By Monte Lazarus
It’s recently come to light that certain teams in the National Football League have been awarding “bounties” to players who did especially naughty things to opposing players. Presumably this included hitting quarterbacks and other stars particularly hard with the intention of forcing them out of the game. Players responsible for the results of this mayhem were rumored to be paid anywhere from a few hundred to (maybe) a few thousand dollars. In college they get helmet stickers for doing something good – perhaps like a really great “hit”.
Some (not a majority) media folks expressed Shock, Shock(!) to learn of the bounties practice. Hey, where have you been? It wasn’t that long ago when a particular player for the then St. Louis Cardinal team was notorious for biting guys in a pile up. Twisting arms and legs, banging knees, hitting heads, necks and some unmentionable parts of the anatomy were always encouraged in football. It’s a macho thing. It’s also a way to make a few extra bucks. When Dick Butkus was middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears just the sight of him across the line caused 300 pound fearless mastodons to tremble and shake.
The fault, to paraphrase Pogo, is in ourselves as much as the players and coaches. Why act so surprised at football when we just love to see a boxer hammer another guy (or, these days, gal) into oblivion? Why act surprised at football when we cheer the phony wrestling matches in which over-muscled clowns pretend to be in sheer agony when some other clown flies off the ropes and lands smack on the first guy?
There’s nothing really new about our love of violence, blood and gore. The Romans apparently just adored gladiators beating each other to death, or even getting chewed upon by some unfriendly and hungry lion. Down through the ages humans burned other humans at the stake before crowds, and committed other bestial acts, often to applause from an audience. Today’s kids spend endless hours entranced by video games in which the hero blasts untold millions of evil creatures after whole cities have been decimated by other-worldly characters.
Regarding the NFL, there’s a proper concern about injuries… especially to stars. As players have bulked up and run faster and faster the collisions of the titans have become more and more spectacular. NFL films has even added sound to some rebroadcasts to emphasize the impact. But, there have been too many stretchers and devices to immobilize victims’ heads; and there has been far too much evidence of concussions ruining lives of players long after their careers are done. In that sense the NFL is trying hard to teeter on the fine line between too much violence and just enough to satisfy the love of the game and the undoubted artistry of its greatest players.
Image is everything. The league built itself from the early days of college stars playing under assumed names for a handful of dollars. Red Grange turned pro and popularized the professional game; Pete Rozelle, as Commissioner, was the marketing whiz behind the Super Bowl, fireworks and flyovers. Owners, like Jerry Jones in Dallas, built ultra-modern Roman Forums, often using a large share of taxpayer money. We pay megabucks to go to a game. We lionize players. We particularly adore quarterbacks. We gobble up interminable commercials for which sponsors fork over billions of bucks. We devour every minute of it according to the ratings. I’m a bit skeptical about that since, in my household, commercial time is bathroom time.
Of course, my wife and I find it quite difficult to live without football. How are we going to survive between seasons?