We live in a highlight-driven sports culture. Truth be told, our broader culture is just as driven by image and video as our sports culture. When an image catches the attention of the public, the public usually demands action. Sometimes their demands are justified and useful, but sometimes those demands are irrational and kneejerk… something that doesn’t feel right to the viewer.
The “devastating hits” debate created by this past weekend’s NFL action seems to have created different reactions across the football world. On one hand we have people arguing that the very fabric of America’s number one spectator sport is being destroyed by somehow encouraging defenders to “slack off” when hitting an opposing player. On the other hand, you have people arguing that the very fabric of America’s number one spectator sport is being destroyed by defenders declaring open season on opponents. Who’s right? Fortunately the world has a gift called The Sports Debates.
Loyal Homer presented a compelling argument for holding off on any punishment changes until the off-season. While I have heard arguments in favor of suspensions and large fines, and arguments against suspensions and large fines, I had not yet heard anyone argue for holding any changes until the off-season, and then considering the issue carefully with input from all the affected parties. While this probably would not calm the restless natives eager for action, it seemed to me to be a very reasonable path down which to proceed. Further bolstering his argument was his citation of Scott Fujita’s statement regarding the hypocrisy of the NFL for, on one hand, considering an 18-game season (which the players have largely rejected) and, on the other hand, greatly increasing punishments for devastating hits in order to preserve the safety of the players. By the end of his debate, Loyal Homer had intrigued me and won me over – but I still had to read the other side of the debate.
By the time I examined Bleacher Fan’s case I was already formulating the verdict on my head, and it was going to congratulate Loyal Homer for coming up with an innovative way forward in this discussion. I could see the ticker tape parade down Main Street in Loyal Homer’s hometown as the locals celebrated another debate win.
All of that came to a screeching halt when I reached the midpoint of Bleacher Fan’s argument. The simple statement “The same hits that were legal yesterday are still legal today, and will be legal tomorrow” is something that I had not heard. I have not had my usual IV drip of ESPN this week and the bits and pieces of football news that I heard made it sound like the rules were being changed in the middle of the season due to the flurry of nasty hits this past weekend. Bleacher Fan enlightened me to the fact that the NFL was not telling these guys to change the way they play, they were merely saying, “Fellas, what has been against the rules this whole time is still against the rules – but we’re going to really make you pay for violating this rule.” I would strongly disagree with a mid-season rule change, but I strongly agree with increasing punishment for hits that were already illegal. The safety of the players is important and I applaud the NFL for stepping up to the plate here.
Congratulations to Bleacher Fan! His prize for winning the debate this week is the initial prototype of the “James Harrison Detector.” Once Mr. Harrison reads your argument, Bleacher Fan, you’re gonna need it.