Ban Football, Still

24 Mar

Jeff Fisher, Roger GoodellI haven’t changed my mind about football.

Owners can rewrite the rulebook from scratch if it so amuses them. It’s just not worth the cathartic thrill of a “hit”, or even the mathematical precision of a deep pass, to know that these “warriors”, really just abused employees who are the fortunate contingent of a larger army of kids with broken dreams and brains who never get to the show, will become drooling, impoverished slabs of meat. The scum who make money from misery will disown them.

Concussions for young men are the price of our love for football, as broken hearts are what we pay for young love.

Indeed, part of boxing’s decline may well be because football has exceeded its display for blood lust. When George Bellows was painting those graphically gruesome boxing paintings a century ago, he noted that the “atmosphere” around the ring was “more immoral” than the brutality within it.

The thrill of watching football is not that players perform with such incredible precision, but that they do so even as they dance in the shadow of collision. Enthusiasm for sport can be a convenient cover to excuse the worst in us.

It’s not just the injuries. It’s Steubenville and Penn State. It’s a lifetime of gambling scandals. It’s greed. And, it’s really bad decisions like these new rules.

At the present moment, it is definitely the stupidest rule in sports. It’s going to change the way that offensive players run. It’s going to change the way that defenders tackle (we wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of them have their helmets fly off during tackles in order to force refs to throw a penalty flag). And, it’s going to change the way referees call games. They’re already under enough scrutiny. Do we really need another rule to add to the mix?

Even this doesn’t get to what’s so wrong about these rule changes. Like Congress and the budget, NFL owners are incapable of real reform.

The NFL’s biggest problem right now is a perception that the game isn’t being refereed fairly.

The massive NFL rule book has been lawyered into oblivion, with so many addendums, clauses, accepted rulings and interpretations involved that referees have an almost-impossible task.

Fans and media see what seem like plain and obvious calls negated “by rule” and wonder what’s happening to the game they love. Wildly inconsistent enforcement of the existing helmet-to-helmet rules and holding penalties make decisions seem arbitrary—or worse, malicious.

With the heavy influence of gambling on the NFL, and the unilateral, punitive style of Commissioner Roger Goodell, fans see apparently nonsensical calls go against them and feel like something sinister is afoot.

How do we know refereeing gaffes like the Fail Mary weren’t the product of refs on the take? The NFL has closed the “Jim Schwartz Rule” loophole that cost the Lions a win last Thanksgiving, but Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, per the word of a referee, was lucky enough to escape the same fate.

To be clear, there’s no evidence that officials are affecting games with anything other than their own inconsistency, or that Goodell hands out punishments according to anything other than his own sense of justice.

Corruption through familiarity, through centuries of tradition, and decades of modern advertising has made sport rotten. Football needs to surrender the field and let new games sprout. Hopefully, this generation can keep it fun before future Americans corrupt that game.

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