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Fixing Football

Well, I’m sure you all know my stance on football. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out in detail here.

However, I am not the type who just up and declares why something is rotten and just leaves it at that. I am actually willing to give my take on what can be done to fix the problem.

I am not so blind as to not consider the possibility that something like American football could be a safer, more civilized game not infested with abusive monsters. Therein perhaps lies the biggest issue I have: The fact that there are almost no people, at least among the fans and media who see that there are serious problems in their game that need to be dealt with.

This is why I admire someone like Jason Whitlock. The former Kansas City Star and Fox Sports writer, about to begin his second stint at ESPN, isn’t afraid to point out the massive problems of thug-like attitudes in the game of football. Whitlock says the hip-hop culture invading the game is to blame, and has received massive flak from fellow African-Americans for doing so.

While Whitlock makes good arguments there, I can’t help but think other factors are at work as well – mainly, SportsCenter and the Madden video game series. These have greatly glamorized the most violent aspects of the game and thus encouraged more players to be that overly vicious type. Now, I would never say the solution is to eliminate highlight reels or video game; the real issue comes from parents and coaches not drilling this attitude out of their kids.

Which brings me to this list. Back when Richie Whitt was on the air waves, he decided to make a list of things he though soccer needed to do to improve the most popular game in the entire world. Some had validity to me (like keeping time on the scoreboard) while others not so much (One point for a shot and three for a goal? You want to turn soccer into horseshoes?). So I feel I have the right to present my own list of what the most popular game in America needs to do to fix its problems. Some of these are to clean up other issues not relating to the problems of violence and abusive behavior, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon.

1. Start the clock up sooner. No sport wastes time like American football, especially the NFL – though admittedly the NBA is getting close. Do we really need to drag an hour of game time to nearly four times that in real time? There is just too much time when the clock isn’t running, and there’s an easy way to remedy that. Any time the officials have to stop the clock, start it back up once they spot the ball. Why exactly does the clock have to remain stopped from the time a pass hits the ground until the moment they snap the ball again? Heck the only reason the clock stops on an incomplete pass at all is because 100 years ago they had to wait for the lone old guy they had for an official to reclaim the only ball they had. (Yes, I actually did some research on the history of the game.) Totally outdated. Let’s get the game moving.

Of course, every time an organization has tried that, they caved in to pressure. The NCAA tried a similar rule a few years back and dropped it after one year because people like Mike Leach complained that they were unable to run as many plays per game. Wasn’t that kind of the point?

2. Punish for going out of bounds. Outside of the violence aspect, this might be the most frustrating thing about the game. Why is American football the only sport in the entire world that rewards you for going out of bounds? Every other sport, you lose the ball altogether for doing that.

Again, easy to fix: If a player steps out of bounds without having been physically forced out by the defense – no gain on the play, loss of down, ball goes back to the original spot. Make the game stay within the boundaries of the field like every other game is.

3. Actual punishments for excessive violence. Now for the big ones. What can be done to get rid of so much abusive play and subsequently abusive people in the game? Can anything be done to eliminate things like another Bountygate scandal? Maybe not completely, but there is definitely something that can hamper it from being effective. And it lies within the rules of the “other” football.

In soccer, disciplinary action is simple: A player gets a “yellow card” warning for a major infraction and a “red card” ejection for a second offense in a game or extremely serious offense. An ejection or too many yellow cards accumulated leads to a suspension. Such a system can be implemented in the American game; An automatic 1-game suspension for a player getting ejected or racking up too many personal foul penalties. I see 50 yards worth of penalties over a season being fair enough for a first suspension with subsequent ones coming every 30 yards.

The fines the NFL levies for excessive hits is chump change to these players. Make it much more likely that such actions will affect the team, things might start changing.

4. If it’s not a tackle, it’s not legal. People overseas like to call our football “a game for gentlemen played by animals” while rugby is vice versa. The logic being that even though football has more rules and protective gear to try and prevent injury, its participants still try to cause such injury – while trying to get on ESPN in the process.

I know I’m not the only one on this issue. I remember a former co-worker, who played the game, watching Super Bowl and complaining, “No one’s tackling. They’re standing around looking for the chance to make the big hit.” I also remember a former coach on a national radio show brushing off the accusations of kickoffs being too dangerous by saying, “The problem isn’t the kickoffs; the problem is that kids today don’t know how to tackle.” So just flat out make anything other than an actual wraparound tackle illegal – which may be what the NFL is gradually doing anyway. Yes, fans will continue to whine that the manliness is being taken out of the game. Their predecessors did the same whining when helmets were mandated because people were actually dying on the field.

There simply should be no reason for anyone to have to try and break a running back’s spine in two with a headfirst spear. If you’re not good enough to stay in front of the guy with the ball so you can get both arms around him and bring him down the right way, maybe that guy deserves to get around you and take it to the end zone.

5. No Felons Allowed. Playing any sport for a living is a privilege. An NFL job is not protected fully by the U.S. Constitution like your citizenship is. There are several jobs out there that pay a lot less where you can get fired for a lot less than being accused of rape of murder. And I don’t care how good a player you are, no one’s that good, someone is out there that can take your place. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t so much better than everyone that he should be excused for multiple rape allegations. It’s being reported that one NFL player, Kerry Rhodes, is being blacklisted under accusations of being gay, but Michael Vick can’t get blacklisted for abusing dogs?

While it looks like the New England Patriots knew about Aaron Hernandez’s past and took a gamble on drafting him out of Florida, at least Robert Kraft said the right thing when they did cut him before he was even arraigned on his murder charges, saying Hernandez putting himself in such a position was enough that they didn’t want him representing them. The NFL would have a much better image as a whole if everyone followed such a policy: You get accused of a felony, you’re out.

Does what I say sound unfair to claim football needs such stricter conduct rules compared to other sports? Maybe. But the inconvenient truth is that football is an extremely violent sport and thus attracts extremely violent people. Every game will unfortunately have people committing deplorable acts; see only Chad Curtis for proof of that. But when you have a “game” that glorifies the act of severely hitting and injuring people, harsher steps must be taken to ensure the participants be civil within the sidelines and even more civil outside them.

Otherwise, certain sports fans and bloggers have the right to be very afraid of a football player getting within 500 yards of his sister.

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Confessions of a Football Hater

Well, I guess it’s time for The Big One. The one I’m guessing quite a few of those who have followed this site and/or my Facebook/Twitter accounts have wondering. Since THAT season has started again, there won’t be a better time to answer that question:

Why? Just why do I have such a deep seething hatred for the Dallas Cowboys and in general for the game of American football?

If you think I enjoy constantly spewing such venom at the supposed “sport” that so many here treat as a religion, you’d be wrong. It’s not always fun. But it’s not that avoidable when every time I try to take a step back and tell myself that I should give this game a try, something new comes up or another memory arises to tell me I just can’t.

Is it jealousy when it comes to the Cowboys? I won’t deny that may be part of the reason. But again, we’re talking about a football team whose attitude among its participants and fans is that nothing else has the right to exist, let alone succeed, in North Texas.

I’m not exclusively Rangers. I pay almost no attention to them during the winter, focusing on the UTA Mavericks. And I will occasionally miss a game if I get the time to travel up to Frisco for FC Dallas. But Cowboys fans, for the most part, firmly believe this city must be about all Cowboys 24/7/365, nothing else. This town ain’t big enough for any of the sport.

Before Neftali Feliz struck out A-Rod in 2010, it was pretty much impossible to find anyone claiming they loved the Cowboys and the Rangers. Add the Mavericks in there too prior to 2011. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, because I remember all too well. I remember the empty bleachers for years and the constant abuse from Cowboys fans saying Rangers fans didn’t deserve to even call themselves men, let alone Americans.

People would always say, “This is a winners’ town; the Rangers will start drawing when they start winning championships.” But the crowds and TV ratings for the Cowboys games despite them winning absolutely nothing for more than 15 years prove that is the biggest pile of bull honkey. The Rangers have to go to the World Series every single year to draw decent crowds, but the Cows could go winless for 10 straight years and still sell out every single game. If the Cows were playing the Redskins on the same day the Rangers were on the verge of winning the World Series, no one would watch the Rangers game. Dale Hansen once said the Mavericks would be bumped to page two if they won the championship on the same day the Cowboys’ coach quit, and I can’t argue with him.

Of course, this attitude is really just a microcosm of the NFL as a whole, as, despite having the shortest season, the league does everything in its power to make sure it’s the headline story on ESPN every single night, even in June. From stupid scouting combines to mini-camps, the league constantly invades everyone else’s space. And when baseball fans actually ask for baseball talk during baseball season, we’re branded as “baseball bullies.”

The NFL is the real bully. The way they intimidate the media is shameless, from banning TV stations from using their own cameras to making newspaper cameramen wear vests with NFL corporate sponsors on them. And don’t you DARE try to paint football in a negative light. They forced ESPN to cancel Playmakers in 2003, and now they just bullied the World Wide Leader in Sports into pulling out of PBS’ investigation into football concussions. This censorship is ignored by the people because they simply can’t stop tuning in during the fall.

The NFL can get away with absolutely anything and still be a juggernaut. And the horrible thing is: They do. The NFL might as well be called the National Felon League, except the proven track record of abusive, thuggish, criminal activity is not exclusive to professional football players.

I’m not surprised at this; we are talking about a sport where the sole object is to cause as much abusive destruction to the human body as possible. And that’s the only reason why it’s so popular; because we are a society that gets off on death and violence.

“This is why we watch football. Because it is barbaric and terrifying and sick. Because we love good hits and kamikaze safety blitzes and a quarterback sitting on the field after a sack with visions of Tweety Bird dancing in his brain… We don’t watch football for its feats of athletic ballet.”

Those aren’t my words; those come from Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, in a column he wrote for The Daily Beast criticizing the NFL for persecuting the culprits in the Bountygate scandal. “I’m loving it. So are 99 percent of fans, too many of them afraid to admit it now because they don’t want to endorse a game that is inherently sadistic, a particularly egregious political incorrectism.”

There is no doubt in my own mind (these ARE my words) that we will see a player killed on the field within the next few years. And while they won’t admit it, almost everyone watching will consider it the greatest moment in football history.

It’s the same reason violence is more tolerated than sex in movies, a combination of the Puritans that helped found our country combined with the Ancient Roman belief that taking a human life is the world’s greatest accomplishment. Even in our supposedly more enlightened society, football fans put the blinders on and try to believe that those guys aren’t REALLY trying to kill one another on that field. And ignore how may people they are abusing off of it.

I’m not saying every single football player is a rapist and/or a murderer; I can’t prove that. I’m saying there are far too many of them to assume someone who beats people to a bloody pulp for a living can be a good person. And the few there that might be still have no issue playing alongside the monsters that would love to take their wives into an alley and do horrible things to them. What’s worse, it’s almost like the people who watch it love these players BECAUSE they can commit such horrific acts.

When two high school players in Steubenville, OH, were charged with raping a co-ed, national sympathy immediately went to the players and not the victim. National writers and pundits pined about how tragic it was that these kids’ football careers were ruined. Social media overflowed with posts blaming the girl, saying she asked for what she got because she was drinking. And the computer hacker who helped expose the crime faces more jail time than the boys.

Nine years ago, the University of Colorado’s football team was revealed to be regularly offering women for sex services to recruits that led to numerous rape allegations – including one from a woman who was on the team as a kicker. No charges were filed, the coach was suspended only for making disparaging remarks at the female player (he was fired a year later when his team was embarrassed by Texas in the Big 12 title game), and the general attitude from the public was, “Big deal, I bet that happens everywhere.” That’s the sad part: They’re probably right, and the fact that people accept it just makes me want to cry.

In the last year, even before Aaron Hernandez’s notorious case, Josh Brent killed his supposed best friend in a drunk driving collision; not only was he not cut and in fact allowed to be on the sideline for the next game where he was cheered, but teammate Jay Ratliff showed how concerned he was by getting arrested for drunk driving just a couple months later. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher murdered his child’s mother and then killed himself. A year earlier, former Cowboy Sam Hurd was arrested for drug trafficking, actually admitting he wanted to be a drug czar more than a football player.

And all this was after the likes of O.J. Simpson, Rae Carruth, Ray Lewis, Leonard Little, Donte Stallworth and the numerous cases of drug use and sexual assault from Cowboys players during their glory years of the 90s.

This might seem like a select few. But I’m betting any legal expert will tell you that when it comes to victim crimes, there are at least five that never even see charges for each one that does.

This is a huge problem in the game of football. And no one wants anything done about it.

In baseball, PED use is looked upon as the worst sin in the world. It’s reached the point were players are finally standing up and demanding the union help the league’s crackdown more, saying they no longer want their reputations in doubt.

There is no such outrage from football players or fans demanding the NFL clean up its image. Ben Roethlisberger can rape multiple women, Aaron Hernandez can help kill a man and hide the body, and Michael Vick can abuse animals, and all of this is brushed off with a cavalier “boys will be boys” attitude.

I have truly had football fans tell me on multiple occasions, “As long as he wins games, I don’t care how many women he rapes.” That alone is enough for me to lose all faith in humanity.

The NFL had the chance to take a first step toward making things better when they struck hard against the New Orleans Saints’ head coach, defensive coordinator and numerous players for putting up bounty rewards for injuring opponents. But an arbitrator – who happened to be Roger Goodell’s predecessor as NFL Commissioner – overturned the player suspensions, ruling they did nothing wrong in assaulting their own peers. All of the implicated persons are drawing a paycheck from an NFL team today.

I’m not saying baseball or any sport I follow is perfect. It was very disturbing to know that the Rangers have had players like Esteban Loaiza and Milton Bradley with histories of assaulting women. When Kenny Rogers struck a cameraman, I knew the Rangers had to get rid of him even though he was the first player other than Nolan Ryan I ever had to go to the Ballpark to see. And I’ve spent years trying to convince myself that Jason Kidd turned his life around after that horrible incident of hitting his wife when he was in Phoenix.

But football’s much worse track record on this speaks for itself. Since the Super Bowl, more than 30 football players have been arrested this year – twice as many as baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis and wrestling combined. If there ever was a culture of decency in American football, it’s long gone.

And no one cares, because the game still gives them what they want: Horrific abusive violence. Cowboys fans don’t care about Dez Bryant going 70 yards for a touchdown; they want to see Sean Lee hit someone so hard he is never able to walk again.

There is no courtesy or humanity in the game at all. No one will even go to the simple trouble of extending a hand and helping up the person they just tackled; it’s always the guy dancing all over the field saying “I KILLED THAT M-Fer!!! YEAH, I KILLED THAT M-Fer!!! I’m a MAN!!!”

Yes, to be a man, you have to kill a man. That’s our culture, especially in the sports we want.

So I guess I’m not a man because I choose to not like a sport inhabited by monsters where, if any one of them got within 500 yards of my sister, I’d likely end up having to go to the police station.

I know how extreme all this sounds. As a pop culture critic, I am currently at odds with a supposed feminist who claims any video game involving the rescue of a female causes victimization of women. I see the similarities in our crusades and am concerned about me being hypocritical.

But Anita Sarkeesian can’t list gamers who try to hurt women because they play such games, and I know of many gamers who want to see more strong female protagonists in games, contrary to her claims. I’ve also given you several instances of football players hurting innocents and no one caring.

No outcries of the promotion of abuse that looks to be clearly rampant in this sport. Nothing but a nonchalant attitude of football fans who think violence is as good as Gordon Gekko thought greed was.

It’s really hard to like a sport that keeps blitzing you with so much to dislike.