Monday night’s game between the Steelers and the Bengals was the last thing the NFL needed. Two players were carted off the field, with one of them — Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier — still hospitalized with a spinal injury as of Wednesday morning. The other, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, suffered his injury on an illegal hit by Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who taunted Burfict as he lay on the ground. The NFL suspended Smith-Schuster for one game and gave the same punishment to Bengals safety George Iloka, who delivered a hit to Antonio Brown’s helmet on his game-winning touchdown catch.
It wasn’t a good look for a league that could use one or two of them. But don’t come at Brent Musburger with your football-is-bad takes, because he’s not having them.
Musburger’s stance here seems to be that the events of Monday’s game are football’s main selling point, or at least should be. He uses “The Violent World of Sam Huff” as an example. Former Post sportswriter Leonard Shapiro described the impact of the program in a 2013 op-ed:
Some believe that a CBS documentary, “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” first aired in 1960, may have sparked the popularity of professional football. Huff was a celebrated New York Giants linebacker halfway through a Hall of Fame career at the time, and the documentary gave viewers an up-close look at the sound and fury of the pro game, using mini-microphones to pick up trash talk and the high-decibel thump of body against body, helmet against helmet.
Half a century later, a highlight-driven sports culture, fueled by ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and YouTube clips, has increased the emphasis on Big Hits — the wicked shots heard ’round the football world.
So in a sense, Musburger isn’t wrong. “The Violent World of Sam Huff” was groundbreaking in that it gave television audiences a highly detailed look at the life of a football player. But in 1960, we were decades away from connecting football with life-ruining head injuries, the letters c, t and e yet to be merged into a frightening acronym.
Shapiro was hardly celebrating the show’s impact. His op-ed carried the following headline: “For too long, sports journalists glossed over football’s violence. I was one of them.” Huff himself suffers from dementia, though whether that’s the result of his 13-year NFL career can’t possibly be known until after his death.
Musburger’s second assertion, about the cheerleaders, is hardly surprising from someone who was known as much for his on-air leering as his play calls late in his broadcasting career.