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Underwear's moment of glory

  • Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o does the broad jump during the NFL combine.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o does the broad jump during the NFL… (Brian Spurlock / US Presswire )
February 26, 2013|By Ben Johnson | For RedEye

I remember the good old days when we regular human beings didn't particularly care how fast or strong or quick or jumpy everybody was. Technically those days are still here for a majority of us, but that's not going to stop the NFL from treating the scouting combine like a TV-worthy event.

Not that I'm not grateful. It's wonderful to know exactly how large another man's hands are in case I'm ever curious.

Have you seen the coverage of this thing? Every year before the draft, would-be pro football players congregate in Indianapolis to prove they possess the physical tools to play in the NFL. They strip down to Lycra underwear to be weighed and measured to the millionth of an inch, then race around obstacles of various distance, height and heaviness.

It bothers me. Setting aside whatever personal aesthetic issues I might have with an impromptu parade of the male form (it's not for me but I'm not panicking about it), it's a little weird that NFL teams insist on the underwear. I mean, I get it, but it seems a little like the judgment portion of a chattel auction. I keep expecting reports on dental strength along with the breathless reporting on tight end vertical leaps. Regardless of how excited I'd be as a fan if the Bears drafted a tight end who could leap 12 feet in the air, the whole aesthetic of the combine weirds me out.

You know what else bothers me about it? In the middle of the controversy surrounding concussions, there's a plausible question as to whether this game can be played safely. And if the answer is no, then one of the things we're measuring with gleeful exactitude is how much damage a human can inflict on another person.

Millions of dollars are at stake for each athlete. Those are the rewards given for stripping down to your skivvies and proving how capable you are at crushing another man's skull. I guess that's football, but I miss the days when I didn't have to know about it to within a quarter of an inch.

Ben Johnson is a comedian at iO Theater in Chicago.

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