Does Football Build Character or Characters?
If Hank Williams, Junior is still asking his annual question, my answer is “No, I’m not ready for some football.” For me the opening of NFL season, all professional sports, really, is just Business As Usual. What concerns me more than millionaire adults playing a child’s game is the affect of the game itself on both camps. Many of the joys of sandlot ball do not translate to the madness that is pro sports.
Of course football is low-hanging fruit right now. Concussions, on the field and off (domestic violence), are suddenly a huge concern. Don Shula, the legendary coach of the perfect Miami Dolphins team, supposedly called the current Patriots coach “Bill Billicheat.” The league has been outed as a non-profit. My sister-in-law asked me once how I could justify being a pacifist and a Raiders fan; I had no answer. Still, as football supplanted baseball as American’s Game, I studied the transition. It wasn’t and isn’t pretty.
Recently during one of my grandson’s recent high school lacrosse matches I had an epiphany. That game is all about hand-eye coordination, speed, teamwork, passing and agility. Playing a team they should have easily beaten, sloppy play had our team down early. The other team featured crisp passes while our frustrated players began to take head shots and slashes; in a word, penalties. One player who came to lacrosse from hockey via football blasted an opponent in the head. In the penalty area, he gave a thumbs-up to the stands where students and parents stomped and cheered for his vicious, illegal hit.
It got worse. One of our boys got three penalties during one play that lasted about ten seconds. He gave the howling, appreciative fans a bow. At one time we had three players in the penalty box but the cheers still rained down. The shorthanded defense had zero chance of stopping the deluge of goals raining down on them. On that night the score didn’t matter. The audience, and through them, the team, wanted blood.
My conclusion? We had a football audience watching a finesse game. Well-coached lacrosse teams understand that viciousness doesn’t make college lacrosse scouts drool. You can’t say the same for the fans, though. Why is the NFL so popular when every day brings another lurid example of money and sport gone haywire? The fans love the violence.
Does the game of football build character. Of course. Teamwork, camaraderie, selflessness, following rules and regulations, obedience, self-esteem; those are just a few of the positives to be gleaned from the game.
The business of football does not build character, just characters. Many sports figures claim to be “entertainers” and compare their bloated salaries with the money made by movie and music superstars. Okay, but one parent in Texas kept his son back two grades so he’d be bigger, stronger and more vicious than the smaller kids when he got into high school. Anyone remember Todd Marinovich? While in diapers his dad sculpted him to be an NFL quarterback. One season with the Raiders and he was gone, a victim of surfing and drugs.
A Deadspin article looked at the salaries of all public officials. The result was a map of the U.S. that is pretty indicative of what I am talking about. There are 27 football coaches, 13 basketball coaches and 1 hockey coach on the list. The remaining 10 states include 5 college presidents, 1 medical school chancellor, 1 medical school department chair, 1 medical school plastic surgeon and 1 law school dean. You get to the total of 51 because the football and basketball coaches of Minnesota make $1.2 million each. The numbers speak for themselves.
As “entertainers” do sports icons have a responsibility to provide role models for our children? Of course. Unfortunately the term is not exclusively positive. With our kids barraged by horrible sports examples, Charles Barkley proclaimed that athletes were not role models. He was partially right; some are just bad role models.
I’ve heard people say that the current generation is spoiled and lazy. They only want electronic gadgets. I believe that they are wonderful kids, every last one of them. To place blame, why not look at the tools that the previous generations have given them.
There’s a reason the Mafia alleged “Nothing personal, it’s just business” before they whacked someone. The NFL doesn’t mind giving their fans the business, either. Violence at all levels of our society is big business. For me it goes way beyond the mascot issue and the “entertaining characters” on the tube. I would like to see it emulate the lower levels of the sport and focus on character instead of profits.