A work of fiction that calls attention to the violent essence of the game of football…
by: Frederick Foote
My first cousins, Spam and his brother Ham, are documentarians (S&H Productions) producing “unwatchable” films. Their works have excellent production values, are topical, and aspire to give viewers insight into the human condition. However, they are exceedingly difficult to sit through. I’m Dawson Banks. My wife, Regina, our 18-year-old daughter,Nia, and I are pre-release reviewers for their films. The three of us are gathered in our living room in front of our new 82” television, a gift from S&H Productions. Instead of drinks and snacks, we each have barf bags, bottled water, and Kleenex.
Nia sits between us on our couch and sighs. “S&H needs to buy us a new house to fit this monster screen in.”
“It’s huge, but I thought you loved it,” Regina replies.
“I do, but it’s, like, way too big for this room. I mean, we should be outside on the patio to get the right distance from it.”
“Yeah, you right,” I add. “Maybe we should extend the front room a couple of feet.”
To do that, we would have to buy the lot next door,” Regina quips.
There is an uneasy silence for a moment.
I say, “Okay, let’s do this. You all ready?”
None of us are ready, but we have committed to help Spam and Ham, not for the gift or the hundred dollars each we get for watching and writing our reviews, but because we believe in what Spam and Ham are trying to do — the truths they are trying to speak.
I pick up the remote. “Okay, here we go. This is called Demolition Derby, it’s one hour and seventeen minutes.”
The movie starts without any titles, introductions, or credits. It’s an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions. There is no narration, music, or identification of dates or seasons, or players.
A San Francisco receiver catches the ball between two defenders who launch themselves from opposite sides of the receiver. The ball carrier twists and ducks below the would-be tacklers. The defenders crash helmet to helmet at full speed. It sounds like the helmets cracked, bones were snapping, or something broke beyond repair. The defenders drop like stones. They don’t move.
Another defender tackles the ball carrier. Detroit’s staff rush toward the fallen men even as the referee blows his whistle. All the players visible on screen are watching the two men down. The ball carrier crosses himself.
Someone says “Oh, my God.”
Another voice says “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
Someone is reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
Someone is sobbing.
There is no narration. There is no identification of the players. The cameras do not cut away to a commercial or the broadcast booth. Some videos are shot from the stands and mixed with what looks like official broadcast shots. A minute goes by. Neither man is responding.
You feel the fear of the players.
The carts arrive a minute later. One of the men, number 21, has moved and is trying to speak. Number 31 is fitted with a neck collar.
Number 21 asks, “What happened? What happened? Did he score? What happened? Did we win?”
A medical staff asks, “Can you move your legs? Raise your legs for me.”
“I don’t know. There. You see. I’m okay. Did he score?”
Number 21 raises his left leg.
“Try to move your right leg.”
“I did. I’m okay. I’m okay.”
“We’re going to fit you with a neck brace—”
“I don’t need that. I just need to catch my breath.”
It is five minutes and thirty-two seconds before the players are carted out of the stadium. Number 31 is still unconscious as he is carried off.
The next game that is featured in the film is between the Baltimore Ravens and the Buffalo Bills. In it, a Baltimore defender is making a tackle as another defender falls on the first man’s lower leg. The trapped leg is twisted at an unnatural angle. The tackler’s scream cuts through the background noise. Another player falls on the player, trying to rise off his wounded teammate. The second scream is unbearable. I flinch. Regina squeezes my hand.
Nia jumps up. “I’m out. I can’t do this.”
She hurries out of the room but turns back in the doorway.
“Headphones, please. Please use your headphones and turn off the sound. Please.”
Regina leaves a few minutes later as a player has his finger bent back at a 90° angle.
I leave ten minutes later when I recognize the Joe Theismann 1985 leg injury highlight that begins to to play.
I call Spam and Ham.
“I got to the Theismann section. Nia left after the second section, and Regina shortly after that. I love football. You guys know that. I mean, we all played high school football. I don’t know. Will anyone buy this movie? A movie that most of us can’t watch. Is the NFL okay with this?”
“Fuck the NFL!” Spam response brazingly. “If they sue us, that is the best promotion we can get. Netflix is very interested.”
“This is our antiwar, anti-violence movie,” Ham adds. “It has to be disturbing. Thanks for watching Cousin.”
“Send us your reviews, no matter how short or negative,” says Spam. “I’m emailing you a new movie, but wait a few days before you try to look at it, okay?”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s Part Two of Demolition Derby. There is no violence.”
Ham adds, “Absolutely no violence, but it’s so much harder to watch.”
“Why? What is it about?”
“We interview ex-players. Most of them have CTE symptoms. All of them have significant physical deficits. I left the editing up to Ham on this one.”
“Damn! Cousins, how do you do this shit?”
Ham smiles as he responds. “With love and drugs, lots of drugs, man. You know we all love the game and the players.”
“As much as we hate the fucking plantation master owners,” Spam adds. “Take care, Cousin, and give our love to Regina and Nia.”
It’s Thursday night. But tonight, I’m not in the mood for Thursday Night Football.
We drag out our ancient Monopoly game and play in the kitchen far away from the shadow of our 85” screen.
Frederick K. Foote, Jr. was born in Sacramento, California, and educated in Vienna, Virginia, and northern California. Since 2014 Frederick has published over three hundred stories, poems, and essays, including literary, science fiction, fables, and horror genres. Frederick has published three short story collections, For the Sake of Soul (2015), Crossroads Encounters (2016), and The Maroon Fables and Revelations (2020).