Saturday, December 14, 2013

Violence in Sports

The two large topics are the new rule about collisions at the plate in baseball, and whether Sean Thornton's 15-game suspension is justified.

We are moving on separate tracks.  Performance-enhancing drugs are making players bigger, faster, stronger.  Collisions between them will be increasingly dangerous. Watch pro football clips from the 60's and read their heights, weights, and times in the 40-yard dash.  We are not genetically different and our nutrition is not enormously superior. It is true that weightlifting techniques and other conditioning are vastly better, but not enough to add 20-50 lbs per position.  It's drugs. These guys aren't that much bigger than the refs.

Tendons aren't built for this, neither are joints, and they give way, resulting in more injuries.  I suppose the fact that the painkillers are also better helps somewhat. (BTW, I didn't understand what Jerry Kramer's later comment that the Packers just ran out of time meant until I watched this. Clock management is now better.  Packers shoulda won.)

Colliding at the plate with an enhanced David Ortiz is different from getting hit by Jim Rice, who was considered big and uncommonly strong in his day.  50 lb difference.

Parallel to this, however, is the reality that we like violence less and less as a society.  It is not just that we want to keep concussions away from our children's brains, though that is certainly true. Middle-class parents no longer tolerate fights at school. UFC is now a specialty niche sport, whereas all sports fans followed boxing throughout my childhood and young adulthood. Children's sports have ever-stricter rules for containing possible outbreaks.  The NFL may be more violent, but it is less dirty than in the age of the AFL/NFL merger.

The hockey fans are irate here that their sport is being taken away from them in small increments.  They keep insisting loudly that other people don't understand that this is how hockey is played.  Orpik is partly at fault for not fighting, because this is how the game polices itself, etc, etc. They have an intuitive understanding of how all the pieces are supposed to fit, and blame the outsiders, the non-fans who don't understand, because they just don't get it. They keep insisting, perhaps truly, that the players prefer it this way also.  That isn't so strong an argument as you'd think.

Sorry guys, but it is you who don't get it.  This ratchet has been turning in only one direction since the days of Elizabethan bear-baiting. What you are describing is what hockey has been during your lifetime to date. You may be assessing that accurately and intuiting it correctly, but there is nothing permanent about it. See also, face masks. Fighting isn't in the college game or the international game so it clearly is not necessary to the sport.  That it seems necessary to NFL fans is fine with me - I barely follow the sport and they can do what they want.  But it's pretty clear where the trend is (especially as hockey players are now starting to be associated with PED's, as well). You can dig in your heels and you will slow down the change.  But the league office isn't stupid about this stuff.  They know you guys are the current market, but they also know that international TV and casual fans are the future. You don't own the sport.  You just feel like you should.


Dubbahdee said...

I'm thinking Touch Football rules by 2035.

Sam L. said...

Football and hockey are among the many sports I never watch.

Anonymous said...

Sure, but the knockout game seems pretty popular : )

But you're no doubt right about where this is going. The more people are aware of the brain injuries, early dementia, suicide etc, the less fun it becomes to watch.

Texan99 said...

I re-read an old Travis McGee novel the other day. The hero gets conked on the head and spends a lot of time explaining to the reader how that experience is unlike what happens in the movies. You don't just wake up and hop back into the action. His character is in considerable pain and fuzzy in his thoughts for a long time, while the bad guys get the temporary jump on everyone. That was an unusual approach for the time: John D. MacDonald the iconoclast.

I've noticed that TV and movie characters these days are made up to look more convincingly bruised and swollen after fist-fights. Even so, the script almost never calls for them to sustain lasting injuries unless someone is suddenly killed in a casual altercation when his or her skull cracks against a coffee table.

I keep thinking about my neighbor's 14-year-old grandson. His mother and grandmother were very unhappy about his dabbling in junior-high football and were relieved when he dropped it. Then they worried about a scuba-diving vacation that his dad took him on last spring. Then this summer he was killed instantly in a head-on collision with a drunk out on parole.