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Football is a violent sport. And that's how we like it


There is no sport without pain, theirs is not ours, although I have seen the parking lot at Lambeau Field become unfriendly to visitors. And the risk. Without risk, sport is dancing.

Football is the worst, or the best, depending on your approval and enjoyment of cruelty, brutality, etc. Football finds the beast in all of us until we are reminded on prime time that death could put us all to shame.

I wondered as I watched the Bills and Bengals huddled around hit safety Damar Hamlin, doctors trying to restart his heart, if any had doubts about their work. It’s the worst that can happen and it could happen to any of them. Probably not. Sympathy is as temporary as a sigh. And the money is so good.

As good news surfaces about the young Buffalo player’s improving condition, teammates, opponents, the NFL and the world at large can breathe out with relief from alarm and guilt. It’s time to get back to work.

Nothing will change, and no one really wants it. Huge men will smash into each other, smaller men will break more easily, and the team doctor will be on hand with a blue tent to cover any worries.

And the NFL will tackle the most pressing problem of how to satisfy an imbalanced playoff system now.

I remember Reggie White, a remarkable and dangerous defensive tackle, offering a bonus to his teammates for landing particularly vicious shots. The irony here is that White was a gentle soul and a man of faith.

“Just because I’m a Christian and a pastor,” he said, “doesn’t mean I won’t try to knock a quarterback’s head off.” It’s football, a blessing and a curse.

Vince Lombardi, the final word on all things football, once explained that football is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport.

Any sport bears danger, is inherently dangerous. And that’s the call. A wise man (actually it was me) once said that when it comes to sports, you can’t always tell the difference between violence and commerce.

The NFL isn’t that concerned about safety. He is more concerned with responsibility.

Twisted knees. Bad back. Broken bones. No athlete would trade the beginning for a better ending. Broken, confused or in pain, they will say it was worth it.

Football risks can be resolved this week. Simple. No stamps. No helmets. Play the game without the armor, which isn’t as much protection as it is a weapon. Especially the helmet.

Football is doing well with minimal protection, mainly shin guards. Rugby is as rugged as anyone would want it to be. And it works pretty well in some places.

Risk is what makes sport. Even poker players can get paper cuts.

That’s how the public – that’s us – loves it. That’s what players like to do. That’s how the game likes to sell it. How television can create disturbing graphics to reinforce it. The harder, the better. And rule changes, tackling techniques, better equipment, on-site medical care and those “concussion protocols” aren’t going to change that.

Any sport bears danger, is inherently dangerous. And that’s the call. Is it an American problem, this appreciation of violence, this tolerance for aggression and cruelty?

Football is a natural choice, America’s great garnish, a no-brainer, perfect union, violence and greed, aggression and exaggeration, bullies and sharks, distraction and desperation, ferocious and the fakes, the heartless and the soulless, the gladiators and the spangles, miserable excess and excessive misery, all together on a Sunday afternoon, not counting the odd Thursday, Monday and Saturday.

Again, irony isn’t usually a sidekick to football, but check that out. The Pro Bowl (renamed Pro Bowl Games) will feature eight skills competitions (who knew there were that many?) and three – count them, three – flag football matches. Flag-football. Like on the campus quad or the playground.

It’s a far cry from the early days of the game, so brutal that Teddy Roosevelt had to step in and save football. He was for “exhausting life”, he said, and “rough, manly sports…as long as it’s not deadly”.





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