Ever see the 1975 movie Rollerball with James Caan?
Here's the gist: In a future run by corporations, the No. 1 sport is an ultraviolent battle between modern-day gladiators covered in heavily armored uniforms. Rabid fans wager on games where players are crippled or, in some cases, even killed.
Think about that.
A sport run by corporations. Ultraviolent. Modern-day gladiators. Heavily armored uniforms. Rabid fans. Gambling. Players carted off with shattered bodies.
Forget a 1970s science fiction movie. That sounds like 2012 football, doesn't it?
Problem is, it's not a movie. It's real.
Isn't that disturbing? Shouldn't we be more bothered by that? Shouldn't we feel at least a little bit bad that we're such a hungry audience for such a brutal sport?
Each weekend we sit in front of our televisions, hour after hour, flipping from one game to the next. Week after week NFL games are, by far, the most-watched television shows in the country. More than 111 million of us watch the Super Bowl.
We go to games, arriving hours ahead of time, eating and drinking and playing cornhole in grass parking lots. We pore over injury charts and schedules and matchups, wondering whom to start and whom to bench on our fantasy teams.
And, yes, some even place a telephone call every week to make an illegal bet or two.
Then we sit back and watch this incredibly violent game. We see players get their legs twisted like pretzels. We watch players limp off the field while another races in to take his place. We see dizzy athletes escorted off by trainers.
Those are the lucky ones.
Some don't get up. Some are hauled off on stretchers. Many can't walk, either now or when they get older. Some take an hour to get out of bed. Some old-timers can't remember their own names. Some live in such pain, mentally and physically, that their best solution is to put a gun in their mouth.
Here are four stories in the past few days alone that remind us of just how violent and messed up the game of football can be.
The University of South Carolina player was one of the best running backs in the nation. Already recovered from one major knee injury, Lattimore took a devastating hit last weekend against Tennessee that left his other leg in shambles. He dislocated his right knee and suffered severe ligament damage. Essentially, the only thing that held his lower leg to his upper leg was skin and veins.
The replay of Lattimore's leg flopping around like a strand of spaghetti was so grotesque that ESPN had to warn squeamish viewers before deciding to stop showing the clip altogether.
The Bucs guard, it was announced Tuesday, will miss the rest of the season with an injured big toe. Surely some folks raised their eyebrows and thought, "He is going to miss the rest of the season with a bad toe?''
Let's get something straight. It doesn't look anything like a toe. It's more like a water-logged baseball covered in skin — and something that sort of resembles a toenail. I've seen it up close and had to turn away so as not to gag.
This mangled, swollen piece of beef jerky has been like that for weeks, and one can only assume Nicks was getting shot after shot just to be able to walk on game days, let alone block 280-pound linemen. Anything to play. Anything to stay in the lineup.
Meantime, we all heard the news and our first question was, "Great, who's going to play guard now?''
We're still awaiting official word from the NFL, but there's a report that cornerback Eric Wright will be the second Buccaneer this season to be suspended for using Adderall. Cornerback Aqib Talib was the other.
How messed up is this? Players — and clearly these aren't the only two in the NFL — who would take a drug meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder just so they could be better football players?
South Florida gambling ring
Nine were arrested Tuesday in Broward County in connection with a gambling ring that centered around peewee games. Youth league coaches met before games to set point spreads and place bets, with more than $100,000 wagered on a championship game.
It's a disturbing story, but we would have to be naive to think this is the only place where people are betting on youth or high school games.
I'm not pointing a finger here. I'm not holier than thou. I like football just as much as the next guy. I make a living in part because of football. I write about it. I talk about it. I, too, ask who is going to replace Carl Nicks.
But I also can't help but take some responsibility for just how popular this sport has become.
It's popular because we watch it, bet on it, set our weekends around it. Because it's so popular, players risk having their knees obliterated or shoulders cracked or their toes turned into twice-baked potatoes. Because it's so popular, players pop pills and shoot juice to make themselves bigger, faster, stronger, better.
Man, this is a brutal sport. It's unfair. It's violent. It's frightening. And we cannot get enough of it. Just like some action-packed movie.
But, while you're watching tonight and this weekend, take a moment to remind yourself that this is not a movie. It's real life with real people.