Sunday, April 8, 2012

Proud To Be a Wuss!

Trey Smith

One of the big stories in the world of American professional sports centers around what has been dubbed, "Bountygate." Here's a brief description from Wikipedia:
The New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, widely dubbed Bountygate, was an incident in which several defensive players on the National Football League's New Orleans Saints were found to have operated a slush fund that paid out bonuses, or "bounties," for in-game performance in violation of NFL rules. The pool was in operation from 2009 (the year in which the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV) to 2011. Among other things, players earned bonuses for deliberately knocking opposing players out of games.
Put into more specific terms, defensive players earned "unofficial" money above their salaries for injuring offensive players. The biggest bonuses were paid for causing the other team's offensive players to get carted off the field.

Naturally, there has been much public handwringing over this "situation." Many coaches, players, pundits and fans have reacted with horror to the idea that football players sometimes try to injure their opponents. The National Football League has handed down some severe sanctions against the team, general manager and coaches involved, including the indefinite suspension of the Saint's former defensive coordinator (recently hired by the St. Louis Rams).

My reaction to this scandal has been ambivalent, at best. The revelations don't surprise me in the least. I learned about the excessively violent nature of football when I tried out for my high school's freshman team.

Prior to joining the freshman team, I had played three years of organized flag football. The chief difference between flag football and its more regular version is that the former is a lot less violent than the latter because, instead of tackling the person with the ball, you remove a flag from their belt to stop their forward progress.

I played center -- the player who hikes the ball to the quarterback and then blocks defensive players. The job of the offensive line in flag football is to impede the progress of defensive players for no more than 2 - 4 seconds because play is lot faster since almost all of the plays involved passing the ball downfield. Also, because the referees didn't pay much attention to the line, we could get away with definite no-nos like holding and tripping. (I was a darn good tripper!)

But when I graduated to tackle football, a lot more emphasis was placed on correct blocking techniques because the rules were more strenuously enforced. During my first and ONLY week of practice on the freshman team, I was moved from center to the guard position. The coach in charge of the offensive lineman didn't like the way I blocked and so he took he aside for a little one-on-one.

"Watch the way I do it," he told me. "What you need to do is bring your right forearm up like this," he illustrated, "so that you strike the defensive player in the Adam’s apple." The thinking here was to inflict pain and/or injury on the opposing player, so that he would be gasping for breath and not worried at all about the ball carrier.

I told him that I would do no such thing! There is no way in the world I purposely would set out to injure another player. I was more than willing to learn better blocking techniques, but I was completely disinterested in learning how to hurt people.

You would have thought I had insulted his mother! He became incredulous. He called me a big wuss and made fun of me in front of my teammates. My teammates joined in by calling me a pussy, sissy, yellow, chicken and a few other names I will leave unmentioned. I walked off the field in disgrace and never played organized football again.

All this occurred on a nondescript freshman football team. So, if young teenage boys are being taught to injure their opponents, why should anyone be surprised that professional football players do it for paid bounties?

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