American professional athletes have become significantly bigger, stronger, and faster over the last ~15 years. You’d think that these increasingly large monsters of the field/court/diamond would be increasingly tough, rough-and-tumble type guys (think Australian rules football). It appears to me, however, that the opposite is the case. They’re much more sensitive and touchy than players of old. I don’t like it. Examples for you to ponder from the Big 3…
- MLB: throwing at players is getting a lot of media attention lately. Ozzie Guillen, in particular, caught a lot of heat for saying, “If I see someone hit my player — and I know they hit him on purpose — it’s two guys going down. I don’t care if I get suspended. I rather have me suspended for two games than have my players on the DL for 30 days.” Bravo, Ozzie. Players and MLB management have become far too sensitive about something that has always been a part of the game — an essential part of the game, in fact. Hit batters take it personally and stare down pitchers (or charge them). Let it go. Umpires unfairly remove a team’s ability to retaliate by issuing warnings to both sides after the first salvo. Lame. Sports in general works best when the players are self-policing. If someone plunks or dusts your guy off, you should have every right to return the favor, lest ill-will get pent up and explode in a much worse way. I don’t advocate intentionally seriously injuring a guy by throwing at his head or hands. But there’s nothing wrong with hitting a guy in the legs or side to keep things balanced and under control. Or to keep him off the plate Drysdale-style.
- NBA: The league and its players seem to have forgotten what playoff basketball is all about. A guy drives the lane, he should end up on his ass, plain and simple. Like throwing at guys in baseball, the hit shouldn’t be dirty (to the head, in the back), but it should happen and it should be hard. These days, clean hard hits often result in flagrant fouls and posturing/shoving. Get over it…you’re all grown-ups. Instead of getting pissy, do it to them the next time down. It’s not personal…it’s playoff basketball. And I have a particular problem with flagrant fouls because, all too often, the severity of the flagrant foul awarded hinges upon how the foulee hits the ground. A hit that would result in a garden variety foul if the foulee lands on his two feet is categorized as flagrant if he lands awkwardly and ends up on the ground (especially if the foulee is on the home team). Referees should be required to review such plays before handing out flagrants; force them to re-watch the entire play to determine whether the fouler actually went for the ball and what the actual hit looked like, rather than judging based on how the guy lands and how the crowd reacts.
- NFL: QBs might as well be punters or placekickers the way the game is played now. Why don’t they just wear red jerseys during the game like they do in practice? Let them get hit in the pocket once in a while. I know there’s a lot of money wrapped up in QBs, but c’mon. Rushing defenders can’t stop on a dime. And trust me, some QBs deserve to get hit late. Give the defenders a break and let them do their job. If you don’t like it, take it out on their QB. As with the NBA, NFL officials should review such plays before determining whether a late hit personal foul should be called. Get rid of the stupid slide rule, too.
There are two common themes here. Leagues are too protective because there’s too much money at stake. Consequently, players take things too personally (and have lost a lot of respect for one another) because they can’t fully take out their aggressions productively, because they see each hit as an isolated event, rather than part of the natural flow of the game. These two things have killed a lot of the physical essence of sports and replaced it with something else. More and more, we’re watching controlled, preening, whiny dancers. I don’t like it.
What’s the solution? Penalize fighting and blatantly dirty hits, but don’t try to nitpick the borderline hits; the players will take care of that stuff themselves. And take out more insurance.