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Exhausted Mercies

Personal inventory is about the last thing you expect from these kinds of enterprises. It's the National Football League. It ain't Equus. It ain't Prince of Tides. It's frickin' football. If it can't be fixed with a splint or gauze, forget it. Get back in there and let the damn thing dangle out.

Mercy's a bit scarce in these kinds of situations, these NFL type things. The highlights of each Sunday are immediately caught and replayed on ESPN later that night, with lots of big graphics, swooshing sound effects and hi-def resolution. Then later on they take `em to NFL Films, where they put it all in slow motion and throw on a gladiatorial music track with lots of trumpets on it. It's gotta be loud and large, bro. It's mythology. Ever tried mythology with castanets and harmonicas? It just ain't the same. Get me more trumpets.

If you're an NFL player, you've been bred this way for a very long time. Probably before high school. You were taught to have a laser's focus, a sergeant's strategizing, a hurricane's speed, an ogre's brute force, a killer's lack of remorse. You're supposed to be in a merciless band of brothers and steamroll over the competition. Then you're supposed to turn around and do charity work for kids.

For a good quarter-century you give your body up for punishment or peril. It is not easy. It doesn't get easy until you finally decide your body, your will, or your conscience can't take anymore. Then you become a broadcast analyst, a real estate developer, or in one errant case, a B-movie actor who killed his ex-wife and got away with it.

It's obvious to me, anyway, how this game of football could drive you crazy. Batshit insane. You have to cultivate a cutthroat image and unyielding attitude for five to six months out of the year. The rest of the year you have to be normal.

In a way I understand why people like Jerramy Stevens react as they do, and do the things they do, ingest the substances they ingest. The pressure to win at all costs, to get the rings and endorsements, to dominate your way into a pantheon of stone in Canton, has to be a little hard to come down from. And the disappointment, the falling short of these ideals, has gotta be even worse. When you've dropped a couple passes due to a momentary lapse of concentration, and your home crowd is booing you in pregame introductions - man! Screw that! I'd feel like getting a drink myself!

Plowing into a nursing home at top speed and fleeing the scene? Repeatedly getting into trouble with alcohol when practically the entire National Football League is watching and ready to be your designated driver? And just chucking it all and getting behind the wheel anyway? That's indicative of a slightly deeper neurosis.

It's ironic and hilarious to realize that if he'd stayed home and gotten stoned, we wouldn't be having this little moral conundrum.

I feel bad for Jerramy Stevens. That's the first reaction of my humanity. If he was a family member I'd be mourning his loss of innocence, praying for his salvation and asking what I could have done to make his load a little lighter. I'd be driving him to meetings if I had to, or to his community service gig on a Thurston County highway, or to yet another court appearance where I'd have to tell the judge he's a good boy that's really sorry and he knows he needs to change.

But Jerramy's not in my family. He's just the last starting tight end on my favorite football team. And from this vantage point, as a guy with season tickets at Qwest instead of all-access passes, I wonder why we're wasting time thinking about someone so unable to control his physical impulses towards reckless endangerment.

Jerramy Stevens is just not right for this game. He's not built for it. There's something in his ego-system (malapropism intended) that turns his worst impulses into action plans. I'm beginning to think he should get out of this game before it kills him. I felt the same way about Koren Robinson, and probably one-half the '06 Bengals.

Would I feel this way if Stevens had a good year in 2006? Geez, that question scares me. I can't even answer it one way or the other. Now that's how you and I measure our humanity and ethics. That's where the this whole glorious game's potential for outrageous double-standard hits peak.

This game turns men into monsters. The best of the lot are recruited out of high school, then sent to a competitive collegiate hothouse with twitching, almost amoral boosters and alumni with half-open wallets. If they get drafted by the bigs, great. If they don't, you hope they paid real good attention in business class. But if the NFL sucks `em up, then they become professionals. They live the life all year round. One-thirtieth of these guys are happy every February; the rest have to wonder what went wrong. And then go right back and get beat up again. It's the most dehumanizing thing in the world.

Or would be, if there weren't any Shaun Alexanders and Jerry Rices and (insert your home team's golden boy) who seem to have survived the game and turned into outstanding citizens. How this game turns some into Simpsons and others into Holmgrens is a canonical mystery. Again, outside the scope of a fan blog. It's for the theologians. I don't even play a theologian on TV.

It's worth repeating what I said about Koren Robinson last year: Whatever Jerramy Stevens needs to improve his life, to change the darkness that steers him into stupor or worse - whatever work he needs to do, it's not on a football field. It's not in the middle of the pageantry, the glamor, the Nike swoosh or the Gatorade bolt. It's not something you can change by calling out Joey Porter. It's not something that should be done in public.

Get in the chair, man. Get in the couch, the pew, the shrink's or the pastor's office. Whatever works, man. You have to just sit back, sacrifice, think how lucky you were to play in the big time, and scrape whatever the hell you have to scrape together to have a chance of doing it again. The alternative is swilling down four or five (or more) margaritas in Scottsdale and deciding to go for a drive, even though your driver's record -- which comes complete with a close call with a nursing home that turned into a hit-and-run -- suggests you might want to take a cab. (Christ, were you that broke?)

It's that disgust laced with sadness that I feel for Jerramy Stevens right now, along with that bleakly cynical "Best of luck" I'm giving him because I give everyone that same kind of wish. It's an expression of hope about someone I'm afraid might have already sealed his fate, and might always be exactly the kind of person we think he is. It might be that there is no hope, but we have to wish good luck anyway. And it really makes me feel lame, angry, saddened and resigned.

"Lame"? "Saddened"? That kind of pathetic display won't even work in Prince of Tides. Let alone NFL Films. But, as the man said, "it is what it is." Leave your keys at reception and, you know... best of luck.