Is the NFL too violent? Depends on who you ask. I imagine that if you asked the record numbers of fans who follow the sport (and consider it a wholesome, all-American family activity), they would answer, “No.” Ask Eldon L. Ham and the answer would be “criminally violent.”
In his op-ed piece in the New York Times he calls for state legislatures to adopt laws “defining and criminalizing something we can call ‘flagrant sports battery.’”
This call for sports teams to include municipal courts into their home and away schedules was precipitated by the coverage of the New Orleans Saints “bounty pool” currently scandalizing the nation. Ham has determined that the Saints defensive players have stepped over the line of competitive advantage and into the realm of criminal activity. “Those who participated in the Saints’ bounty pool should be prosecuted as well as fined or suspended,” wrote Ham.
Ham muddled his argument with this: “Had such behavior occurred in a school cafeteria or on the subway or in a dark alley, this is exactly what would happen. But because it was on television as part of a Sunday entertainment ritual, it may get a pass.”
Excuse me, but there are a lot of legal hits that occur on the football field that I wouldn’t accept in my child’s cafeteria. I would be the first one to call a cop if I was blindsided in a dark alley while headed to my car, but if it happens to Drew Brees on the field I’m not filling a legal brief. I’m blaming the left side of the O-line.
And guess what? The NFL knows better, too. (They ought to, marketing “best of” hits in highlight reels, week after week.) In fact, the NFL has said they have investigated and will punish Saints players and staff based on their improper pay-for-performance pool, rather than any criminal activity. This is the appropriate sanction.
Football is a hitting sport. Players constantly try and knock other players down for the competitive advantage. It is part of the game. All NFL players expect to be – and assume the risk of being – on both the giving and the receiving end of big hits.
Sure, players are prone to hyperbole when preparing for a big game. For the Saints (and I’ll bet my bottom dollar every other team in the NFL) this smack talk translated into steak dinners and cash pools — and the media has made it clear we should be shocked and outraged by this.
But, as the Wall Street Journal reported, a study of game film showed there weren’t that many knockout hits by the Saints in the time period in which they are accused of manufacturing “hospital hits.” Says the article, “A Wall Street Journal review of every regular- and postseason Saints game since 2009 makes clear what the NFL report didn’t: Seldom did a Saints-inflicted injury force an opponent to leave the field.”
Says Mr. Ham, “Video technology now gives courts the tools to intervene.” But guess what Ham? Video reviews during the seasons from 2009 to 2012 have shown, at no instance, differentiation between the “customary hard hits, personal fouls or the normally accepted aggressive play that is part of the game” and your declared “vicious attacks meant to severely injure or paralyze.”
Thanks to video technology, when players cross the line it is obvious in an instant to NFL referees. That’s when a hit should be reviewed — in instant replay, by the league. Not three years later in a criminal court.
Let’s keep sports on the field and out of the courts.