Saturday, January 15, 2011

Football - Blood Sport?

Football is a physical game featuring the violent collisions of mortal-on-mortal, with the barest padding, etc., to soften the blows. Most noticeably missing from the uniforms of yesteryear are the hip-pads designed to protect the pelvic bones and the sacrum. Most noticeably added in recent years but missing in yesteryear are the face-masks that protect against broken noses, eye-sockets and the like. The space-helmets of today make those of yesteryear appear to be little more than berets by comparison. Yet, brain concussions are simply accepted as inevitable, just part of the game.

The entire nature of the game has changed, as well, not least because it has been damned by the profit motive, the love of money being the root of all evil, as the gospel-writer would have it, meaning that anything goes, whether according to the rules or not. It has also been damned by the introduction of taunting, teasing, celebrating that’s vulgar, mugging for the crowd, and all-around foolishness that bespeaks a bush-league mentality that’s even below playground ethics.

Though one is politically incorrect for mentioning this, it nevertheless is true that the vulgarities were introduced for the most part as huge numbers of black players – exceptionally fine athletes – made the teams and actually now comprise the majority of players. They strut, skip and swagger as if what they do is actually important – now joined by the white players, too – when the 18-year-old eating sand and dodging bullets on foreign soil is worth more in a minute than they are in a year…and eminently braver, too.

The game was once played for the sport of it, at least in public schools and colleges all the time and in the pro leagues at one time. In the 1920s, players often didn’t even wear helmets. The reason was simply that tackles were made from the waist down, as was blocking, the idea being to relocate the opponent, not to kill him. The body-slam, particularly with a helmet-to-helmet feature, is the method of choice today, the motive being to completely incapacitate the opponent, especially his brain. The result can be seen in the myriad articles in the media today regarding the long-term effects of the brain concussions.

Sports pages are as notable today for their daily listing of injuries, often season- or career-ending, as for the accounts of the games. This puts football in the same milieu as boxing, in which the goal is to beat the opponent’s brains out…even if to do so kills him, a sort of legalized murder. This has turned the “sport” into a brutish exercise, crude and uncivilized. Boxers are glorified, when actually they’re just sadistic thugs. Linebackers receive the same acclaim as they operate on the same thuggish level. Their chief aim is to maim the quarterback no matter the fine or any other discipline imposed.

The most defining feature currently seems to be the constant on-field fights, especially during the college bowl games and the professional playoffs and championship games. There’s big money involved so tempers flare. The college guys are trying to make it into the pro mayhem, while the pros are simply aiming at the mega-bucks accruing to staying in the playoff hunt as long as possible. The XLIV Super Bowl winners/losers last February, for instance, made $83,000 and $42,000, respectively. The average base salary in the NFL is $990,000 but a huge number of players make millions, while the average salary was nearly $1.8 million in 2009. The fines mean little to the millionaires.

Occasionally, the league owners and honchos make noises about making football safer through the rules-route but they don’t follow through…just like in pro hockey, where the fighting is probably thought to attract spectators as much as the game. The honchos in the auto-racing industry do nothing to stop the drivers from wrecking each other when the situation calls for drastic action. These sports-gurus figure that fans love the mayhem, the devil take the hindmost…a little blood is always an attention-getter, with a lot of blood even better. A concussion is an absolute godsend, especially in a dull game.

This is from ESPN-NFL, 13 December: “The NFL's data shows 154 concussions -- from practices or games -- were reported from the start of the preseason through the eighth week of the 2010 regular season. That's an increase of 21 percent over the 127 concussions through the eighth week of the 2009 season, and a 34 percent jump from the 115 reported over the same span in 2008.” That would mean about 308 for the season or some 19 or so per week. How seriously does anyone take the NFL honchos?

Steroid-use hasn’t helped, of course, but that’s a whole other story. The sport has been degraded by personnel, leaders, player-foolishness and viciousness, the lack of meaningful discipline and a total misreading of a public that still would be interested in the game if the approach of yesteryear were re-instituted.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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