Oct 25, 2010
I'll be interested in reactions to Denis Johnson's poem, below. It's new to me, and I think it's an interesting take on the ways football can be more meaningful than it seems to those fans or anti-fans who see it as little more than kill, kill, kill.
I'm adding James Wright's classic, "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio," even though I posted it last fall. Like Johnson's poem, it plays beautifully into the . . . meta-discussion . . . of what football is: frolic, fight, art, and minor tragedy, among other things.
Last Sunday, October 17, there were some nasty helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL, some injuries as a result, and some hefty fines ($75,000 in one case), which led to an orgasm of commentary from the . . . dare I say it? . . . Talking Heads. Should the rules be changed? Would it be enough to simply enforce the current rules?
From there it's a short, obvious step to the question: What can and should be done about the criminal element (as it was once called) among football players at all levels?
After last Sunday's disputed hits on sometimes vulnerable players (especially receivers jumping to catch passes), there were some troubling comments from TV's Talking Heads and some visitors at a blog I visit regularly, Ohio River Life, which is located in an Ohio town near the Pennsylvania border. Some Pittsburgh Steeler fans there were vocal about defending their linebacker, James Harrison, against charges of a cheap, dangerous hit. Some folks were defending recklessly violent contact that seems intended to injure an opponent rather than simply preventing him from getting his way--catching a pass or running for yardage.
From there, it's another short step to worrying that the old, old charge against football might be valid: fans want to see violence, not ballet or strategy or courage or grace under pressure or speed or the arc of a ball in flight or the hometown colors.
The corollary charge, of course, is that there are plenty of players who are happy to oblige, who would just as soon injure an opponent as tackle him, who couldn't care less about another guy's multiple concussions or career-ending injuries or even paralysis. If they were allowed to use sledge hammers and scalpels, would they? If Tommy told you to jump off the roof, would you? If Coach told you to get hold of that guy's injured knee in the pile-up and twist it, hard, would you?
If, in order to win, you must cripple the other team's players, rather than beating them with the skills that define the game, yours must be a piss-poor team. Dude. Psycho.
There is a moral difference between intending to rattle or even hurt another player and intending to injure him. Hurting him means shaking him up, intimidating him, letting him know you are not going away, you will be there any time he invades your territory, you will not give him one inch more than necessary, "you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore," and your refusal might cause him some discomfort. That has almost nothing to do with trying to injure that other player, intending to put him out of that game for the rest of his season or to cripple him forever.
Football is a metaphor for war, not war itself. Fans and players who crave injury need to examine their inner lives. Or simply enlist.
Where does that rage come from? What can you do about it that's more purposeful for you and less damaging to others? Someone should write a post titled "Football, Introspection, Morality and Self-Improvement."
Football will never be injury-free; that's a sad fact about a game that requires of its contestants so much in the way of speed, strength, character, and, yes, brains. But to make injury your objective is stupid and criminal.
There might be no way to know a character's intent, a kid's heart, his sense of what it means to be human; but officials in football must try to do just that, and it is often, not always, possible to determine that leading with a helmet, especially aiming at the other guy's helmet, is avoidable.
Spearing with your helmet is also less effective than a low, hard, shoulder tackle and wrapping up with your arms. Unless you intend to injure a man, or you lack the skill and courage to tackle low and hard, there's no need to go after an opponent's head. It's his legs that speed him down the field, and it's his arms that hold the ball. If you're not a psychopath, why do you want his head? What are coaches telling players? And the younger the players are, the bigger that question is.
So when you have players who want to be the next Jack Tatum (see video clip below--a few seconds will make the point), yes, fine 'em, kick 'em out of the current game, and suspend 'em from X number of future games, without pay. That will make a statement to the criminal element on the field and in the stands--and to little kids of all ages, who need such guidance, whether or not they realize it.
As for bloodthirsty fans, don't share a beer with them. Don't join their slobbering bloodlust. Make sure you're happy enough with your life that you don't need to pin your identity on a football team's success and violence. Shun those fans, who are fans of violence more than football. As far as I know, shunning works for the Amish.
Why I Might Go to the Next Football Game by Denis Johnson : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio by James Wright : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.
Jack Tatum Darryl Stingley Video | Jack Tatum Video | Darryl Stingley Hit Video | Oakland Raiders Jack Tatum | Buzzy Times