Punch-Counterpunch: NFL Style

Rockem Sockem TJP

Rockem Sockem TJP by Jonathan Harmon, SJ

Editor’s Note: the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE is always the most popular pro sports league in the country – we couldn’t  let TJP miss out on week one.  So we emailed four questions to Real Steel fans Vinny Marchionni and Matt Spotts, and let them fight it out.

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1. Bountygate: One year ago the Bountygate scandal broke and the world discovered that NFL players were being paid to injure one another.  What do you guys think of the way NFL Commish Roger Goodell flexed his muscles, suspending players and coaches from the offending New Orleans Saints? — wait, what’s that?  The suspensions have been… suspended?  Holy crap.  Okay new question, what does overturning the penalties do to the credibility of the league and the sport?

  • Vinny: This ruling ruins NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s credibility as the get-tough commish. The timing of this ruling is fishy, as the appeals panel lifted the suspension right before the season. Really, NFL? Really, Roger? At the very least this shows a divided front amongst the NFL’s brass, and it guarantees that all punishments meted from now on will be met with skepticism. If the NFL is serious about curbing concussions, then it needs to keep potentially dangerous players off the field. (Or, if the NFL were really serious about curbing concussions, it would teach players how to, you know, actually tackle correctly…).
  • Spotts: Despite the intrinsically physical nature of the sport, few are comfortable with the idea of bonuses for intentionally inflicting injury.  Personally, it strikes me as borderline gladiatorial.  As our own Perry Petrich has pointed out, intuitions can be unreliable guide when it comes to borderline moral cases; we just can’t always trust them. Scapegoating individuals by handing out extreme suspensions may feel awfully good, but it distracts us from the real issue (one that medical science is making more clear every day): every single paying football fans is helping pay players to injure each other.  We are all offering bounties.

 

2. The NFL and Gay Marriage: So far, so good guys (although that was pretty harsh, Spotts).  Here’s #2: the interwebs have gone wild over Maryland Rep. Emmett C. Burns’ letter requesting that the Baltimore Ravens silence their players on the issue of gay marriage.  They’ve gone crazier still over Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s potty-mouthed retort [Editor’s note: extremely strong language]. What gives?

  • Spotts: Sports are never just sports.  Some of the most iconic athletes of all time are noteworthy precisely because of the intersection of athletic prowess and social issues – think Jackie Robinson; think the 1968 Black Power protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos; think Jessie Owens at the Berlin Olympics.  Athletes are so self aware these days (which makes the utter collapse of the Dwight Howard “brand” after his ridiculous departure from Orlando all the more insane), that every single one of them know that how a social message is conveyed is every bit as important as what is said.  This is what drives me crazy about Kluwe’s letter.  He raises important points about homosexuality and society, but while his venomous rhetoric may delight those who already agree with him, it does nothing to advance a constructive conversation.  What could have been a much-needed statement about homosexuality and professional sports is instead a self-indulgent, vulgarity-strewn rant.
  • Vinny: I think we agree, but in different ways. Let’s keep some perspective here, crazy man: sports are just sports, and athletes are not our role models. Cue Sir Charles:

Part of me agrees with Chuck.  Role models should be our teachers who help us fulfill our potential and open new worlds to us. Role models should be the firefighters who exhibit bravery by climbing ladders into windows billowing smoke to ensure the safety of perfect strangers. Most importantly, role models need to be trustworthy, open to engaging sensitive issues with respect for all viewpoints. With his open letter to Rep. Burns, Chris Kluwe put himself and his ideas in the public realm where we can examine (and question seriously) his role model credentials.

 

3. Women in football: Just like a teenager at the mall, TJP loves (a) Hot Topic.  Which means it’s time for the “girls in football” debate.  This time it comes from The New York Times, which is reporting that Florida teen Erin DiMeglio is suiting up for her high school football team. What’s the social significance here?

  • Spotts: Another year, another story about a young woman who (surprised face!) loves the sport of football enough to want to play it.  Like many pioneers, the performance of Erin and other female football players will be placed under a microscope, and the evidence weighed against a grueling double-standard.  The question is not necessarily about Erin’s ability, or that of any other young female player; all players have growing pains.  The question is whether she and other football-loving young women will be given a fair chance to succeed.
  • Tebow in Pink by Do512 at Flickr

    We missed you, Tim.

    Vinny: Preach it, Spotts.  Preach it.  I mean, what would happen if a boy tried to walk onto a high school field hockey team? Would we say it’s unfair because he may have a speed or strength advantage? Would we say it’s not fair that a boy infiltrates a “girls sport”? I don’t know what makes field hockey a girls sport in America, but there’s a societal taboo against boys playing it here. (This does not exist in say, Germany, home to back-to-back Olympic gold medalists). Similarly, I don’t know why it’s taboo for girls to compete with and against boys in organized football. Lord knows how hard my sister tackled in the front yard…

 

4. Tim Tebow:It wouldn’t be TJP if we didn’t close with Tebow time.  This week he was lauded for saving a three-legged cat from a burning New Jersey tree, baking cookies for the Buffalo Bills d-line, and even managing to hit a target at 25 yards.  He amazing.  So… do you guys Tebow?

  • Vinny: No, I don’t. The most-hyped backup in the league completed 46.5% of his passes last year, and rushed five times for eleven (that’s, 11) yards last weekend. I credit Denver’s unlikely playoff run to amazing special teams, a voracious defense, and a solid ground game, not his slow release and wobbly passes [Editor’s Note: you forgot the will of God]. Now that he’s a J-E-T, Jet-Jet-Jet he’ll feature primarily as a “Wildcat” quarterback, which will only continue to stunt whatever future potential he has as an NFL QB.  I think that, this year, defenses are going to tee off on him and the one thing he does well in football: keel reverently with fist to forehead… or put his head down and run.
  • Spotts: Reality check time. Sometimes (read: all the time) individual athletes and teams recieve media attention that’s way out of proportion to their actual quality (I’m looking at you Notre Dame.) Just like South Bend’s traditional juggernaut Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winners, it’s not Tebow’s fault that he gets so much attention.  In the meantime, he doesn’t talk trash, he doesn’t show up in the papers with crazy scandals and (sorry haters!) he keeps displaying an uncanny knack for winning ugly.1

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  1. In the interest of full disclosure, Spotts is a fan of THE Ohio State University. Domers, feel invited to make such rebuttals/personal attacks as are necessary.

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