Sunday, May 19, 2013

Follow the Puck

Let the game police itself.  Whenever you hear this statement, someone usually an athlete, is referring to the confrontational aspects within sports that lead
players to fend for themselves during the game.  It's an old school mentality with a contemporary wisdom, analogous to less government and more control by the people. 

Recently the NBA made some rule changes, pushing for less physical play & more Referee Control, making Flagrant Fouls more prevalent.  Rules & Regulations exist to protect the integrity of each respective game as well as for player's safety.  But every sport has a set of 'unwritten rules' which players adhere to, with respect for each other.  These unwritten rules or codes often allude to matters of respect, sportsmanship, player's health and ego's e.g., in baseball no bunting when up by 6 or more runs, not showing up the pitcher by
hot-dogging a HR, no chop-blocking in football or no stepping under a jump shooter in basketball so that he comes down and lands on your foot, twisting an ankle (Bruce Bowen!!!!).  

The circumstance most often discussed and debated occurs in Baseball; the pitcher hitting the batter, resulting in a bench-clearing brawl.  It happens by accident and it happens purposefully in retaliatory situations.  Either way the fans, cameras and tv screens across the world bare witness to a violent humanity usually seen in movies and MMA fights.  The baseball field, romantic and treasured in poetic anthems and historical context, becomes a mockery of men behaving like little boys.

Though fights occur semi-frequently in baseball (about 5-10 each season), and almost always result in player suspensions, through the years the act has become more frowned upon and discouraged.  Logic says eventually a baseball player will get hurt very seriously or killed, which will outlaw fighting completely.  The only other sport that encourages player policing so manifestly, quite obviously is Hockey.  Fighting in North Amercian Professional Hockey is legal.  Though players who engage in fights receive time in the 'penalty box,' they are only ejected in extreme cases when rules are violated or when multiple fights occur at once.  NHL rules permit one-on-one fighting, but fights involving mutliple participants were outlawed in the 1970s to make the game more mainstream.

Oftentimes the enactment of additional regulations, while popular for commercial value, can dilute the product on the field or court.  Fighting in the NHL is constantly scrutinized and always pointed out by critics as one of the main reasons for its limited popularity globally.
Protecting the athletes is important.  Preserving the games is important.  As we evolve as people, so do our activities.  NFL Football is in the process of evolution.  They have begun to realize the damage being done to their employees and the negative long-term effects of football.  Commercially, the NFL enacted rules to protect their QuarterBacks.  Now Morally & Ethically, they must enact rules & safeguards to protect the 21 other players on the field.

Baseball & Hockey are following suit, also examining the protection of their players.  Pitchers will be wearing caps with protective cushioning and hockey players won't be allowed to hit near the head's of their opponents. 

The games will be the same, but with subtle differences.  I hate the new NBA rules.  Flagrant fouls are now being called every time a player gets hit hard.  There's a common sense difference between a hard foul and a flagrant foul.  Why can't NBA Officials be granted the power to use their Eyes and their Experience to make these calls, rather than a Rule Book?  The NFL needs to protect QB's, but not to the point where any contact to their legs or heads draws a 15-yard penalty.  Once again, The Eye Test must be used to make these calls.  MLB Baseball is looking at their bats breaking and their pitchers being hit by the ball.  Players have been pierced from pieces of broken bats so a ban on the ones that break violently is necessary.  Pitchers wearing protective caps is very necessary.  And funnily enough, Historically, the barely surviving NHL is always the fastest sports organization to enact rule changes and improvements.  Forget waiting 10 years for a new collective bargaining agreement, the NHL and
Gary Bettman will pass a rule tomorrow to make the game better.  Hockey like Football is beginning to ban severe head contact, but Fighting will always be a necessary evil in the NHL.  It is the ultimate form of self-government in sports.  If you ban fighting in professional hockey, you might as well make the puck plastic and play the game on the street.  If you ban hard hits in football, you might as well put flags on their waist's.  If every time an NBA player gets hit in the head a flagrant foul is called, then you might as well jail Ron Artest and the entire Detroit Pistons team from the late 80s.

Sports teach us to evolve or die.  They teach us to work or fail.  Sports, like America, build character elite.  Don't destroy the games that cultivate the spirit of great men & women by putting diapers on the participants.... 

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