The emasculation of football tracks changes in the culture of America
New evidence of social decline is in the headlines this week, and I don’t mean the global debut of Miley Cyrus’ tongue.
Pigskin fans may have surmised that I am referring to college football’s dispensation of a new “targeting rule.” It is the latest in a long line of attempts by the over-zealous bureaucrats who populate governing bodies that oversee football at the professional, collegiate and youth levels to turn this great American pastime into a sport that is only slightly more aggressive than a swing by the American Girl doll store.
For those not attuned to the sports page, the NCAA’s targeting rule requires the penalty of a one-game suspension for any player who delivers an excessively physical hit above the shoulders to a defenseless player.
A wide receiver crosses the middle then — zap! — a fast-moving safety delivers a jarring hit and the ball pops free.
In 1990, this would have landed you a helmet sticker, a prominent spot in the year-end highlights film and, if repeated frequently enough over the course of a career, regular trips to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and maybe a bronzed statue in Canton.
In 2013, it will land you a 15-yard penalty and one game on the sideline.
A Sports Illustrated analysis projects that more than 100 full-game suspensions will be handed down at the Division I level this fall.
Lest we need more evidence, the onset of football season delivers more anyway. America is becoming (or should I say, has become?) a place controlled by the impulse of wusses.
We apologize for our greatness. We coddle our kids. We provide unemployment insurance for 99 weeks. To that list, add now that our 21st century athletic pastime — tackle football — criminalizes the tackle.
You can learn a lot from a society based on the state of play on the fields of athletic competition. That’s certainly true of America and football. The emasculation of our sports more or less tracks our own.
Earlier this year, Psychology Today ran a wonderful piece entitled a “Nation of Wimps.”
“Maybe it’s the cyclist in the park, trim under his sleek metallic blue helmet, cruising along the dirt path ... at three miles an hour. On his tricycle. Or perhaps it’s today’s playground, all-rubber-cushioned surface where kids used to skin their knees. And ... wait a minute ... those aren’t little kids playing. Their mommies — and especially their daddies — are in there with them, co-playing or play-by-play coaching ... Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history.”
It’s bad enough, as this witty and wise author points out, that the slow atrophy of America’s resolve has infected societal norms of child rearing. It’s plain maddening that it has screwed up football, too.
But the hype surrounding the “concussion crisis” has grown so loud that this latest rule change, and other changes like it, are almost inevitable.
Recall that last year President Barack Obama said he wasn’t sure he would allow his son, if he had one, to play football. Vladimir Putin shows the tenacity of the Russian spirit by taking off his shirt and riding a white stallion; President Obama probably wouldn’t let his kid ride a Shetland pony.
Conservative columnist George Will, meanwhile, made football hating a bipartisan affair, concluding that “football is a mistake because the body is not built to absorb, and cannot be adequately modified by training or protected by equipment to absorb, the game’s kinetic energies.”
At the pro-level, trial lawyers are lining up retirees to sue the NFL and helmet-manufacturers for the unwanted physical effects of a game that already paid the plaintiffs’ millions.
In reality, the NCAA is just doing what it’s told to do by the influence-makers in our society who increasingly lack spine.
But that doesn’t make the targeting rule, like that helmeted 3-year-old on a tricycle in his front driveway, any less ridiculous.
Under the targeting rule, a 6-5, 250-pound tight end capable of running approximately 15 mph in a full suit of armor is considered “defenseless” at various points in the game.
And, the same press release announcing the targeting rule also boasted of new penalties for blocking below the waist.
That pretty much covers it. Nothing says Americana like football, only now, it’s two-hand touch.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He played football at Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.