By Mick Warshaw
Cold, Hard Football Facts Citizen-Soldier (@mickwarshaw)
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell recently went on CNN and advanced arguments to ban college football.
Gladwell based his arguments on medical research of the last few years regarding CTE and brain trauma, and repeated his argument (originally voiced during the Michael Vick controversy) that college football is essentially the same as dogfighting.
Players, according to Gladwell, are out on the field absorbing punishment essentially because someone else is making them.
Look at Gladwell’s own story for contradictory evidence. On the first of eight pages, there it is from Kyle Turley:
“But when you’re coming off an injury you’re frustrated. I wanted to play the next game.”
Kyle Turley wanted to play. Of course he did. Every player wants to play. They want fame, fortune and the chance to have a cushy commentating gig in their declining years.
They also want to test themselves against other great men, a drive better understood in society at large in days gone by.
Set aside Gladwell’s big fat lie at the beginning of his discussion, that he is a football fan, and something soon becomes clear.
The Malcolm Gladwells of the world want to destroy football, and by attempting to do so they are destroying part of what makes American society great.
It will not surprise regular readers that the Cold, Hard Football Facts enjoy some hard-nosed football.
The Potentate of Pigskin himself laid it out in his reflections on the Chicago F*cking Bears earlier this year. That got the Facts thinking, reflecting on the state of the game … and then researching.
It turns out the NFL (and the USA!) wasn’t always run by a bunch of bedwetting sissies who want to cry about the image of violence projected by the game. Players weren’t always hypocritical pansies who played, knowing they’d be hurt, then suing the league for getting hurt after their careers were over.
There was a time not even all that long ago when society embraced the nature of football as it is and not as soccer moms want it to be.
There is a pertinent and telling quote about the nature of American football from Knute Rockne, still the most successful coach in football history (.881 winning percentage), as it appeared in the movie classic, "Knute Rockne: All American."
The Rock, an immigrant from Norway, talked at length about the virtues of football in American society.
“Games such as football are more than merely helpful to boys. They’re an absolute necessity to the nation’s best interest,” said Rockne. “Every red-blooded young man in any country is filled with what we might call the natural spirit of combat.
"In many parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world, this spirit manifests itself in continuous wars and revolutions. But we have tried to make competitive sport serve as a safer outlet for that spirit of combat. I believe we’ve succeeded.”
Rockne went on to voice the same conclusion the Cold Hard Football Facts are forced to draw today:
“The most dangerous thing in American life today is that we’re getting soft, inside and out. We’re losing that forceful heritage of mind and body that was once our most precious possession”
This encroaching softness is dangerous to football and the American way of life at large. We are allowing ourselves to forfeit our basic identity, turning it into non-identity, in the service of political correctness and protecting people’s feelings.
Americans once had more stones ... not to mention a far more progressive, learned view of human nature.
University of Illinois College of Medicine professor Dr. Sol Roy Rosenthal understood that life must necessarily contain risk. It pays to understand that Dr. Rosenthal was a professor of preventive medicine. He initially pioneered the thesis of “risk exercise” and theorized that risk is necessary for long life. Without a certain degree of real risk, the brain doesn’t properly adapt to the world.
Dr. Rosenthal lived 92 years.
“Man has evolved through action and risk,” observed the good doctor. “Thus, complacency for any period of time leads to emotional staleness or deterioration.”
The crux of the risk exercise thesis is that life is a terminal disease, and is not a contest to have the best preserved corpse. For man to advance as a species, risk is a fundamental need. Football, then, is a healthy way to engage in risk.
Don’t just take our word, or Dr. Rosenthal's word, for it. Take instead the findings of Dr. Konrad Lorenz, the man who won the 1973 Nobel Prize for medicine.
“There is, in the modern community, no legitimate outlet for aggressive behavior," wrote Lorenz in his groundbreaking 1966 book On Aggression. "The hostile neighboring tribe … Has now withdrawn to an ideal distance, hidden behind a curtain, if possible of iron… The main function of sport today lies in the cathartic discharge of the aggressive urge [emphasis added].”
In those days, though, society didn’t need professors and doctors to tell them what they instinctively already knew. They had football players for that.
Consider Hall of Famer “Iron” Mike Ditka’s words on what the game meant to him:
“I feel that a lot of football players build up a lot of anxieties in the offseason because they have no outlets for them. I think I do that very much. I’m most relaxed when I’m playing football. If I’m not getting rid of my energies this way, it builds up and I blow it off in some way that isn’t proper in this society.”
Ditka made that statement in 1973, while playing for the Cowboys. It came 12 years after his debut season with the Bears, during which he produced what remains one of the most dominating performances by any tight end or by any rookie in history.
His attitude was later reflected in his coaching days: Ditka's Bears teams produced the most violent pass rush in NFL history and are part of the smash-mouth lore of Chicago football.
Of course, it wasn’t only legendary tough guys who understood the personally cathartic and culturally healthy side of football violence.
Bernie Casey played wide receiver for the 49ers and Rams in the 1960s. He played a position typically derided today as one for wimps, pretty boys and prima donnas. Still, he had this to say about pain in football:
“I think man needs pain, because if he hasn’t the discipline to endure pain and continue, something is lacking in his emotional makeup.”
The NFL was happy to market that pain, violence and risk as part of the package until recently.
In 1970, for example, NFL properties published a book called "The First 50 Years: The Story of the National Football League." It stated:
“Professional football is basically a physical assault by one team upon another in a desperate fight for land ... The most basic possession, land, is the issue in football and the most basic weapon, the body, is the means of acquiring it. It is a game of physical dominance; the weak are punished unmercifully and the unskilled are run off the field.”
In 1985, NFL Films released a film called “NFL Crunch Course.” Dick Butkus proudly declares his intent to make heads roll, literally, on the field in that production.
“I don’t go to the movies too often," said Butkus on camera. "But, um, one particular movie that stands out in mind was with Bette Davis. I think it was ‘Hush … Hush Sweet Charlotte.’ I got kind of a charge when that head come rolling down the stairs. I kind of like to sit there watch it, see things happen and maybe project those things happening on the football field, and not to me.”
More recently, league partner ESPN aired a weekly segment called “Jacked Up” that counted down the biggest hits of the week every Monday. Then the worldwide leader succumbed to political correctness and ditched the "Jacked Up" segment for a castrated, asexual version called, "C'mon, Man."
C'mon, man, is right.
Now, the four-letter network pontificates that football has no moral standing, and that it could be on the same downward path as boxing due to its willfully violent nature.
The argument doesn’t hold up in the least.
Boxing has been replaced by a more violent combat sport in the public’s consciousness, mixed-martial arts and UFC.
Like Gladwell’s strange equivalence of human beings with choices to canines without, this stance ignores basic realities of human nature in favor of smarmy platitudes about safety.
The struggle is important. Without struggle, there can be no advancement.
The pain is important. Without pain, there is no human experience.
“There is a clear relationship between pain and personality and personal identification,” said the late surgeon and author Paul Brand, a doctor at the U.S. Leprosy Hospital. “Pain and pleasure, pain and ecstasy, are closely related in the human consciousness.”
These arguments seek to eliminate our risk, our potential for growth. They seek to eliminate our pain, our essence of self. The people promoting this viewpoint need to be stopped, and not just for the good of our game.
They need to be stopped for the good of the nation.
America was the wealthiest, most intellectually and politically progressive nation on earth even before it was an independent country.
Famed historian David McCullough, for example, writes in his book "1776" how British soldiers, agents of the most powerful empire on Earth, marveled at the wealth and abundance of the American countryside during the invasion of Brooklyn.
The United States has been the world's foremost power for the majority of living memory because we embraced the struggle for a New World of multicultural ideals that, that however imperfectly it unfolded, would put an end to the Old World of ideals in which ethnicity and birthright determined class, wealth and power.
We decided we would win. We risked our assets to do it, and came out on top.
Now, we are rushing to neuter our own assets. We are trying to transition from what former Canadian Prime Minister Lloyd Axworthy called "hard power" (i.e., military, political and intellectual might) to "soft power" (i.e., no power at all).
In America's case, that hard intellectual and physical power has meant the defeat of slavery, monarchism, communism, Nazism, etc., from one corner of the planet to the other, and the creation of a world in which representative government, again however imperfect, is the global norm, not the exception as it was just 100 years ago.
Softening football is a way to soften America's hard power, with unknown and possibly frightening results.
The problem with Axworthy's "soft power" strategy, as Mark Steyn has pointed out, is that "a soft culture will, by its very nature, be unlikely to find the strength to stand up to a sustained assault by blunter, cruder forces."
We don't have to be the Romans, who continually bribed the Huns, to leave our city in peace. The Huns sacked Rome anyway. We can still be the Romans of the Pax Romana, too strong to invite attack.
Football can help us stay there.