Nine years ago or so on some blog from a previous life, I wrote much of what’s to follow here when Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field, much in the same way Christian Eriksen did yesterday. Whenever something like this happens, broadcasters, pundits, anyone forced to comment on things that really no one can get their arms around, will say things like, “puts things in perspective,” “shows you what’s important,” etc. I don’t know about that. Perspective and importance is a personal thing, and maybe it’s possible that millions upon millions are under a mass delusion that sports can be important. More likely, even with all its problems, the ability of sports at its best to bring us together, to cross pretty much every division to do so, to make us feel anything and everything across the scale, does give it importance. Your mileage will vary on how much.
What I think everyone is trying to come to grips with in a spot like yesterday’s is how pointless it can make everything feel. We all have to do a lot of compartmentalizing, especially in this country (and perhaps have done it so much we moved on to numbness and indifference to all the horrors suffered by others, especially those with less money). If you stop to think about what could be awaiting any one of us around the corner or in the next five minutes, and all the things you can’t imagine, you’d never get out of bed. And most if not all of us have those days where we can’t anyway.
But watching sports, especially at the elite level, is one of those compartments where we feel safest from the scariest randomness. Soccer players are among the most well-conditioned people on the planet. At an international soccer tournament like this, you could argue these are some of the best-conditioned of that hyper-exclusive class. Guys in their 20s playing in this kind of setting don’t just drop. It doesn’t add up in any way. It shakes whatever firewalls we have set up to protect ourselves.
Because you can’t turn away from the fact that if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere, to anyone. In your house, at the store, in a bar, at a concert, in the car, on the can, wherever. Which makes it all seem so pointless. It’s a reminder how anyone can lose it all in the blink of an eye for really no reason at all. That’s just how it works, and we spend a good portion of our time trying not to think about it. What other way is there?
There were a lot of questions and complaints and outrage over the TV coverage, though none of it is necessarily the fault of ESPN or BBC or whatever you were watching, because they were just picking up the universal feed. They probably kept anticipating that universal feed would eventually just revert to a long shot or two, instead of the intrusive ones it returned to during the emergency again and again. They could have gone to commercial, though that would almost seem a dereliction of any journalistic duty. Or they could have returned to the studio, assuming anyone was at the desk. But that would just be more analysts who aren’t really equipped to handle live, ongoing, serious news.
I’d like to think whoever was in charge of that universal feed was in shock like the rest of us, at least at first. In those first moments, we all assumed (maybe hoped) it was just a head injury we couldn’t catch on the far side of the field. A stray elbow from an opponent. There had been a couple of head injuries earlier in the game, it was on the brain of anyone who watched the match. But there was one shot no one who saw it will be able to wipe away for a while, when the trainers but not yet the EMTs had gotten to Eriksen. That blank look on his face. For those who have been up close to a critical emergency, you know it. It never leaves. You see that blank look and the thought is, “That might be an empty shell.”
Thank God it wasn’t, at least not for very long, according to the Danish team’s doctor. But even a brief second of that is not what you’re prepared for or have practiced seeing during sports. It’s not where that goes. It doesn’t fit. Its mere presence breaks down everything. It corrupts the whole code.
And yes, the result of Denmark-Finland after that didn’t feel like it mattered. It felt surreal in the worst ways. But everything would have felt that way. Anyone who’s been through serious trauma, however it ended, can tell you the next few hours, days, months feel like you’re watching the world through a bubble. You can often say to yourself, “What the fuck am I doing this for?” You have to motivate and plan out and push to even just brush your teeth. Because, really, who gives a shit about tartar when you know what you know now?
It all seems so pointless. But to me, that makes how we choose to spend that time feeling something else even more important. Especially when those things make us happy. Make us feel alive. Maybe that’s the big thing about yesterday. We do this to feel alive, maybe the most alive we do. Moments like yesterday illustrate just how important that is, and just how fragile it is.