Now let me just preface this article that I am about to write. I have been a lifelong fan of football. I have been cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers for about 12-13 years (57 percent of my life) and I even played some ball in high school. So please do not take this as a sport bashing view.
However, something has been creeping to my attention, more and more as of late and it is really starting to tug on my conscience. I'll tell you how it started:
The offense is first and goal. The crowd is cheering, the lights are bright and the grass is slick. The smell of sweat and determination lingers in the air. The ball is snapped and the 22 helmets are off in motion.
The outside linebacker reads the toss right and lines up for the tackle. Instead of a tackle, a blur rushes in opposite and absolutely levels him. The sound of their pads and helmets smashing into each other is deafening. The running back scurries in for six and the linebacker remains on the grass.
The sideline erupts, not at the TD but at the huge hit delivered. The Mack truck that hit the guy is hovering over his body, back to the play. I even caught myself replaying the sound clips of "Jacked Up" in my head. Then I remembered. I was watching a high school JV game.
Maybe that doesn't do something for you but, for me it really made me open my eyes. Then, I saw Jahvid Best get taken out against Maryland. And if you haven't seen it yet, (http://sports.todaysbigthing.com/2008/09/19) I suggest caution for the weak around :18 and :34. He gets wrecked while watching the ball on just a small dump that he never had a chance on.
If you still need more evidence, just visit Youtube and type in "jacked up" or "huge hit". There are tons of videos submitted that are not just from broadcasts of professional games. There are a lot from amateurs at high school and college games.
Why is this a big deal? When you see a big hit or tackle, it can really change the tide of the game. But when someone is lying on the ground, injured, and the opposing team is celebrating...that is classless.
Often, you will see youth emulate what they see in professional sports. However, in today's game that might not be the best choice. NFL players try to best each other in TD celebrations, NBA shooters make it look easy when dunking or blocking a shot. Even hockey goals and dekes are getting more elaborate. Except when someone dunks the ball or scores on a wraparound, no one is lying on their backs.
This glorification of a hard hit is becoming more entertaining than actually scoring a touchdown. It used to be that kids would scramble to be QB in their backyard or want to be the WR that could catch a touchdown then try to do the Icky shuffle or Dirty Bird.
Now it seems like more kids want to be the free safety or the full back, someone that can do the most 'damage'. I don't know about you but, that doesn't sound like sportsmanship. What the hell is the point of encouraging kids to go to midfield and shake hands on a good game if 20 minutes prior to that, they were gunning to send one to the hospital.
I am all for a big defensive stop, a shoestring tackle on the two yard line, or a big sack that keeps the clock running. I am not a fan of standing over someones motionless body while my teammates jump in jubilation and slap my helmet on a 'job well done'.
The ESPN segment of 'Jacked Up' shows professional football players making big football hits, like they have been practicing for years. It is not an invitation for impressionable young players to copycat their favorite crunch.
And do not try to compare hockey hits along these same lines. Hockey hitting has always been a part of the game and I have never seen other players celebrate an injury. Sure, a few times a coach, may or may not, has told a goon to seek retribution on a player (see Todd Bertuzzi).
Even the massive fight between the Red Wings and Avalanche makes for a good VHS tape to be watched over and over by a father and son, sparking up the rivalry for the next season. However, even in those cases, no one was standing over Steve Moore as he lay motionless on the ice when his skull came crashing down. No one was congratulating Claude Lemieux when he broke Kris Draper's jaw against the boards.
I guess a big hit on defense is comparative to a touchdown on offense. Their job is to go out there and protect their end-zone and prevent points on the board. If you can get a turnover, even better. But, if smashing into a player so hard that they lose their helmets and/or their lunches (see Jahvid Best above) then I strongly believe that the same rules should apply in a TD.
If you want to celebrate a TD, you get an unsportsmanlike penalty. If you want to celebrate an injured opponent, you also get 15 yards. Otherwise what are you teaching the public about human nature. That it is alright to disregard compassion just because you are playing a sport? I don't think so.
Telling some kid to 'rub some dirt on it' when his knee bends the other way because football is a rough game? If an injury happens then yes, I understand it is the nature of the game. I have played it and lived it and seen it. That does not constitute someone trying to end some kid's career.
Just ask Travis Roy of Boston University. He played :24 seconds of college hockey before severing his spinal cord. Now he is confined to a wheelchair for life. No, he did not get hit by someone but, the result is the same.