Good news, everyone! The scourge that is violence in professional football is about to come to an end. We all had a very good time with the brutality and general mayhem, but we knew the fun had to end sometime.
I don’t normally write much about politics here, because writing “[head explodes]” in every single post might get repetitive after a while. This is a slightly political story because it involves a politician and the government but it also involves sports and whatever moving on, the Associated Press reports:
Sen. Dick Durbin is setting up a Judiciary Committee hearing about bounties in professional football and other major sports in the wake of news that New Orleans Saints players received extra cash for hits that hurt particular opponents.
Setting aside the obvious “Congress doesn’t have anything better to do?” point, I suppose we at least owe Durbin a chance to explain why the upper house is going to spend time discussing the New Orleans bounty program. Maybe he has a really good reason we never thought about!
“Let’s be real basic about it here. If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it’s wrong). ‘You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?'” Durbin said in a telephone interview before raising the issue on the floor of the Senate.
Okay, scratch that. This is about the dumbest explanation I could have possibly imagined, exceeding the “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?” reasoning I was actually expecting.
Think about this for a minute: Every week during the NFL season, gigantic physical titans slam into one another with incredible force. The most common way for a play to end is for one player (or more) to physically bring another player to the ground, sometimes by lunging towards him to knock him off his feet. Taking another human being (who is also very strong and highly skilled) to the ground against their will requires physical force, and the act of using force on another person — particularly in this manner — is by definition violent. That is the very nature of the NFL, and even though we only see it every Sunday (and Monday, and also on some Thursdays and Saturdays), it actually happens all the time in practices, tryouts, workouts and scrimmages happening regularly week after week and year after year — and this also happens in college, high school and any other football outfit that doesn’t play touch or flag football.
Consider that “If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it’s wrong). ‘You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?'” quote. That’s an argument for eliminating football (as well as hockey, but nobody cares about hockey), not for looking into the bounty system. Even if the bounty system didn’t exist, some people are still being paid to “go out and hurt someone.” They’re called football players.
Yes, there are players who aren’t in there to hurt people (quarterbacks, running backs, kickers, etc.), but defenses exist in games almost specifically to hurt people. What does the senator think those linebackers are doing when they lunge for the quarterback? Why does he think someone like James Harrison leads with his helmet when making a tackle? It’s not to take someone down in the least violent way and gentlest possible. The league does not reward that; if that were the case, the NFL (or college pigskin, or high school games) wouldn’t have tackle football. They do play with tackles, and it does take a large exertion of effort for one superb athlete to tackle another, and since that’s the case players can/will/have to use as much physical force as humanly possible.
There’s a reason big hits are celebrated (i.e. played over and over during the games and on the highlight reels) and why the players who make them are valuable to teams; if you merely knock the quarteback down, he just gets back up. If you hit him so hard he thinks twice about standing in the pocket and holding the ball, or if you hit a running back so hard he can’t or won’t run as fast or as fearlessly, you give your team an advantage. That is the very nature of football and it’s out there on display in front of millions of people every week — some of them, by the way, the very same writers and NFL employees who profess to worry about “player safety” only when particularly ugly or brutal hits occur, or only when a player is injured.
The ridiculous questioning of whether we would accept this one particular element of professional football (the bounty program, which was wrong but not nearly as out of the ordinary as the sportswriter quasi-intelligensia would have you believe) if it occurred off the field could also be expanded to the entirety of professional sports. “If this weren’t taking place on a basketball court, wouldn’t it be weird that a guy is wearing short shorts and a tank top to work?” But by focusing on this aspect, the Senate will join the NFL in declaring that this one bit of hyper-violence has no place in football, while all of the other hyper-violent acts are fine and just part of the game. Unless they drag every tackler before a subcommittee each time he makes a brutal hit, it’s just another part of the act where people pretend they care about player safety and morality in sports without actually having to care at all.