Sunday, September 13, 2015

American football just isn't all that.

The professional football season starts today. One marquee game on a Thursday night is not a start but only a shadow. The real thing begins today. Football is a great game. It really is. But until the game (and its fans, we must add) starts to lose some of its self importance, it really should take a breath and reconsider why it isn't all that. A reasonable sense of humility is a good thing for anyone and anything.

For starters, there are the repeated and gruesome injuries involved with playing the game. I'm sorry, but there's no game worth playing, and no sport worth being deemed sport, when thousands of players and thousands more in the future have and will suffer debilitating injuries. The libertarian argument that no one made them play simply is shallow in light of the suicides which have come about directly as the result of playing football. Perhaps no one in the strictest sense made them play. But our insistence as a society that players risk injury which all too often has led to death simply so that we can sit with friends on a weekend afternoon and rationalize it away with a blithe 'it's too bad about that awful injury but it was a good hit' rings of nothing but bread and circuses no matter how actually sorrowful we may feel at the time of the injury. We should not cheer what might result in long term injuries which cause people to take their lives as merely part of a game. Football needs to ratchet down the violence or, quite frankly, be banned.

The bravado of American football too really needs to be ratcheted down a few notches too. Oh, you stopped a guy for a two yard gain late in an already decided contest? Big whoop. You don't see players in other sports reveling in their own self glorification over similar plays in their games. Stop thinking your unimportant little play at an unimportant time is so critical to human history. An outfielder catching a deep fly ball in the eighth inning of a blowout has the right attitude. He caught it because he was supposed to give it his best no matter what. Be he knows that it ultimately means nil.

American football is not really the most popular game ever, either. That idea is smoke and mirrors. Let's see what the numbers would be if there were 80 some games per season as in basketball and hockey, or 162 as in baseball. I will guarantee the ratings will drop. What, we won't see that? You mean those big and husky he-men couldn't play that many games? Then the endurance which is supposedly so important in sports doesn't exist in football? That's just another debit so far as I'm concerned.

The fewer number of games played necessarily makes each game abnormally important; yet to be fair that is no reflection on the on the game as the game. It is a reflection of scarcity and nothing more. Add to that the party atmosphere which has attached itself to football, that in itself a reflection on scarcity and not a comment on the actual game either, and we see that it is the sense of event more than the game itself which is the attraction. There's nothing wrong with that of course. But I'll stress again that such is speaking to the event and not the sport. Admit it, football fans: it's the sense of event and not the actual game which attracts many of you. On the whole, the only fans actually interested in the outcome of the Super Bowl or other football championships are the fans of the two teams involved. Just as in the World Series or Stanley Cup.

Then there's the time clock and intentionally grounding the ball to stop the clock when you run out of your precious time outs. Two things apply here. One, and this applies beyond football (basketball comes to mind) is that no one in a timed game who has a vested interest in the outcome of the game should have any say whatsoever in the time clock. That should be reserved to the game officials and not the players or coaching staff of a given team. Too many football games are won because a team which has been otherwise outplayed can stop the clock up to three times, then ground the ball with no intent on actually making a play (this an indefinite amount of times) until they're in a position to win. That simply lacks integrity. It is not sportsmanlike. It's no matter that either team could do it. Neither team should be able to do it. If sports are supposed to teach sportsmanship then this needs to be addressed. The obvious answer is that only game officials who work independent of the outcome should have any say on clock usage, and grounding the ball to stop the clock should result in the traditional penalty (which ought to include either a yardage penalty or a runoff the clock) with loss of down. Anything else takes away from true sport.

There you have it: football too often isn't about sportsmanship and is more about an event than a game. Until football accepts that, it does not deserve the mantle it by itself purports to wear.

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