The Bengals/Steelers Bloodbath Was Hard To Watch Simply Because It Reminded Us That Football Is Inherently Inhumane
Look, if you want to criticize Ben Roethlisberger for pointing to nothing more than a random regional affiliation to explain a football game that became so barbaric that it actually made the increasingly desensitized fan feel feelings then be my guest. I'd love to tell you that you don't understand the intensity of rivalries in professional sports, but in doing so I'd have to ignore that approximately 37.5 man years were left on a field that an athlete was carried off of without sensation in his lower body. Therefore, yes, it is quite obviously more than a little callous to be like "AFC North, am I right?!?" after being a willing participant in what quickly devolved into human wreckage...
That being said, it's not even remotely untrue. Say what you want about the Steelers and Bengals, but you can't say that they don't prioritize hating each other's jersey over respecting the people wearing them. That's not the greatest of looks for a league that is desperately trying to prove that it's just "fun and games" as opposed to being an insanely dangerous means to a premature end. However, some of those players didn't appear too bothered by watching one of their peers potentially lose his career and/or life when they immediately proceeded to try to put each other in a neighboring hospital bed.
Let's take this crackback block (and subsequent taunting) of Vontaze Burfict, for instance...
You can (and I do) think he had it coming after showing a complete lack of remorse for a career's worth of dirtbaggedness with what he said yesterday regarding this vicious hit to the head that kept Antonio Brown from playing in the 2015 AFC Championship a week later....
“HE FAKED THAT,” Burfict says casually of the Brown hit before quickly trying to wave his own observation away. He knows instantly how the comment will be received, and it’s easy to see he wishes he hadn’t said it…
“I feel like he looked at me. The ball tipped off his hands and he kind of put his head towards my area, and I tried to fade off of him at the last second, but he initially tried to make contact because he knew he could get the flag. And just the way he went down, it was just like — I don’t know man.” (h/t ESPN)
...but to scream it throughout a locker room that just saw a teammate left unable to move his extremities on a fairly routine tackle that was theoretically far less dangerous?
Whether it's right or wrong from a moral standpoint is a whole different question, but this inhumane verbal and physical intercation between multiple members of two teams that despise each other is proof positive that your mentality needs to not only be cruelly compartmentalized, but completely detached from reality if you are going to put forth a full effort on an NFL field. Not every Sunday is going to be littered with blindside hits in which injury is the clear intention, and the ongoing blood feud between these two particular AFC North rivals is by far the most extreme reminder that professional football is unadulteratedly organized violence.
That said, by lambasting Ben Roethlisberger for speaking an obvious truth you're really just deflecting blame from yourself for being complicit in a barbaric business model by way of your viewership. You can't take football for what it is - the biggest, fastest, and strongest men on the planet hitting each other as hard as humanly possible - and then act appalled when that results in them ignoring the long-term prognosis of a fallen comrade and continuing to take pleasure in inflicting pain on one another. I say the following as a huge sports fan...the frustrations they continued to take out on the health of one another's brains ultimately stemmed from nothing more than the cities they play in and the colors they were wearing, whether you felt comfortable hearing a quarterback say so or not.
More importantly...thoughts, prayers, and well wishes go out to Ryan Shazier. Here's to hoping the good news keeps coming...