Sunday, October 24, 2010

Taking Care of the Heroes

Football is valuable entertainment. Add up the value of the NFL teams: $30 billion according to Forbes to get one measure of just how valuable it is. A hundred bucks for every man, woman, and child in the US.

We love to play and watch it more when we can build (indirect) relationships with it by following our favorite teams, coaches, and players.

We love it more when we can build community with other fans around said relationships.

We love it more when it's exciting (meaning the competition is close and the outcome uncertain).

We love it more when it reminds us of humanity's higher nature. We can't stop talking about players who achieve super-human heroic feats, or coaches who execute strategies to snatch victory from the clutches of defeat.

We love it more when it makes us feel like winners.

We love it less when it is unjust.

We love it less when it is boring.

We love it less when it is inhumane.

We love it less when we lose connection to players or teams.


A good way to kill the sport would be to remove the best available (and best-known) players. Heroes: gone. Relationships: severed. Excitement: weak.

Another good way would be to have no rules or penalties. Justice: betrayed. Heroes: broken. Participation: discouraged. Humanity: degraded.

Yet another good way would be to have too many rules and penalties. Action: mundane. Risks: not taken. Super-humans: enfeebled. Results: predictable.

Helmet-to helmet, launching, spearing, intimidating, crushing hits are designed not to stop the opponent, but to intimidate him. Tru dat, but they also damage him, sometimes permanently. They prevent him from being his best.

For some they may be fun to watch or commit, but they are a net negative to the value of the sport and that's the best reason I can think of to stop them. Football is nothing without it's heroes. We have to let them show off ... but not at the expense of knocking other heroes out of the game. That's exactly what no-holds-barred hits do ... in more ways than one. They can injure, sure. They also can cause a receiver to muff a catch because they're too busy worrying about what semi truck is coming their way. The long-term effects (ALS, etc) might even cause some smart-and-athletic dudes to avoid college and pro ball altogether.

On top of that, menacing hits call attention to the embarrassing base nature of the hitters. These are not heroes. Their lack of humanity exposes that.

Joe Pa agrees:
"I've been saying for 15 years, we ought to get rid of the face mask," Paterno said this week. "I think, then, you go back to shoulder blocking, shoulder tackling, and you wouldn't have all those 'heroes' out there."

I'm not convinced that he's found the best solution, but his point is that these guys are just doing what they can get away with. Whether pain, fines, suspension, or legal proceedings provide the disincentive, the point is that these guys will figure it out. It's unacceptable to cream kickers and QBs (Favre aside). Players have somehow figured out how to avoid those hits. It should be unacceptable to demolish receivers, too. Egregious hits are not required. They are not unavoidable. They're not the result of confusing rules. They're not a necessary part of the psychological game. They're not the natural result of younger quarterbacks. That's all ridiculous. They are an embarrassing lack of discipline on the part of the aggressor, exploiting a loophole in the rules. The loophole should be closed and enforcement should be strict. Players will figure out how to comply ... or they're not the kind of players we want in the game.

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