“Make football violent again,” was a hat the safety for the Minnesota Vikings, Andrew Sendejo, wore in an NFL training camp. The instinctive reaction we might have to such a call is that Sendejo is trying to be provocative, for no one who knows anything about violence would condone it in anyway. We might also say that, as a professional football player, Sendejo is setting a poor example for the youth who look up to him. Our society should be moving in the exact opposite direction, others might say, especially when it comes to young men.
An argument that condones violence in any way will never make its way to a broadcasting booth of any kind, unless it is to condemn it, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit, when it comes to football at least. If the argument did make it on air, in some form, we have to imagine that the broadcasters would say, “I don’t condone violence, but …” to distance themselves from Sendejo’s argument, but there is a but argument that is worthy of some consideration. The but argument focuses on the unpleasant fact that some young men have violent impulses, and they need an outlet, or a ‘somewhat’ controlled and monitored environment, to indulge that primal impulse for violence. Most audiences don’t want to hear anything about that. They prefer a more rational discussion that focuses on ways to make would young men less violent in a way that might help make our world less violent. No rational discussion by a professional in any field would focus on the need for an outlet for violent activity.
The well-intentioned opponents of the game now know that football is too entrenched for them to make any strides with regard to banning football from the high school level on up. Yet, they are making strides at banning tackle football in youth groups, and they are using the banner of ‘player safety’ to lessen the impact of some of the more violent hits in the game from the high school level on up. Proponents of the traditional game know that some measures are required to make the game safer, as athletes become stronger and faster, but as these measures to remove violence from the game progress, proponents warn, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’
We’ve all heard horrific tales of the wide array of what can happen on a football field, and we’re all sympathetic to the players and their families affected by it. Among these stories, are those that involve brain injuries, including concussions and repeated severe concussions that could lead to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). We’ve heard that various forms of CTE have ruined lives. We’ve heard neurologists state that scientific studies of the harm football causes young people is now irrefutable. We’ve had neighbors tell us that these studies scare them so much, they won’t let their children play the game. The NFL has heard all of this too, and they’ve made substantial rule changes to try to lessen the violent impact of the game, in the hopes of influencing college football, and high school football officials to follow suit.
The ‘be careful what you wish for’ crowd has heard all of these arguments too, and they’re sensitive to them. No one wants to see a young life affected to the degree we’ve witnessed in far too many instances, but when esteemed neurologists list sports’ alternatives for concerned parents, proponents suggest that they fail to recognize the need young boys have to hit one another in a violent manner. Those other sports might satisfy the need young people have for competitive athletic activity, team play, and various other character-building exercises that build self-esteem, but they don’t satisfy the primal impulses young men have to commit violent acts on one another.
Those of us, who played an inordinate amount of unnecessarily violent, pickup games of tackle football, know that football was our favorite way to satiate that primal need for violence. We didn’t know anything about these beneficial qualities, and we didn’t know the possible harm we were doing to ourselves when we played these games, but we saw our non-football playing friends go out for the evening just to “crack some skulls.” We thought they were joking, or engaging in some false bravado, but they had all this pent-up rage, and this general sense of animosity and anger that they couldn’t explain. They needed to unleash in an impulsive, irrational manner. They wanted to hurt someone, and they always got hurt in the process, but they wore their bruises and open cuts as symbols of valor. They failed to adequately explain what a rush it was to the rest of us, because they probably couldn’t understand it well enough to explain it. The only thing they knew was that they gained respect from their peers for their violent tendencies, and it did wonders for their self-esteem. They also enjoyed an element of team spirit in some cases. Those fight nights gained them what the rest of us attained playing football.
“No one is saying that if we ban football or make it less violent, it will automatically lead to more violent young men, but if you think it will make them less violent, be careful what you wish for,” proponents say to parents who will not allow their children to play football. When our grade school banned football on the playground, we played kill the man with the ball. Our school administrators caught on, and they banned that. Soon after that, we played kill the man with the pine cone. If we dilute football to the point of hopscotch, proponents say, boys will find a way to hit each other, tackle each other, or some way to inflict pain on one another, because we cannot legislate the impulsive, primal nature out of boys and young men. Most parents, who raise their children in safe, happy climates cannot understand why they have violent tendencies, and we might not remember why we did, but football proponents suggest that the sport satisfies something in us that no other non-contact sport can.
Even though this impulsive need for an outlet to indulge violent tendencies has existed throughout human history, we have to imagine that B.C. humans didn’t want to discuss it in polite company either. The games the cavemen and the ancient Romans played were more violent, of course, and modern man might think he stands above that which occurred back then, and we might have a more advanced brain than those who sit below us in the animal kingdom, but the primal need for an outlet still exists in some. This conversation is so unpleasant and uncomfortable that the major broadcasts networks will never cover it on one of their pregame broadcasts, and I don’t think we’ll ever hear this as a topic on one of the all too numerous sports radio programs, because it feeds into the portrayal of young men as primal beasts. Yet, we all know this unpleasant side of young men exists, and if we don’t provide them a monitored, somewhat controlled method of channeling their impulses and needs, it might result in other unintended consequences our society doesn’t want to consider.