When you watch football, you are complicit in violent assault

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Junior Seau
Junior Seau

Is it sadistic to watch football? Yes.

Football is surely the most competitive and exciting popular sport in the States. But it now involves so much violence that it puts a viewer in a dubious moral position.

Sunday was no exception. One conference championship was decided, according to the losing coach, by an intentional blow delivered to a star defender, taking him out of the game. In the second game, we saw a great receiver, Vernon Davis, destroyed on an attempted reception and made a non-factor in the game– Davis a very physical receiver who was sidelined with concussion earlier this year. And another great receiver not catch a ball because he was afraid of the onrushing train (Michael Crabtree, Kam Chancellor). And a great defender, NaVorro Bowman, injured horrifically on a play, because of a crushing hit by a fellow defender that sent the pass receiver into Bowman’s knee.

The press is completely corrupted. As when commentator Troy Aikman says that a devastating hit on Luke Willson should not have been called for a penalty. And after that, Willson was not a factor in the game. Or the moronic article that explained, “Vernon Davis feeling great after concussion”.

The one incident everyone is talking about is Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s disgraceful rant about Michael Crabtree after the game. But Sherman’s verbal abuse is just an extension of the physical abuse on the field.

Just as the bullying last year of former Dolphin Jonathan Martin by former Dolphin Richie Incognito is part of the game.

Just as the violent actions of Plaxico Burress and Ray Lewis and Aaron Hernandez grew out of the game.

Just as the premature destruction of the tremendous athletic talents of Michael Vick and Robert W. Griffin III behind weak offensive lines is part of the game.

The entire culture of the game is violent; and it’s time to admit that you as a viewer are in on it. You are complicit.

You can rationalize it as long as you like by saying that the press celebrates it and the advertisers do too. And they are trying to change the rules to make the game less violent– yes, for 15 years now, and it only gets worse.

You can rationalize it by saying that football is war by proxy and people are warlike, that violence is American as cherry pie, or as the late Doris Lessing said society is constituted by violence. But– you’re complicit. And it is worse than what the Romans did to the gladiators because we have replay.

And it does not matter that they are settling suits and changing the rules. Football has created a culture of assault and bullying, with impunity. It destroyed the hero of my youth John Mackey, and, lately, a star of my adulthood, Tony Dorsett, with impunity. It caused Junior Seau to commit suicide.

And the commentators cheer it on:

“Some of it legal, some of it possibly not”– commentator Chris Collinsworth on DeMarco Murray of Dallas putting his head down to spear defensive players from Philadelphia during game on December 29.

“These runs are body blows. You hope by the second half you wear [the defense] down” –Troy Aikman on Fox, on Ed Lacy of Green Bay, pounding the San Francisco line, January 5.

The stars of the game are particularly vulnerable. Consider the carnage of the Denver-KC game, Jan. 6:

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles left in the first quarter of the Chiefs’ first-round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts to undergo concussion protocol and will not return

Wide receiver Donnie Avery also left the game because of a concussion. He scored on a 79-yard touchdown reception.

Cornerback Brandon Flowers was helped to the locker room in the third quarter and was being evaluated for a concussion.

Bill Simmons of Grantland says it is only getting worse:

Read more here:

the Bigger, Stronger, Faster era might be having a bigger impact than anything else. These guys are clearly too huge now; the YouTube videos of the 1970s games have little correlation to what we’re watching now…. And let’s be honest — nobody really cares. [The NFL is] cracking down on hard hits, cheap shots and headhunting — a decent start, but nothing that will solve the fundamental problem of NFL players outgrowing a sport that was originally designed for different bodies and different speeds. Whether it’s a coincidence or something more (and I say the latter), it sure seems like we’re seeing more and more injuries to marquee players.

The only good news here is that smart people are on to this. Obama says he wouldn’t let a son play football, and some day the parents will demand change. They won’t send their children into the high school  meat grinders, won’t expose their sons to Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy. On Melissa Harris Perry’s show last fall, she asked, Could football go to flag football? Yes. How long before people say Go to flag football tomorrow. Marry football with basketball, for acrobatic movement, and try and save the spectacle, and the athletes. But that will take years.

Meantime, look at the culprit in the mirror.

You love to watch this game. You can’t wait for the Super Bowl, and Seattle’s Legion of Boom to go after Peyton Manning. You are a party to violent assault.

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Yes. We should all play soccer (er… football) like those non-violent Europeans and South Americans. We can be very peaceful like the peaceful European football fans. Alternatively, we can be nice and pleasant like Canadian hockey fans.

Meanwhile in the football where I come from permissible contact has been vastly reduced, yet people still reminisce fondly about the days when, “It was a mans game”. Back then this was wasn’t even a yellow card for Graeme Souness, he played for my team Liverpool, an amazing player but… Read more »

I will not watch the Superbowl because Soda Stream is involved but thanks Phil for giving me another reason not to watch it.
Now I cannot be accused of antisemitism.

Off topic, Phil. What? You need to take on another popular cultural institution? Zionism getting too tame or stale, must take on football? Must alienate American blue collar workers, too?

Stick to the War of Ideas in the Middle East. Focus. You’re having an impact.

i remember in the 60s when jerry kramer, star tackle of the packers, played at 215 lbs. my wife’s father played tackle in the 30’s at notre dame at 185 lbs! i am trying to wean myself off football–world cup soccer helps–but it’s clear the game is no longer viable;… Read more »