Published Oct. 6, 2018

I’ve never been one to begrudge pro football players their money.

They’re entertainers, in essence, and they’re sacrificing their bodies, minds and potentially taking years off their longevity. Their quality of life after their playing days are over is a craps shoot; some may make it out unscathed and live happily ever after, while others struggle with demons. Some have even killed themselves as a result.

Every Sunday, NFL gridirons are filled with about 130 snaps of the football, and within those plays are locomotives crashing into each other, full speed. The league’s official logo should be a bell being rung.

So make as much money as you can, as quickly as you can, I say to pro football players. Get it while the gettin’s good. The average length of an NFL career can be counted on the fingers of one hand—and there will be an uncounted finger and a thumb while you’re at it.

I remember former longtime Vikings coach Bud Grant talking about pro football players and their motivation.

“I’m not sure that there aren’t pro football players who are playing football just because of the money,” Grant said. “And I’m not sure that there aren’t pro football players who are playing football, who don’t like football. But they do it because they can’t afford not to play.”

You think that just because guys don’t end up on their team’s official injury list for the week, that they must be feeling fine and dandy?

From August through December, Monday mornings are a test in agony. Bones creak. Muscles ache. Concussions are always just one play away.

Ziggy Ansah: the Lions’ rumored pass rusher

But having said all that, I get the frustration Lions fans have with DE Ziggy Ansah.

I saw it with LB DeAndre Levy, as well.

Ansah, the team’s only true pure pass rusher, is being scratched yet again, for Sunday’s tilt against the Packers in Detroit. It will be the fourth straight game that Ansah has missed due to a shoulder injury—suffered in the first quarter of the first game of the season.

Ansah already had managed two sacks against the Jets on Sept. 10 before he left the game. After the contest, he expressed confidence that he would miss zero games due to the injury.

He’s missed four, and counting.

The natives are getting restless. I understand.

We don’t know the nature of Ansah’s injury. The Lions, like just about every NFL team, is as tight-lipped as a clam with lockjaw when it comes to injuries.

But Ansah has twice engaged in a full week of practice, only to be scratched late in the week. This is annoying the fans.

The Lions don’t have many playmakers on defense to begin with, and virtually none on the line, other than Ansah. But what good is he if he’s never on the field?

And Ziggy Ansah is never on the field.

Ansah missed two games last season, which isn’t the end of the world, but in several games that he did start, injuries took him out of action for bunches of snaps at a time. And now this season has begun with no. 94 on the sidelines for 15 of 16 quarters so far.

I don’t begrudge players their dough, as I’ve said. But the fans are becoming disenchanted with Ansah. They have no use for players who can’t play.

Image result for ezekiel ansah injured
Ansah in typical 2018 repose.

For a change, the Lions appear to have made a wise decision financially this summer, when instead of offering the 29-year-old BYU product a long-term contract extension, they franchised tagged him for 2018, meaning that Ansah could leave the Lions via free agency after the season. He’s making $17.1 million for 2018.

Right now, the feeling is “Good riddance” from the fan base, should Ansah sign elsewhere for 2019 and beyond.

Ansah doesn’t play. Period. So what would the Lions be missing, exactly, if he leaves?

The comments on the Internets beneath articles that speak to Ansah’s situation aren’t kind. He’s being called names that are less than flattering.

It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair to criticize him. It doesn’t matter if Ansah’s injury is legitimate—and so far there is no indication that it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if the guy is just short on luck when it comes to his physical health as it pertains to football. It doesn’t matter if, for all we know, Ansah is trying like mad to get back on the field on Sundays.

All the fans see is subtraction by subtraction. They won’t get behind a pro football player in this town who doesn’t play. That’s why they derided Levy, who retired at age 29 because of a variety of injuries.

Blame football’s war-like portrayal as catalyst for anger

The vitriol against Ansah (and Levy) may be unfair, but football (and hockey) has long been portrayed as a warrior’s game. Countless stories have been recounted of players taking the field who had no business walking to the bathroom from the bedroom, let alone mixing it up on the gridiron.

Stories like the Rams’ Jack Youngblood, a DE who played the 1979-80 post-season with a broken leg—literally. When the injury occurred late in the season, Youngblood told the Rams trainers on the sidelines, “Tape an aspirin to [the leg] and let’s go.”

Football has often been compared to war, much to my chagrin. The game is filled with military-like terminology.

So it’s unseemly to fans when players who have an injury anything less severe than an amputation, don’t play for multiple weeks at a time.

The secrecy surrounding the Ansah injury doesn’t help, as it didn’t help in Levy’s situation. When all there is to do is speculate, typically the speculation won’t give the benefit of the doubt to the player.

Ansah is now “soft.” He’s fragile. A “china doll,” as QB Matthew Stafford was once referred to, early in his career, when his first two seasons were rife with injuries.

Ziggy Ansah hasn’t played since the first quarter of the season’s first game. He won’t be in uniform on Sunday against the Lions’ annual tormentors, the Packers. The Lions have a bye week after the Packers. Who knows if he’ll be back on Oct. 21.

For now, he’s persona non grata in Detroit. It may not be fair. It may not be reasonable. It doesn’t matter. Ansah never plays. So what good is he?