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Commentary: On College Football’s Newest Proposal And ‘Traditionalist’ Fan Culture


If you haven’t heard by now, the NCAA Football Rules Committee put forth a proposal that would see a player ejected from the game, in addition to a 15-yard penalty, for targeting a defenseless opponent above the shoulders.

“Taking measures to remove targeting, or above shoulder hits on defenseless players, will improve our great sport,” said Troy Calhoun in a statement.

Insert here the whiny, collective groans from “tradition”-oriented college football fans.

The sport of football, both at the college and pro levels, has seen a marked progression towards protecting players from head-hunters, players who attempt to take players out of games by knocking them back into last week. With the prevalence of concussions, and with their long-term effects becoming clearer — brain damage is often the most salient outcome, and motor functioning goes out the window at an earlier age than expected after being concussed a few times here or there — this recent proposal, like others before it at different levels of the game, puts issues of safety before entertainment.

Indeed, this issue is a binary one: You either support player safety, or you support the preservation of age-old tradition for your sick entertainment.

Of course, it’s forgotten that the players on the field are, in fact, mortal human beings, and though they possess physical traits far superior to the average fan, what is ignored is that all players possess physical traits far superior to the average fan. The implication is that football players are just as likely to beat the living hell out of each other much like I am capable of beating the hell out of you, dear reader, if given the right opportunity.

Except that while I have no intention of hurting you, my fellow college football fanatic, players that can run with remarkable velocity and power have all the leverage necessary, and all the intent desirable, to scramble the brains of his counterpart.

It should be a no-brainer (no pun intended; we don’t joke about that in such a manner), but there’s opposition, as is the custom in these debates.

Example: Tony Orlando, editor of FanSided’s Alabama site Bama Hammer, a writer whom I respect greatly. He writes:

As the NCAA struggles with maintaining the integrity of the game while working to minimize the type of traumatic injuries that have been emphasized in recent reports, there’s a fine line between truly emphasizing sportsmanship, and reactionary changes that make the game more of a touch football contest.

(Note: Orlando didn’t elaborate on his stance beyond this, and the ensuing traditionalist-blasting may not apply to him. Who knows? Perhaps he has alternative regulations in mind he’d like to see implemented. ‘Sup, Tony?)

In essence, Orlando entirely dismisses the proposed rule-change, arguing that it will “ruin” college football as we know it.

This argument? Indefensible.

Because while he and I sit on our respective couches on Saturdays, drinking beer/Coke (I’m not 21 yet; maybe next year), we’re doing so in relative safety. We aren’t out at the Rose Bowl, the Horseshoe, Bryant Denny Stadium, whatever, avoiding concussions snap-to-snap, second-by-second. It’s easy to sit there and yell for kids to knock each other out — behind the guise of “that’s just football,” whatever the hell that means — when we’re not dealing with the consequences.

No, what “traditionalists” — many of which make the baseless, despicable claim that this game is being hurt by regulations — have in common is ignorance in the context of player safety. They refuse to recognize player safety as an issue, because “the players know what they’re getting into when they take the field.” (That’s not a quote from Breland, mind you, but it is the common tone on message-boards, subreddits, blogs, etc.)

They refuse to care what happens to the 20-year old kids who happen to lay it all out on the line for us, for our entertainment, for our sadistic tendency to enjoy and gawk at others’ pain. They refuse to acknowledge that rules must be made to prevent the barely-legal freshmen from being at risk for brain injuries as a result of concussions from being head-hunted. They refuse to adopt and embrace these new rules because how can you expect them to enjoy this game when someone isn’t getting hurt?

Many fans that subscribe to college football traditionalism lament, cry, pout, complain, whine about the rule changes, then rinse and repeat every time the discussion is brought to the table again. Regulation has ruined everything else in this country, they argue, and so why do petty politics have to enter my college football?

But this isn’t about your goddamn enjoyment. This isn’t about how you spend your Saturdays, how you take in your weekly dose of college football. This isn’t about you replaying obsessively the hit that put a college kid to sleep for the rest of the game. This isn’t about your fetish for seeing others in pain, unconscious, defenseless and at-risk. This isn’t about protecting your sport because “that’s not how you watched it when you were growing up.” This isn’t about preserving college football’s “traditions” of seeing players carted out of games because they were too tuned up to walk off the field under their own power.

This is about the safety of kids, many of which aren’t even allowed to buy a beer in this country. This is about kids with parents, with futures. This is about kids who do this for the education — that’s all of their compensation; bettering themselves, and merely positioning themselves to do well in the future. This is about the kids who do it for you, dear traditionalist readers.

Of course, many traditionalists undoubtedly tell you that this isn’t true, that they aren’t rooting for these kids to get hurt, and that they do care about player safety. They’ll tell you that the rule is fraudulent, ill-conceived … while failing to come up with viable alternatives, or while trying to use the untenable, “that’s how football is played” argument, which only contradicts their supposed claim to care about the 20-year old kids who step on to the gridiron and risk concussions for three straight hours.

Just as many traditionalists will blame the player who was concussed is at fault — yes, they exist, and no, I don’t think highly of them as human beings. The player, they argue, should learn how to run routes and avoid being head-hunted, and the coaches are responsible for teaching the kids how to somehow convert their heads into holograms so that the defender misses them. If none of this happens, they’ll likely say, the concussed, unconscious, limp player has no one to blame but themselves.

And the rules are ruining college football? No. You, my dear, stubborn, hard-headed, thick-skulled, close-minded “traditionalists,” are ruining college football. For me. For your fellow fans. For the coaches. For your viewing party buddies.

And for the players you claim to so virulently root for on Saturdays.

Tags: Football