someone would have rushed to him, not because they truly care about the person but because he’s a tangible asset whose contractual rights are owned by the franchise.
Whether on teams or not, players are interchangeable parts in a football machine. If one breaks, remove it and move on to the next. And if a part breaks in the process of selecting parts for the various football machines, cast it aside and focus on the rest of the new parts.
This isn’t a commentary on whether it’s right or wrong. You can, and will, come to your own conclusion on that. It’s an assessment of how it is. And it’s nothing new. Teams routinely remove broken or ineffective parts from the football machine, replacing them with others. Teams annually screen the parts to be added to 32 football machines, through a process of calling dibs on those parts, without regard to whether those specific parts want to be in wedged into that specific football machine.
The parts are conditioned to accept these realities. They have no choice. It’s the only way to play football in the NFL. It’s the only way to get paid for doing so.
Of course, once that happens, fans will resent what they perceive to be some sort of lottery prize received by the players, for which there’s no price to pay beyond the ticket. The physical, mental, and emotional toll gets ignored by the people who simply want to be entertained by the battle of the football machines.
That’s fine, but at some point there needs to be concern and empathy for the players. For the human beings who are the players.
It’s one of the focal points of Playmakers, from the introduction (which you can read for free at Amazon) and on. The football machines and those who cheer them on all too often gloss over the basic humanity of the players. When someone says “next man up,” the necessarily implication is “last man out!” That’s exactly what happened to David Ojabo on Friday.
Scrape him up, move him out, and let’s get back to screening new parts for our impressive football machines.
Football is family. They love to say it.
Football isn’t family. Football is business. They say “football is family” because it’s good for business to say “football is family.”
Maybe it would be even better for business if football really was family.