Finally, the talk of the NFL is about the game itself and not some of the garbage that is better served populating a gossip rag than polluting the front page of your favorite sports section. The NFL has vowed to come down hard on players administering “devastating hits”, subjecting them to immediate suspension without pay. I will save the debate about how the league plans to determine a devastating hit for others to bandy about. There is something else that has my dander up.
There are many players, analysts, commentators and fans that are proclaiming this to be the wussification of the NFL. They contend football is a contact sport and the league is turning it into glorified flag football. They say injuries are part of the game and that is part of what you sign up for when you strap on the pads. They suggest the goal of a defense is to be physically intimidating so the offensive player is fearful of being hurt.
Eschewing the fear that I will soon have to turn in my man-card, while this tough-guy bravado is all well and good, I have a huge issue with this mentality. To me, this is basically celebrated bullying. I don’t want my defense to be a bunch of bullies. Bullies are bullies because they have no other means of being successful. To me, that is taking the easy way out. I want my defense to be feared not because you may get concussed any time you touch the ball, but rather because you are going to have to work for every yard gained and point scored due to their superior athletic ability, intelligence and work ethic.
I do not want the opposing team’s wide receiver to have alligator arms because he is afraid of laying out over the middle because he will get whacked without being able to brace for the hit. I want the opposition quarterback afraid to challenge my cornerback for fear of getting picked off. I want the offensive coordinator to have to leave the tight end and running back in to pass block because my rush is so effective. I want overall athletic ability to trump the “my job is to hurt you” mentality.
Look, I know football is a contact sport and a violent game. The collisions in the trenches have often been described as akin to a car crash. It is what I consider to be the gratuitous violence and the glorification of the act that bothers me. Highlight shows routinely focus on so-called devastating hits, even if they have no impact on the play, let alone the game. The viewer will not get to see the outstanding deflection of a would be touchdown or a shoestring tackle just as the ball carrier was about to bust one, plays that more directly influenced the outcome of the game. Of course this is akin to showing a slam dunk in a 106-83 route or a meaningless home run. But it is what the public prefers to see, unfortunately.
Perhaps what really bothers me is I see some of these viewpoints as somewhat hypocritical. Before I make the upcoming analogy, I am by no means comparing the two situations ‘word for word’. I am merely commenting on how some seem perceive the violence associated with each. I am reticent to term the violence gratuitous in both as that may give an unintended connotation, though I do feel in terms of the football aspect, it is indeed gratuitous. What I find a bit contradictory is how someone can vilify Michael Vick and glorify James Harrison. Again, I am not comparing the respective acts apples to apples. I just have an issue with how the violence is perceived. I believe Vick got what he deserved and I do not believe Harrison is a criminal. Maybe gratuitous is the right word and all I am trying to say is I do not need gratuitous violence in football for it to be compelling and entertaining.
Gratuitous shots of cheerleader cleavage and shapely backsides, on the other hand….