Wednesday, November 25 , 2015, 9:21 pm | Fair 48º

Max McCumber: Sport vs. Brutality — The Game of Football Is Simply Too Violent

By Max McCumber |

After a week of vacation I'm back to muse about more sports-related controversy. Over the next few months, some of you have football on your agendas, but not me. Save for peeking in on the Super Bowl, I have not seriously watched a football game for a few years. Primarily due to its excessive violence, I have no immediate plans to watch again in the future.

Max McCumber
Max McCumber

Injuries are an unfortunate but inescapable part of the game in most cases. Wear and tear, missteps and the like stem from the heat of competition. It's when to inflict bodily harm is strategic rather than accidental that sport more closely resembles slaughter. Adulation of such brutality is not uncommon. This is as equally disturbing as the mere procession of contact sports.

When in Philadelphia recently, I took the popular urban hike up the "Rocky steps" toward the city Museum of Art. As part of his training in the Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa famously jogged up the steps and pumped his fists in triumph at the top.

Boxing really takes the cake as a dangerous sport, but at least in this case Rocky is a movie. Sylvester Stallone is an actor playing a fictional character. None of the boxing ring combat actually happened.

Reality-wise, we always let blood-thirst prevail. Rugby is practically a religion throughout much of the British Commonwealth. On Friday nights, football games are gathering spots for American high schools, even for those who have never met anyone on the team. History repeats itself; Roman gladiators had to incur horrific, slaughtering combat in front of droves of admiring spectators. I could go on, but you get the idea. To exalt the most barbaric of sporting events speaks ill of human nature.

Here in Santa Barbara, I play in an adult kickball league. In its rule book, to peg a runner with the rubber ball constitutes an out, unless it hits them in the head. Slapping the noggin is an automatic safe. It's a statute in place to curtail roughness.

There are a host of penalties for foul play in football: holding, face mask and unnecessary roughness, to name a few. However, such infractions are beside the point. As long as it's the job of a gridiron warrior to sack the quarterback or tackle the receiver, running back or linebacker, the game goes too far.

Safer, technologically-sound shoulder pads and helmets may help a bit, but the nature of the game will always be too overwhelming.

How could I write this without addressing my beloved baseball?

To start, I applauded St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny for pressing the big league brass to enact legislation deterring home plate collisions. Matheny himself had a playing career as a catcher cut short by multiple concussions. To institute such a ruling may not be so easy, but ultimately it's the right action to take. I certainly hope improvements can be made to the obstruction rule in the offseason while maintaining safety concerns.

Flame-throwing Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman, whom I mentioned in a June article, was struck by a line drive during this past spring training. It sure was frightening to watch, and I am glad that Chapman has since recovered.

At least no one at the ballpark wants anyone to get beaned in the line of fire 60 feet 6 inches between home and the mound. It scares the bejesus out of us. To avoid such occurrences at all costs is part of baseball.

In contrast, football gives us one too many scary moments. Blitz after blitz, concussion after concussion, it never ends. It comes as no surprise that many ex-gridironers have suffered impaired cognition and brain trauma once their playing days are over. The sad sagas of "Iron Mike" Webster and Andre Waters say it all.

Back in May in another column, I said that as long as the game gets staged, that's as good a batch of news as it gets. A caveat to that, I should take this opportunity to say, is so long as no one gets too severely injured.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell once wrote: "Football's real problem is not that it glorifies violence, though it does, but that it offers no successful alternative to violence." My point exactly.

— Max McCumber is a Santa Barbara resident.

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