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Murder on the football field?

We see sport as something pure, something free from the impurities and battles of the world outside. Where wars and political battles exist between countries, those can often be put to one side for the sake of athletic pursuit.

However, the reality exists that sport is played by human beings (generally). And those human beings still retain their individual biases, convictions and discriminatory tendencies.

So when a player was allegedly murdered on the football field, in what was seen by many as a racially-motivated attack, for an instant we need to think that a foul was not simply a foul.

speedy cannon

He takes the option pitch from the quarterback and accelerates downfield, beating three defenders to the corner, blazing down the sideline. There are two men to beat. The first one dives and gets him by the ankles and knocks him out of bounds. But Cannon keeps running. When does the referee blow the whistle? Who knows. The film is silent. Cannon stays on his feet, still churning toward the end zone even though he’s out of bounds, and the second defender slides in and undercuts him. Cannon goes down, hitting the ground with his right shoulder and rolling onto his back.


All along, a third defender has been trailing the play. He wears number 70. He looks very big and very strong. He was one of the three defenders Cannon beat to the corner, but he never gave up. When the first defender knocks Cannon out of bounds, Number 70 trails by nearly five yards. He does not slow down. When the second defender hits Cannon late, 70 keeps coming. There is a moment when Cannon is down, when it looks as if 70 could change his mind. He could pull up, or change direction, or hurdle over Cannon’s body. But he is locked on the target.


Even so, his trajectory puts him in the best position to knock down a runner who is standing up. This is what makes the hit so flagrant. It is not one fluid motion. His body does not move in a straight line. Instead Number 70 contorts himself so as to collide more directly with Cannon. His body takes on the shape of an arch. His feet are on the ground, his rear end is in the air, and his torso bends sharply downward. He leads with his helmet. At the last instant his feet leave the ground and his body straightens. He is, at last, a missile, smashing headfirst into Cannon’s head, pinning it to the earth. Cannon’s left arm jerks upward, as if by reflex, and then the film cuts away.

This is the story of the death of Speedy Cannon, as told by Sports Illustrated in a longform piece on their site. The year was 1972 and the scene was Alabama. Race was a much a factor in society as it ever has been. Was it a factor in the death of Speedy Cannon? Read the piece at SI and decide for yourself… either way, seeing true longform journalism like this is a rarity in the current society of click-baiting and scandal.

Read the whole piece, complete with videos and a frame-by-frame reel of the play in question here.

[This is another play from earlier in the game]: