Saturday, January 7, 2012

Violence in Sports

I understand that there was a time when football was a sport for real men. Men who played without facemasks or helmets. They were all balls, and nasty, hardworking sons of bitches. Or something to that effect. I didn't watch a lot of football in the 70s. But that's what I hear when I listen to sports radio, or read newspaper columns, or god help me, read comments on sports stories.

But I do know this: those guys are all dead. Or they're living with debilitating injuries, or severe brain damage. That's a real problem.

I don't like watching and enjoying an activity that causes a lot of harm to real people. I understand they're well compensated (although the vast majority of people who play football try to play like the pros, and they're not compensated). But I don't think that's the way to just absolve the issue that real injuries are happening to real people for the purpose of entertainment. I think there's a prerogative to make football as safe as it can reasonably be. And that's why I support Goodell in all efforts to reduce violent hits and make the game safer. Nuts to you, James Harrison.

But what really confuses me is why people are so virulently against these kinds of changes. James Harrison, at least, makes a lot of money and gains his fame on these kind of hits, so I understand his motive. But the average fan isn't getting paid for the hits. Is he paying for the hits? I doubt it - the ratings keep going up no matter what the NFL does in regards to violence in the game. I like defensive struggles as much as anyone, but I really am skeptical that anyone hates high scoring games with the passion they express. They're mostly just people whose teams are losing high scoring games. And besides, the talk is all pretty moderate around rules about pass interference or defensive holding. The talk is always about late hits and defenseless WRs and out of bounds contacts or hitting a QB in the knees. Driving to the ground. All stuff that doesn't directly affect the outcome of the play. And really, improves defense most of the time (tackle with your arms, not your shoulder!)

The fundamental issue appears to be one of sadism: a desire to see people get injured. There's a real undercurrent of sadism in American life these days - a feeling that suffering is an objective good: for people who have sex, we'll get rid of abortion so you can suffer more. Remember the cheers for Ron Paul telling those without insurance to die? Or for Rick Perry's executions? It's one thing to support those positions as necessities, but they seem to be lauded as objective goods. It's important to cause suffering.

Part of this is that the love of violence rarely seems to carry over into incidences of fair fights in sports. Boxing is getting less popular every year, wrestling is gone, and MMA is catching on, but still very peripheral. These are all sports that are violent, but are based on a set of rules, with voluntary fighters. Even hockey is the least popular "major" sport, where the fights are entered into on equal terms - the player basically agree to fight each other, punch and grapple, and stop. It's a totally different scenario than leveling a receiver over the middle. It seems to be a crucial difference.

So we get the great defenders of what are essentially dangerous cheap shots. Because people don't like seeking violence: they want to see pain.

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