The Washington Post is running a special feature titled, "How Much of the NFL's Appeal is Violence?" where they ask a panel of journalists, writers and commentators to weign in on the very issue raised in the aforementioned question. The responses mostly seem to admit there is a complicit acknowledgement that violence is part of the game and so long as that violence is "contained" (what that containment looks like is never fully define), then there shouldn't be any further question. This response exemplified that viewpoint quite nicely:
Roger Goodell, the current commissioner, was right to send a memo to players and coaches this week threatening severe penalties for anything that happens on the field that poses an injury risk to a player. The league was right to suspend Buccaneers cornerback Elbert Mack for a game for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during an interception return in a game last weekend. The game should be made as safe as possible for players. But it never will be completely safe as long as it's about blocking and tackling. And that, whether the participants or fans are willing to admit it or not, is part of the reason why people find it so compelling to watch. There's no two-hand-touch football league out there pulling in $3.7 billion a year in national TV revenues, is there?
Quite right, although some find that both true and repulsive. In fact, they go so far as to accuse the NFL in cultivating violence and generally depravity as part of their revenue generating business model:
Don't show me your words, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you hold most dear. And as long as the NFL's propaganda wing, NFL Films, shows you every brutal takedown in super slo-mo, from nine different angles, and glorifies brutes like Chuck Bednarik, we'll know what this league is all about. (In such ways has Sammie White, a darn good receiver in his day, been reduced in history to caricature, the guy who got his helmet popped off by the Raiders' Jack Tatum in Super Bowl XII.)
The actuary tables for NFL players are horrifying. The men who play this game die much younger, on average, than most other groups of men. But out of sight, out of mind. Goodell knows that while the players are in full view, they have to be considered modern gladiators, impervious to normal levels of pain and fatigue.
Then there's gambling, but that's not today's topic. Suffice it to say, if the Roman Empire had had a morning line, we'd all still be wearing togas.
For anyone who has kept up with the image evolution and battle for legitimacy that MMA wages in the mainstream press, the reference to ancient Rome should sound very familiar and equally hackneyed. I'd describe it as intellectually lazy, but that seems more than obvious.
It's interesting to watch other contact or combat sports grapple with issues of violence in their respective sports. It's also noteworthy to see how the commentators or insiders of those sports answer the question of the role of violence in their games. What's notable is that violence, on it's best day, is viewed as a necessary evil or regrettable but marketable. I certainly don't pretend to speak for everyone when I say this, but what's wrong with violence?
I will openly admit this: I like violence. I find it awakens me from the routine process of my day. I find it thrilling. I find it addictive.
I fail to understand why others in the press or media simply cannot admit this. It is beyond disingenuous and political to suggest that what we are willing to tolerate any sport that has violence in spite of the violence in the sport.
And the fact is, there's nothing wrong with liking violence. I have no evolutionary biological credentials, but suffice it say that all of the expectations of proper human development and responsible citizenry I exhibit. The notion that those who are attracted to violence are they themselves prone to violence (generally of the illegal variety) or are drawn to violence to satisfy some deeper psychological issue is nonsense. Fans may not acknowledge the allure of violence, but the allure is real. And the healthy lives carried out by ordinary sports fans is evidence of the grossly overblown alarm bells rung with those who view violence as reprehensible and destructive in all its forms.
To be sure, there are limits to violence. Constraints on violence, as hard as they can be to define in principle, are critical. Violence overwraught over time defies our sense of what's appropriate and necessary. The evolution of our sport towards further regulation is evidence of such transformation.
In fact, it is the constraint on violence that makes violence so acceptable and appealing: the dilution of extreme danger to digestible thrill is hard to ignore. And that combination of violence-protected-by-safety is the essence of many forms of entertainment. We love the anti-physics of rollercoasters, but we want to know they won't derail. We love the intoxication and buzz of alcohol, but we need the limits of biological consumption to fully appreciate's its application.
All are free to disagree or offer their own sentiments, but I would be curious to hear anyone a fan of MMA or the NFL say they don't actually enjoy violence. It is perfectly enjoyable, exciting and all too human. I am, as a fan of violence, no aberration, no island. I like violence and I'm betting you do, too.