Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where Have All The Gladiators Gone? (Part One)

I am not civilized. I am an animal who craves blood, sweat and tears. I believe in the supreme nobility of warriors. I would've fit in nicely in ancient Rome, sitting in the gallery shouting at slaves killing each other in the name of entertainment. Wine would soak my lips, I'd be in heaven. It is why I became a football fan.

We hear analogies between America and Rome all the time. The Empires. They had the Colosseum, we have the Coliseum. They had gladiators, we have the NFL. And the two used to be one of the same. Both sports were built around men who left everything on the field of play, whether it be literally or metaphorical. Both had a rabid fan base. But more importantly, the driving force behind them was that the power of the fan superseded that of the performer. The glory days are over.

The sad but true reality of pro football is that of the gladiator-like treatment the players received. In the last decade, a big bright light had shone over medical records of past players. Concussions, broken bones and years of wear and tear had taken their toll. Running backs were walking around like zombies, quarterbacks acting like, well, Joe Namath. A panic spread across the NFLPA. Protection became more important than performance.

Now, we have rules in place designed to prevent injury. You can't hit above the shoulders or below the thigh. You can't lead with your helmet. If the quarterback even seems like he's going down, the whistle is blown before the damage can be inflicted. This is not football! We wonder why MMA has taken such a stranglehold on the attentions of young men? The lack of violence and reality in sports drove them to the death cages. I would join the MMA march myself if I weren't for the fact that the first death to occur in a fight (which is inevitable, by the way) will bring about rule changes much like the NFL is suffering. I don't need my hopes dashed twice. Enjoy your short run while it lasts.

This society is way too hung up on safety. It is illegal to not wear a seat belt, which affects nobody but the moron not wearing it (and according to one police officer I know, "that law is in place because we have to clean it up". In this case, it's a law in place to protect cops from seeing gruesomeness, not to keep you alive). We want to ban aluminum bats from little league. I actually heard two sports radio hosts debating whether or not pitchers should wear helmets. How about suits of armour while we're at it?

I don't want any of this nonsense. Give me two overgrown men of steel (NOT literally) bashing into each other at full speed. Give me linebackers gunning for quarterbacks' knees. If a receiver catches a pass in midfield, I want somebody sticking a helmet in his chest. Until recently, football players expected this kind of brutality. There aren't any misconceptions about getting hurt. A big hit today aches tomorrow. Take big hits your whole career, it will hurt for a decade. That's reality, and there is no way to get around it.

This is what the fans signed up for, but we're getting a watered-down corporate version of football. Media-heads actually complain that Hines Ward - a wide receiver - hits too hard. Please. This anti-violence is ruining the game. How did we get here? Well, Brett Favre is somewhat to blame.

To be continued...


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