“Dancing is a contact sport. Football is a collision sport.”
Thus spake Saint Vincent of Green Bay. Now, some anonymous suits at some resort hotel have decided that a good, hard, clean tackle can get a team penalized 15 yards, the player ejected for the rest of the game, and, if the hit was in the second half, the player sits out the first 30 minutes next week, too.
I’d accept this in pee-wee football but in the NCAA, the highest level of college sports, it smacks of hypocrisy. Unless the NCAA is also going to remove these highlight hits from the soon-to-be-released NCCA Football ‘14 video game, the suits’ hubris knows no bounds.
The hit that was heard ‘round the football world came in the Outback Bowl when South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney burst through Michigan’s line and exploded all over Michigan running back Vincent Smith. Literally. Helmet goes one way. Ball goes another. Smith goes down in a third direction. Since, January, that highlight has been replayed so much that it won Clowney an ESPY award for “Best Play.”
Now, the best play last year might be illegal this year. Defenders who target a defenseless player and make contact above the shoulders (that means head) will incur the penalties described above. Of course, this will be a notorious “judgment call” and Clowney’s hit was right where the referee is stationed on every play.
Realistically, on every football play, someone has an opportunity to really “ear hole” an opponent who is looking the other way. That is a dastardly deed, deserving of sanction. However, at the same time, the NFL is promoting an initiative intended to reduce neck compression injuries. It’s called “Heads Up Football” and its intent is for players to tackle with their heads up, not leading with the peak of the helmet (which already is covered by a penalty called spearing). Coaches are also being instructed to teach face up tackling.
Which was what we were already taught to do.
“Put your grill (face mask) right between the other guy’s numbers, wrap your arms around him, and drive your legs until you put him on his back,” said pretty much every football coach ever. Clowney apparently was paying attention when that technique was taught because that was exactly what he did.
Personally, I got as far as the semi-pro level in football, which is a nice way of saying you might get $50 a game (that you’d wind up spending on gas and lunch anyway) and you had to wash your own uniform. To be fair, I might have been called pretty good but I played with men who were “very good” and “great.” The difference between the 1980s and the 20-teens is that the laws of momentum and energy almost can’t keep up. Football looks like it has become a demolition derby because players are so much bigger and faster.
Which brings us to this week’s other sports headline below which you’ll the story of how the former National League MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers has been suspended for the rest of the year, without pay, for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. This was not his first time in trouble with Major League Baseball’s drug testing; previously, his denial of any wrongdoing only held up due to a lapse in the technical procedure of handling his sample.
I am no longer amazed or shocked by such stories. I’m numb to it now but it used to really make me angry. Baseball was my first love and the game I pursued the hardest. When I got cut from my community college team, I tipped my hat to the better men and vowed to try out next year, bigger and stronger.
However, my drug of choice was food. I was a “hard gainer” and to maintain a playing weight north of 200 pounds was tough. I was washing down steaks and chickens with protein shakes to get up to a generously calculated 215 (if I had a brick in my hip pocket). No baseball scholarship materialized and I went on to play baseball as a semi-pro sport for the same aforementioned gas money and a couple of cold hot dogs after the concession stand closed.
I would do anything for the privilege of smelling a freshly mowed infield, to hear the crack of bat on ball, or even to feel that “handful of bumblebees” when you hit one of the end of the bat. Anything but drugs. It never occurred to me to look for a little “advantage.” I figured that I needed my body to be in the best shape that I could maintain. I certainly wasn’t going take something from some stranger at the gym and inject it into my butt cheeks.
In an era of reality TV and celebrities that are “famous for being famous,” old movies and live sports have become the only things on which I could rely for good, wholesome entertainment.
Bring on the black-and-white movies. Sports has hurt my feelings again.
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Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr.
Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr. teaches journalism and public relations in the graduate program at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL. He also heads Thomas Consulting Group, a consortium of experts in crisis management, media relations and leadership development.