Thursday, February 04, 2016

A Beautiful Game--and a Once Beautiful Game

The day after Steph Curry went off on the surprisingly good Washington Wizards for 51 points, the Golden State Warriors went to the White House to get praised and teased by President Obama, for what they did last season.  Meanwhile the New Yorker published a terrific piece describing the Warriors' "beautiful game."  It puts into words why it's so much fun to watch them.

In football:
An opinion piece in the New York Times affirms much of what I've tried to say here about football and physical trauma.

George Lundberg begins with the cautionary tale of boxing, a popular sport which brutal injury consigned to a lesser role.  His example of football's growing brutality is the one I've mentioned (though I'm hardly the only one): the Steelers-Bengals playoff game.

But while Lundberg (a pathologist and football fan) called for banning boxing, he concedes that he can't yet do so for football.  He makes the same point I tried to make: "In part, I admit, because of my own bias toward football, but also because I believe that violence is a byproduct of football — one that can be reduced — not the intended result, as was the case for boxing."

If the NFL could redesign the game to emphasize violence, which it has (with the full and enthusiastic cooperation of sports media) then it can redesign it to make it less violent, and no less a sport of skill, strategy and athleticism.

So far the NFL has shown no leadership in this area, and is therefore dooming the sport to a slow but certain death. "At a bare minimum, the N.F.L. should publicly admit that there is a real problem with the risk of player brain damage (as it has in court documents). It should follow the lead of college football, which now punishes offending players with immediate expulsions from the game."

There are other ideas out there, such as widening the playing field.  But the NFL is not exploring them, and it's not hard to see why.  Besides avoiding costly lawsuits by not admitting the links to brain damage, this violence is deep in the NFL culture, though that might be changing at least among players, and certainly among parents.

I won't be watching the Super Bowl.  I haven't watched one in several years.  All those commercials and injury time-outs.  But I may well watch highlights, of what I expect to be a Carolina victory, 40-16.

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