My main focus is on high school football because I believe it’s the purest form of the sport. It’s a place where the game’s played for the right reasons. Even at big, well funded schools coaches are still teachers and the players learn valuable life lessons from the experience. Major college and the NFL are different animals entirely. They are businesses where the bottom lines of butts in the seats and wins are all that matter. Building character may happen, but is never a priority.
That said, while top levels may not be as redeeming as the high school game, they are great entertainment and I have been a big 49er fan since I was a boy growing up in the Bay Area. As much as I love to watch the NFL, I do know what I’m watching.
The human body wasn’t designed for the type of collisions inherent in the sport. Football games are dangerous events. Even in high school, there’s no denying that football isn’t a safe activity. In my opinion, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Commitment, dedication, toughness, teamwork, discipline and physical conditioning are just some of the things high schoolers trade for a relative handful of risky games. But, the dangers go up exponentially at each step up the ladder.
By the NFL level the game has become brutally violent. These are the top 1/100th of 1% players and they’re in the league because they’re the fastest and strongest in the world. The collisions are tremendous and the damage the players endure will stay with them the rest of their lives.
This isn’t one of those “evil NFL” blogs. The players today largely know the risk and are well compensated. I have no proof, but I’d guess a majority of former players would do it all again given the choice. But there’s no denying that NFL players endure bodily damage every time they step onto the field. The intensity of the game is spectacular to watch, but like professional boxing, every hit puts a player closer to retirement.
The NFC Championship between the 49ers and Seahawks took ferocity to a different level than I’ve ever remember seeing. It was an extreme example of what is so great and so awful about the pro game. Two teams that hate each other and know each other well, with the best defenses in the game, both relying on physical running on offense, it was expected to be a brutal game and it was. I won’t do a recap, because the outcome still angers me and you all saw the game anyway. It was an old-school hardnosed football game, a classic battle. But it was also an ugly one with poor offensive execution, far too much trash talk and gruesome injuries. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this. The violence seemed more personal and raw. The action on Sunday somehow made a typical NFL game look tame.
I never really enjoy watching important Niner games, I get too wrapped up in it. If they win I’m relieved if not I’m angry with the world for a while. Obviously, Sunday night wasn’t a fun one for me, so maybe my attitude about Richard Sherman’s behavior is colored by where it was directed.
After causing the game-winning interception, Sherman made it his priority to taunt the 49ers, throwing a chocking gesture at the 49er sideline, bragging and demeaning the receiver he’d been covering. Antics that will make me a temporary Bronco fan on December 2nd.
I’ve been surprised to see many people were fine with Sherman’s behavior. The support takes four forms. 1) Sherman has a lot of redeeming qualities; came from a very poor background, went to Stanford…etc… 2) Some who’ve questioned Sherman’s behavior have used it to make a broader claim against blacks, calling him a thug and ignoring similar outbursts from whites…3) Crabtree was talking trash and so the 49ers deserved it. … 4) Football isn’t crochet or golf or whatever and this type of behavior should be accepted.
To me, all four of these excuses avoid the bottom line. Richard Sherman acted like a jerk.
1) A tough background and admirable traits don give anyone license to act like an idiot.
2) It’s regrettable that some use this to advance racial stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean poor behavior doesn’t exist or that it has anything to do with race. I couldn’t stand Bill Romanowski for similar punkish behavior and would hold up Jerry Rice, Mike Singletary, Ronnie Lott…etc as greats who played with class.
3) Yes, there is a two-way street aspect. I don’t much like it when my team does it either, but what makes this especially bad is that it happened after the game was decided. Rubbing salt into the wounds of a just-beaten opponent is an especially ugly form of taunting.
4) I don’t mind emotion, I like players being excited. Intensity is part of what makes football the great game it is, but that emotion shouldn’t belittle an opponent. Cedar Hill High School (Chapter 11 of Big & Bright) is the most overtly emotional program I’ve ever been around, but you’ll rarely see a Longhorn player say a word to an opponent. Celebration is directed towards the team.
I hope I’m wrong, but with due respect to the Broncos, I think Seattle and San Francisco are the best two teams in the NFL and the Super Bowl could be a letdown. I’d love to see the Seahawks get some payback for beating my team, but I’m afraid it’s going to be another disappointing Sunday.