Saturday, October 23, 2010
Namby pambies, jack wagons and the NFL
My suggested slogan for the new NFL: “Now With More Ticklin’ than Tacklin’!”
The NFL spent the week neatly dividing itself into the two roles of the Geico commercial about the drill instructor and the weepy therapy patient who gets sad about things like the color yellow.
On one side, you had the drill instructors calling the jack wagons on the other side a bunch of namby pambies.
And playing both roles was James Harrison of my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. He started out last Sunday as one of the most ferocious linebackers in the game and by Wednesday he was fretting about retiring because he felt misunderstood.
Talk about being a jack wagon.
The color yellow makes me sad, too. Every time I see it on the football field. And we’re going to be seeing a lot more of it now as the league leans on referees to call more penalties for the hits it once deemed legal.
This has been an outstanding week for connoisseurs of hypocrisy such as myself.
First of all, they fined Harrison $75,000 for his vicious hits -- neither were flagged for on-field penalties -- and later on its official website sold snazzy pictures of the hit for $250 dollars.
Who can blame Harrison for being confused?
The league which is now preaching player safety reiterated its interest in extending meaningful games from 16 to 18, something the battered players adamantly oppose.
It’s all alot like the beer titan commercials that dominate NFL games. They want you to consume massive quantities of beer as long as nobody gets hurt.
And this all happened during the month when the manliest sport not played on ice ordered its players and coaches to accessorize in pink to demonstrate its sensitivities toward breast cancer awareness.
I believe it’s all part of the grand scheme to cultivate the nearly 50 percent of the population that doesn’t reflexively reach for the remote every Sunday at 1 p.m. Plus, every time they release a new jersey, they know many of their loyal fans will shell out money to buy the trendy new color schemes.
Now commissioner Roger Goodell is getting squeamish over the thought of all these new pink fans seeing so much hi-def black ‘n’ blue. The day before the high profile hits, a collegiate player at Rutgers suffered a devastating spinal cord injury and may never walk again.
The NFL knows its behemoths are capable of such mayhem on every single down. It knows emerging head trauma studies and autopsies of its dead-too-young players show massive brain damage.
It knows it’s on a collision course with a massive court-ordered settlement for not doing enough to take care of its players.
It knows that the little warning label on the back of every weaponized helmet that reads the product doesn’t prevent head, neck or spine injuries is meaningless.
And it knows that by tinkering with any aspect of the nation’s most popular game it risks jeopardizing millions of fans so loyal they build their entire identities around the home team.
The most sensible solution came from one of the toughest and most revered men to ever play the game. That’s hall of famer Mike Ditka. He said the way to cease dangerous helmet-to-helmet hitting to is to strip the equipment of face masks sturdy enough to serve as interstate truck grills.
That would force players to tackle with their arms the way one of my favorite players, Hall of Famer Jack Ham, used to. The old Steeler’s tackles weren’t spectacular. They were just efficient.
He brought ball carriers to the ground the way NFL coaches used to teach players before the league began elevating spectacular hits as touchdown worthy plays.
Football’s always been a brutal game and that’s a big part of its appeal, even for a natural pacifist like myself.
So, like me, the NFL is both shouting drill instructor and jack wagon therapy couch critter.
We love the violence as long as nobody gets hurt.
That means this little sideline debate will rage all season long and it’s going to be as fun to watch as anything that takes place in bounds.
So let’s all just sit back and enjoy all the games.
And please drink responsibly.