There are three things I know for certain when it comes to football.
One, is that the game cannot be played safely.
Two, is that the game cannot be played within its rules.
Three, is that there’s nothing you can do to change thing one or two.
You can get pretty cynical about this, which I do on occasion (I’m a Jets fan, so that, perhaps, explains everything). A game that can’t be played within its rules means, theoretically at least, that there’s a penalty on every play (the penalty called holding is a prime example of an every play penalty) and if there’s a penalty being committed on every play it leaves calling a penalty a matter of notice, or discretion, on the part of referees. So, if a call goes against your team and in a fit you respond by claiming the game is rigged you may have more of a point than you’d consider when anger subsides and you return to your right mind (if that happens).
Concerns involving the inescapable consequences of point one and point two often collide, as in just recently in the case of Clay Matthews, the standout linebacker for the Green Bay Packers who was just doing his job when he tackled Alex Smith of the Washington Redskins. Except that he was breaking the rules.
It didn’t look like he was breaking the rules. As Smith, even, commented, it looked “like he’s playing football.”
But what looks like playing football at the moment is not playing within the rules (point two, above) on account of the NFL’s inability to change point one, which is that the game can’t be played safely. Smith is a quarterback, so he was not tackled but landed on by Matthews with most of or all of his body weight, which is now something you can’t do. It’s now considered roughing the passer.
When point one and point two collide you can’t blame fans for being outraged. In this case the Packers lost the game to the Redskins, and Matthews is learning the hard way that he can’t play the game like he used to. “Unfortunately, this league’s going in a direction I think a lot of people don’t like,” he said after the game. “I think they’re getting soft.”
No doubt, but there are good reasons for getting soft, including the desire to protect players from injury.
But this is a lost cause from the outset. All you need to do is review the weekly injury report, which tells you who’s in and who’s out, who can’t play and who might. It’s useful information when it comes to forecasting the outcome of a game (for fans and those who are betting) but it’s also a routine summation of the game’s inherent brutality, a list of broken bones and torn muscles and concussions. It’s frightful.
And it can’t be corrected, no matter how hard the league tries. It’s a rough game — that’s both its joy and dilemma, for both players and fans. It’s exhilarating and dangerous. That’s both the thrill and the curse.
It would not be possible to change the rules to make it safe and still be football. The only way to make it safe is to not play it. That’s just the way it is.
A note to readers: Less than six weeks to go until Election Day puts us smack in the middle of election season, during which time we limit letters to the editor that are about the election to 100 words, as opposed to the 300-word limit for letters not about the election. The idea is to give readers the opportunity to write in support of candidates, or issues. Readers are given one letter to the editor per month, and that includes the letters of a political nature.
I’ve been asked if a writer who submits a letter in September that doesn’t run in the paper until October can still submit a letter in October. The answer is yes. We’ll stop accepting letters about the election on Friday, October 26.
Those running for office are also invited to submit op-ed pieces about their campaigns.
Reach Editorial Page Editor Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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