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We can love football, but recognize its issues

by J.W. Miller on 08/27/18

Are you ready for some football? This is the most exciting two weeks of the year for many folks, with the advent of the college football season this week and the National Football League next weekend. And why not? Your team is undefeated, you have swallowed down everything you’ve been told about your local heroes, and what lay ahead of you is 4-5 months of bliss, raindrops and buttercups. National championships, bowl games and Super Bowls loom large in our plans. 

The actual games will be a relief after months of news about the problems on its periphery. Even as we await in great anticipation for the games to begin, we see football under siege. We have a silent wish that all the negative talk would just go away and things could be like they’ve always been.  Don’t fool yourself. Football has always had problems. Debilitating injuries or so-called “conditioning” that gets out of hand and results in a young man’s death or even a head coach ignoring another coach’s improprieties or abusive behavior toward his spouse. 

Fans mock new rules intended to curb injuries when officials call them inconsistently. Why don’t they just throw the flag and put the offender in a dunking booth behind the bench? Let the fans throw footballs to trip the trigger. If it’s a real cheap shot, exile the offender to D-League and a week with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Games are light-hearted affairs and their problems should but, too, right? Well, not always. 

We recoil when we perceive bad news as an attack on our institutions. Such problems and behavior have always been with us, but like alarming new trends in crime statistics, maybe we’ve just changed our reporting methods. Social media has eliminated what used to be our “secrets,” both innocent and not so, and even the stupid things we said when we were young and stupid haunt us when the record is reprised. Facebook, and Twitter have opened our lives to such an extent that we need to remind our young people that even your most well-intentioned remarks can and will be used against you years in the future when you’ve risen above others or even when applying for a job. 

Bad things happen in sports as they do in our society, but don’t get mad. Simply recognize and educate yourself on the issues, and realize that our games are imperfect because those involved are imperfect. Cherish the part of football that intrigues us, encourages us and thrills us to our marrow. Go ahead and get excited when your favorite college team kicks off this weekend or when the Saints or your favorite NFL team goes to the post next weekend. It’s okay, because the part of football that we love is the game itself. 

You’ve read it here before, but I’m going to repeat a story that puts our games in perspective. On the cusp of a big game, my old coach in Buffalo, Marv Levy, was asked if the upcoming match was a “must win?” Levy looked the reporter squarely in the eye and responded: “A must win? World War II was a must win. Football is a game.”

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