Thursday, September 17

Modeling bad behavior in football, and getting away with it

Football is a violent sport. Agreed.

Players are trained to hit each other with a professional caution in spite of all of the factors: whether or not they'll have a job, whether or not the hitter will get hurt, winning or losing, adrenaline, etc.

We applaud big hits. We applaud when the flatted player gets up and walks off the field.

We are outraged by the poor treatment of players whose brains are addled through concussion, whose bodies are battered because of the violence of the sport.

We are, apparently, less outraged by the antics of players like Ndamukong Suh, now of the Miami Dolphins, and only one of many players whose questionable sportsmanship has somehow been deemed okay by the football powers that be. I guess boys will be boys, right? Suh faced a fine for an action that was not a kick but managed to dislodge a player's helmet. Fascinating.

So, this being the case, why are we surprised by the actions of high school players who look to professional players as their models for behavior. After all, if a guy like Suh can get away with behaviors on the field that would get people off the field locked up for assault and battery, perhaps more, then why not? It's part of the game, right? And, after all, boys will be boys.

Sure, the Linden kid got kicked off the football team and will be suspended, but the school board has different concerns about liability, publicity, etc. And the kids who hit a ref were likewise suspended. These kids don't (and shouldn't, in my opinion) have a union or an opportunity to appeal. There is, after all, video.

After the Brady incident and after Suh's ability to get his game suspensions appealed, I'm not surprised kids might think they can get away with incredibly unnecessary violence, especially if a coach's comment had anything to do with the kids who thought they could somehow get even with a ref by taking him out.

But there's a lot of money in football and there are too many of spectators who like to see the big hit even though, in my opinion, that's not the appeal of football.

Until professional players are punished as criminals for criminal on-field behavior, college and high school kids are going to continue to model their behaviors after players they admire, even if the behaviors and the lack of discipline isn't admirable. And even if the players don't want to be role models. It doesn't work that way; just ask Charles Barkley. In 1993, he famously said he's not a role model. Today he realizes it doesn't work that way. Never has, probably never will.

Professional athletes, coaches of those athletes, and owners of those teams need to learn that on-field behavior speaks volumes and much louder than all of the apologies and expressions of disappointment, horror, disgust, and remorse that follow in the carefully constructed and managed sound bites that follow.

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