It is incumbent on me to weigh in on the public debate over The Future of Football”. This debate and speculation is not anything new. It is rooted in the basics of human nature and an individual’s responsibility for his own well-being. Can we toss football into the same socio-cultural crock pot as “having an abortion”….. “being gay”….. “eating a Big Mac”….. “smoking marijuana”….. “riding a bicycle on a busy street”? Does it “take a village” to determine what sport you can play? ……
Am I the only one who finds it fascinating that the main topics of this week are:
(1) Is Football too dangerous?….. (2) Whether it is or not, should gay men (or women too I reckon) feel comfortable playing it?…… (3) Whether it is or not and whether gays are playing, does God have a favorite team in The Super Bowl?
Maybe #4 would be ….. would Dan Marino be better off today if HE had met Lennay Kekua rather than Donna Savattere?
In 1960 America was introduced to The Violent World of Sam Huff. Sam Huff was a middle linebacker for the New York Giants. A TV documentary was produced highlighting the explosions and collisions that took place during the 3 or 4 seconds duration of a football play. That documentary was narrated by none other than “Uncle Wally” Cronkite
In the early 60s it could have been Ray Nitzchke or Chuck Bednarik or Alex Karras or any of dozens of “headhunters” in NFL Football. Huff was probably chosen for the simple uncomplicated nature of his name and the fact he played in New York. Sam Huff was 6’1”, 230 lbs.
NFL Films was developing at the same time led by Steve Sabol. Narrated by John “The Voice of Doom” Facenda. One of the most popular vignettes they produced each year was The Nutcracker Suite which was a montage of especially violent hits set to classical music. Fans LOVED IT. Coaches LOVED IT. Players LOVED IT and vied to be featured among the hardest-hitters in the NFL.
For the record….. in 1960, when America met Sam Huff’s Violent World, Lawrence Taylor was one year old. A few years later in the late 60s, another NFL linebacker named Chris Hanburger (UNC’64) was popularly nicknamed “The Hangman” for his violent horse-collar tackles. In the 70s, there was Jack Tatum aka “The Assassin”. Jack hit a New England wide receiver Darryl Stringer and paralyzed him for life. I don’t recall if a penalty was called on the play.
In 1964, NY Giant QB YA Tittle was memorialized in an iconic photo following a perfectly legal hit by Pittsburgh’s John Baker (later to be Sheriff of Wake County). Tittle suffered a concussion and cracked sternum on the play. That photo, and the earlier Sam Huff documentary and NFL Films, helped to elevate “pro football” to America’s most popular spectator sport.
On Nov 18, 1985 (on Monday Night Football) America witnessed “the hit that, in ESPN polling, was the runaway winner as the most shocking moment in NFL history”. Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theisman’s leg in another perfectly legal “hit” that both players and league officials never questioned was “simply part of the game”.
What about any of the above would not clue anyone in to the reality that football is a very violent game where the likelihood of being seriously injured on every play is very high?
Today’s players at the “big time” college and NFL level are bigger, stronger, faster than ever before. The pure physics of their collisions are therefore greater and more likely to have negative effects upon any number of human body parts including the brain. That said, I doubt the “could get badly hurt” factor is all that higher today than it was 50 years ago. It was abnormally high then….. and now.
At that same time all across America, kids were even playing “tackle football” on sandlots without any equipment whatsoever. In my town we had the annual turkey bowl on Thanksgiving where a bunch of teenage boys would gather on a local playground and essentially play rugby although we didn’t know that’s what it approximated. “Protective padding” was “wearing two sweatshirts”.
A neighborhood sociopath named Jack Medley organized the bloodbath. Jack had that same 1,000 yard stare in his malevolent eyes as Chris Hanburger. Wonder what ever happened to Jack Medley?
Looking back, I guess taking part in that was a rite of passage of some sort to avoid being labeled “a sissy”. Being given an interactive tour of Sugar Hill – our local “red light district” might have been less dangerous physically if not emotionally. Some of my buddies may have done both.
Jumping ahead to 2013….. The American version of Football in now under siege as being “too dangerous”. Former players are developing life threatening maladies from the latent ramifications of an activity they willingly chose to participate in. In the new American Way they want to blame some deep-pocketed higher authority for not telling them that their “sport” was incredibly dangerous.
Our litigious society wants to put football in the category of “lead paint”….. “asbestos”….. and “smoking cigarettes”. If I was a trial lawyer wishing to own my own G-550 and/or a beachfront manse in Maui I suppose I would jump on this bandwagon too. A class-action suit representing “everyone who ever played college or pro football” could generate serious 30% commission.
Let me hesitate here. I do sympathize with former NFL players of the 50-60-70s who are not receiving the pension benefits of more recently retired players. I’m not sure how that inequity can/should be resolved but “respecting those who were the foundation” of the current popularity of the sport seems “the right thing to do”.
I certainly appreciate parents (or a POTUS) who are saying “I don’t want my son (or daughter in today’s gender-neutral society ??) to play football”. I don’t believe there should be any macho stigma attached to not playing. There are aplenty of other activities where the valuable lessons of competition, team play, “thrill of victory – agony of defeat”, et al can be developed.
If a child “wants to play” and the parent says “no” that is an intra-family matter…. not unlike a budding equestrian daughter having a tantrum because daddy won’t buy her a pony. Should “the guvmint” mandate “a pony in every backyard”?
Our “Kid” was/is a “girly girl”. Our family council decisions involved the investment potential of beanie babies and “the appropriate age for ear piercing”.
The NFL Draft bears no resemblance to the “selective service” draft where 18 y/os were rounded up off street corners and soda shops, handed M-1s and ordered to storm Omaha Beach or wade thru a booby-trapped rice paddy. No one has ever “run off to Canada” or cut off a toe to avoid The NFL Draft. To NOT be drafted by the NFL is a life-defining disappointment. As is not receiving a college “scholarship” to play big time college football.
As with most perplexing socio-cultural issues everyone will choose the category of concern that best exemplifies “their ox” in this ditch.
Fans in the stands or in their La-Z-Boys still salivate over The Nutcracker Suite circa 2013. So long as “our favorite player” doesn’t get paralyzed or vegetabilize….. who cares?
The NFL likes lots of happy enthusiastic fans however they count them. Would NFL execs, ESPN suits and team owners (aka “eeeeevil greedy owners”) still be “fat cats” if the NFL and/or football was banned or radically reconfigured? Sure they would.
The NFL players kinda like making millions of $$$$ playing the sport they have chosen as their occupation. For most of them the alternative is….. well there are no occupational alternatives for most of them. But THAT is another socio-cultural issue for another day.
Where do YOU come down on The Future of Football?
As has become “a BobLee Super Bowl Tradition”….. Blondie and I will watch either a James Bond marathon or an HGTV / DIY marathon until five minutes before kick-off then turn on “the game”. Whether I will watch halftime anticipating a Beyonce wardrobe malfunction is yet to be decided. How about you?
WARNING: DO NOT watch the Go-Daddy commercial with SI swimsuit model Bar Rafaeli and the geek. You’ve been warned….. YUCK !!!