Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Football and Violence

Let's face it: I'm really going to only have two more football games to talk about so I might as well get it out of my system now.

After the Super Bowl, I'll probably stare at my tv and wonder why I even bother to own such a thing...

The biggest change this year (more so than even the changes to overtime in the play offs), has been the crackdown on vicious hits. The arguments in favor of this crackdown are compelling, humanitarian even. Nobody wants a crippled, brain damaged or even dead athlete lying on a field.

However, in the rush to control risks in an enormously risky game, the very essence of football is threatened. There is a very reason why football is played by extremely large gentleman (got into an argument the other day as to whether Aaron Smith at 6-5, 300 pounds is small or not): The astonishing grace of a receiver diving for an impossible catch or a running back pirouetting through a wave of defenders towards a glimpse of blue sky is meaningless without an utterly crushing and aggressive defense. Remove that and you have nothing more than a game of catch. With cheerleaders.

People with this name have no choice but to cover sports or become astronauts.

Buzz Bissinger:

But it’s the mano a mano combat of a fast defensive line against a behemoth offensive line that is the turn-on. It’s the blitz of a safety speeding out of nowhere to crumple the quarterback. It’s the running back breaking tackle after tackle by defenders who truly want to punish and knock him out. It is no longer mandatory in the NFL to wear thigh pads or hip pads, and some players don’t because they want to be as fast as possible. The lack of protection can also obviously lead to injury, which indicates the NFL’s need to preserve the mass destruction.

I realized over the weekend how much I actually relish the speeding blur of the game and the possibility on every play of a hellacious hit. I realized how much I liked the clear derangement of the defensive backs, human sacrifices for a bone-splitting tackle. Every player in the NFL knows the possible risks down the road, whether it is Alzheimer’s or the well-known realities of crippling arthritis and being able to walk only with a cane. I venture that not one of these well-paid performers has any regret about his chosen profession. I also venture that the vast majority would like helmet-to-helmet hits reinstated, because until this season they were a part of the game. There is a sickness in football, but one that has to do with its overemphasis in academic settings, high school kids as gods and college players in college only to play. And football is hardly the only sport that is guilty.

You can have all the new rules you want, and all the behavior modification you want, but potentially serious injuries will still be common. Both of the hits that led to concussions Sunday were clean. It was terrible when it looked as if Carlson might have snapped his spinal cord. Mercifully, that did not occur. But in the immediate aftermath, Fox showed the replay of what happened over and over. It was like watching a terrible car wreck. But we like wrecks. Except for the righteous few, we are all rubberneckers.

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