On its most basic level, the Hard Knocks series on HBO gives us a glimpse into the rigors of training camp, and the amount of sweat equity required to merely be included on a 53-man NFL roster once August ends. Then succeeding and thriving during the season is an entirely different level of pain.
And while that alone would be sufficient to make the show required viewing for anyone who has even a passing interest in NFL football, what makes the series truly griping are the snapshots of life away from the field. We see what it’s like for the families of players, and especially the borderline players who are hopeful to just make the practice squad, and consequently their wives become NFL vagabonds.
We also see the inner workings of major roster decisions, and last night we saw Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin working through his thought process behind the move to cut Chad Johnson less than a day after a domestic incident that will also eventually lead to his divorce from Evelyn Lozada.
It was humanizing. These roster moves usually just scroll across on a ticker, and they’re dissected for a day or two, and then we move on to the next discussion. That’s the warp speed of public discourse in the year 2012, as it’s become natural to quickly transition from “Chad Johnson was cut!” to “Where will Chad Johnson play next?” in a matter of minutes.
Sure, they’re millionaire football players, and they know this comes with the job. But in this moment, this was a person losing their job and becoming unemployed, and there’s a chance — albeit maybe a small one — that Johnson may never hold that job again.
Firings and layoffs happen every day in the workplace. Johnson was paid $6 million to make 15 catches last year in New England, so he has no problem eating, and eating quite extravagantly (moose meet for dinner? yes). But in this moment, he was no different than the teacher or car salesman or secretary or whoever during their job termination.
“It’s not really just last night,” Philbin told Johnson. “It’s where we are as a program, and where you are. I just don’t see the mesh right now.”
It’s pretty hard to see the mesh anywhere else too.