September 16, 2014

DUBNOV | The Softening Of Sports

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On Sunday night, I sat down with a couple of buddies to watch the Bears take on the 49ers in San Francisco. I was following some players that were on my fantasy team and was excited to see a game full of excitement and action. As a whole, the game did not disappoint. But one thing was glaringly obvious — there were way too many play stoppages called. With a flag being thrown almost every other play, it seemed like the referees saw just as much action in the game as the players did.

Over the course of the last few years, the NFL has adopted many controversial rules to protect players from injuries. Now, NFL referees have to pay attention to very specific rules that can really be called either way. Some of these newsworthy rules include a rule banning unnecessary contact with a receiver after five yards and a rule for running backs disallowing them to use their helmets while trucking through defenders.

Players around the league have had varying opinions about the adoption of such rules. Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte expressed his disapproval of the rule around running backs saying, “Wow so they really passed that rule … last time I checked football was a contact sport. Calling bank now to set up my lowering the boom fund.”

The other issue with the new safety rules is that they are not consistent at every level. Many football experts have pointed out that Jadeveon Clowney’s highlight backfield fumble recovery against Michigan at the NCAA level would have simply been overturned as a penalty in the NFL. This is a perfect example of how safety rules are making the game unreliable, soft and less exciting. This shift is happening across a variety of sports.

After incidents such as the infamous Malice at the Palace brawl, the NBA has also begun to take measures to make the game less physical. The Jordan era was a time of physical dominance in basketball. Every team would have an enforcer and a rivalry, and that is what made games exciting. In today’s NBA, the traditional big man player is hard to find. With a propensity for flagrant fouls called on physical contact and verbal abuse by players, the players that would have at one point been responsible for doing the dirty work in the paint and intimidating opponents are now being heralded as bullies. DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most statistically talented centers in the NBA today. However, his numerous infractions with opposing teams and inconsistent temperament has put a blemish on his young career, a blemish that would not have existed 20 years ago.

In the MLB, numerous recent rule additions have changed the game and created an inconsistent environment of play. Most notably are the new collision rules. Rule 7.13 is the home plate collision rule that states that catchers should no longer block the plate prematurely and runners should avoid contact. Despite their dangerous nature, home plate collisions have always been a part of the game of baseball. The rule has already affected the MLB. In a late July contest between the Reds and the Marlins, Rule 7.13 was used to overturn an interaction at the plate, leaving the Marlins livid about the late-inning, game-changing call. This rule has specifically been called the Buster Posey rule, after the promising young catcher had to miss the majority of the 2011 season because of a fractured leg sustained in a home plate collision. Many new rules are being inspired by specific injuries to star athletes.

More recently, Paul George’s leg fracture has inspired basketball to change the position of the hoop stations in an effort to avoid repeat injuries. Changes to equipment and equipment placement are good measures to help athletes stay uninjured. However, when it comes to physical contact between players, there should not be so many limiting regulations.

As advertising has taken a greater precedent in the sports world, the softening of the games has occurred to make sure that professional sports appeal to all viewers and violence is not promoted. In a way, these changes are just putting censorship on the game.

There is a reason why videos titled “Best NFL Hits” and “The Greatest NBA Fights and Rivalries” have millions of views on YouTube. People love to watch rivalry and intensity, which are often caused by fights. Over regulating games is changing the course of sports history by taking away these important elements that we all love to see in games. If this trend continues, we may see opponents holding hands and playing patty-cake after games.

Okay, that is an over-exaggeration. But regulating physicality in sports is not the answer. Contact sports involve contact and unfortunately in some cases, injuries. That is the way sports have always been played. Regulations slow down the game and limit rivalry. As a lifelong sports fan, I hope that the current trend of creating rules to soften the play of sports in the United States comes to a screeching halt very soon.