Violence in Sports Should Be Understood

Football is dirty, smelly and grimy. You doggedly work grueling hours throughout the week, pounding through drills and countless minor injuries until everything is a natural reaction specifically to defeat the opposing players. By the end of the week, you respect the man you will be lining up against, but you are ready to rip his head off and throw his bloody body off your turf. This is the mentality you have to have, or you will lose. Plain and simple.

Growing up in California, I had no idea what this mentality meant. I was a soft kid — athletically gifted, yes, but I wasn’t a killer.

Then I moved to Texas, and everything changed.

If you’re skeptical of the way Texas football is portrayed in movies, you shouldn’t be. We started at 7 a.m., with the sun low on the horizon and the dew on the turf giving a little cushion to my first big hit of which, to be clear, I was not on the giving end.

Kyle Binki — a junior linebacker with a Southern-pride attitude and without all four of his front teeth — introduced me to football as it is meant to be played. He absolutely destroyed me; helmet flying, spittle over my jersey, my body sunk in the mud by what must have been a good 6 inches. I made a squelching sound as I got up, and, years later,  I’m still not sure if it was the mud or my insides.

I got up, and got hit again. And I got up, and got hit again, and again and again. By the time our second practice was over, I was covered in mud, bruised, beaten and miserable in the 115-degree heat that coincided with a thunderstorm, just to make my life that much better.

I hated football, but it was what you did if you wanted to be an athlete. If you didn’t, you were weak. Unimportant.

I hated football. Baseball and basketball I loved, but for two years football was almost unbearable. I did my duty — playing hard and fast, throwing the ball to X’s and Z’s, being the scout team offense for the next game — but I hated it with a passion. I didn’t have the mentality, or the drive, or the heart for what really makes a good athlete.

That is, until the basketball game it all finally clicked, and I got it. It wasn’t a slow, gradual process of becoming ready to give someone else a beating; it was a click, a pull, an explosion of chain of reactions that sent me into overdrive.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t a football game that changed me, but instead a basketball game. It was late in the second quarter and the game was close. The man guarding me was fouling me all game and I took it, as the second foul is usually the one that gets called. I was calm, composed and playing all right. And then it happened.

As I brought the ball up the court, they pressed and trapped me in the corner. After fouling me the whole game, my man closed his fist and punched me in the face on his way to taking the ball. The ref didn’t call the foul, and I lost it. I ran after the guy who was breaking away for a lay up and just flat out tackled him, at which point both teams rushed the court and everything became a writhing mass of tangled appendages.

After that, I had the attitude. Still calm and collected during games, I could flip it on at any second and go get that bigger play, using that little something extra that only getting mad can give you.

That is football (and to some extent, basketball). Our favorite stars are all paid millions of dollars a year to develop this attitude. Especially in the NFL, players would not last a second without the ability to get mad and face their rivals with the mindset, “I will end your threat to my dominance.”

In the NFL, those players are on another level altogether. So how can we be surprised when they take their mentality off the field? We praise them over and over again for kicking others into the dirt, so how can we expect them to love us for loving them, and then be so hurt by them when they reveal their animal mindset off the field?

The NFL players we love so much — a linebacker coming across the middle and lighting up the quarterback, a rover taking the head off an unsuspecting wide receiver — are all out for blood on the field. It’s like the Colosseum, and I love it. There is nothing that comes close to that feeling when you’re on the field and give a big hit, except maybe watching someone else do the hitting.

The players that have come into scandal recently should not be held to some higher expectations as role models for society at large, because if they were we would all just be fighting each other tooth and nail. Our love and money go toward conditioning them to be as violent as we wish we could be. Rather than being role models, these men are simply people we live vicariously through. They have an outlet for their rage, a way to take off someone’s head on Monday night through the pads of their home team.

No one should give themselves over to violent tendencies in real life, but for those few that we have conditioned to be violent for us, there should be a little understanding. Sexual assault in college bars, domestic violence and dog fighting will not and should not ever be acceptable, but we shouldn’t be surprised at Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison’s comments after knocking two Cleveland Browns players out of the game with concussions last week.

“I don’t want to see anyone injured,” Harrison said, “but I’m not opposed to hurting anyone. There’s a difference. When you’re injured, you can’t play. But when you’re hurt, you can shake it off and come back, maybe a few plays later or next game. I try to hurt people.”