Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Man's Game

How do you penalize men for hitting each other while playing a sport that is all about hitting each other? How do you remove aggression from a game that is all about being aggressive? How do you fault guys for actions that take place at top speed in the blink of an eye? How do you differentiate between the malicious and the unavoidable? How do you look into a man’s heart and determine if he wanted to be where he ended up, or if his true intention was to be an inch lower, or to the right, or the left? How can you tell if someone has been betrayed by a subtle shift in momentum or the lower beasts of his nature? Does a mathematician need to do the evaluating? Or a priest? Perhaps a panel of judges with areas of expertise covering the complexities of angles, spatial relations, philosophy, morality and spirituality? To simplify matters perhaps the NFL should place electrodes in helmets and uniforms. If a helmet makes contact with any part of a player’s jersey, a buzzer goes off. If a helmet makes contact with another helmet, buzzers plus strobe lights signal that the eleventh commandment has been broken.

Does all of this sound rather impractical? Well I think so too, but the National Football League has decided enough is enough, that tackling the impossible is better than simply ignoring the situation. Minimizing migraines and spinal injuries that lead to paralysis has to be a good thing, even if the method to the madness borders on absurd. Who can say what evil lurks in the hearts of linebackers and cornerbacks and safeties? Only the shadow, as portrayed by the NFL governing body, knows. Will the game be watered down by a Safety First mindset? Will fans gripe that it’s bad enough quarterbacks are in proverbial skirts, must we now place women’s garb on wide receivers as well? Is it only a matter of time before running backs get the two hand touch – no, that can still get a little rough, make it the flag football treatment?

Will such complaints matter much in the overall picture? Surely there were those who griped when it was decided that boxers should wear gloves rather than fight bare fisted. The decision to reduce the length of major matches from 15 to 12 rounds no doubt rankled boxing purists. When I stroll down memory lane on a tour of the all-time greatest heavyweight tussles, 15-rounders seem more pure. There’s something majestic about the epic struggle to emerge as the better man over the course of those final three character revealing rounds. Is it animalistic to see purity in violence? Yes, but Homo sapiens are merely a species of animal, and violence performed with practiced skill and conforming to a strict set of rules can truly be a sweet science in the opinion of many. Otherwise the concept of Pay-Per-View probably would not exist. There's a reason more people watch the Super Bowl than choose to go to a ballet that day.

As in boxing, many measures have been taken over the years to make football safer. These measures need to be at least one step ahead of increases in size, speed, strength, and overall athleticism. If today’s NFL players still took to the field in leather helmets only a few would likely survive to the end of a game. When helmets are used as a weapon rather than a protective device, bad things can and do happen.

What also happens is the unavoidable and accidental. Should mistakes be punished to equal degree as actions taken with bad intentions? If not, how can we tell one apart from the other in order to judge fairly? This is a question without clear cut answers, my favorite kind of query. The NFL will do its best to solve the riddle, pleasing some, alienating others at least for the short term. Some of the decisions rendered will be agreed with by most, others will be as questionable as the personnell strategies of Andy Reid, Mike Shanahan and Brad Childress. Hopefully football will manage to retain the qualities that arguably make it the greatest of sports while also becoming safer for the combatants. I could have called them players/participants/athletes but used the word combatants because as we well know, tackle football is not for the faint of heart/body/soul, and with any luck it never will be.

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On a completely unrelated note please take a moment to stop by the Guys Can Read indie authors contest, and if you are so inclined, I would love to get your vote. Thanks!!!

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