The Importance of Violent Sports?

It was third down and 18 yards. The running back was pulled out. Everyone in the stadium including my dog watching the game on TV at home knew it was an obvious pass play. The ball was snapped. The receivers scrambled deep down field taking a swarm of defenders with them. The defense had backed off a mile leaving the right flank grand canyon open. The quarter back went through a fake throwing motion and then tucked the ball under his arm and scrambled for the long 18 million miles. The 2 nearest defensive backs froze as they realized it was a designed play and steamed toward the quarter back. I was standing three feet from the point of rendezvous near the sideline trying to get the best photo action of my amateur life. As the two goods trains approached horning on the hapless quarterback, I instinctively backed off for my own safety as in a split second I saw and heard a massive earth shaking collision as the three massive colliding bodies landed out of bounds with the target quarter back sprawled on his back. There was a collective ooooh! from the crowd. I had visions of an ambulance. But I was surprised as the quarterback sprung up instantly and ran back to the huddle. The crowd clapped. The team had made a risky an unexpected first down.

ViolentSportsThe fall football season is here as thousands of Americans play the game and millions enjoy watching the game from coast to coast from pewee football for small boys, to high school, college and the professionals. The game is so violent that the National Football League has just agreed to pay close to $800 million to pay thousands of retired players for dementia or other brain injuries including concussions they blame on the violent, bone-crunching collisions. In spite all the known dangers, why do men and boys still subject themselves to such a violent and dangerous game?

The explanation and answer for some among the politically correct public may be that men just need to tone down their extreme dangerous testosterone -induced reckless machismo that puts themselves and society at grave risk. But this solution may create even more and worse problems. Although  boys, men, girls, and women may all have a competitive desire, the vast majority of boys and men may have a unique biologically based testosterone-driven aggressive drive that probably reaches its peak between the age of 16 and 28.

This author had a least athletic, puny, malaria and schistosomiasis-tropical disease ravaged body as a boy as a late blooming teenager. But out of the blue at the age of 19 the aggressive drive compelled him in college to try playing rugby and soccer. He even tried boxing for only about 60 seconds. The best thing that happened was at the age of 20, he attended the intense three months National Service military boot camp training with 300 other University of Zambia students. His body and mind were pushed to the limit. As he was being interviewed a few years later by an African-American counselor official to get his visa to come to graduate school, the official asked him if he would be playing American football. The official must have been joking as the author weighed a miserly 120 lbs, and waist size 29.

The concussions and life threatening injuries including the danger of sometimes training in 100 degree dangerous seething heat with hardnosed barking coaches during the football season will not go away. Instead, society and communities should create better legitimate opportunities for everyone but especially boys and men to express their testosterone -induced aggressive drive. This aggressive drive may have helped human communities survive during the earlier stages of human evolution. But that drive will not just go way. If it is suppressed unnecessarily, it may be expressed in other more dangerous, harmful and dysfunctional ways for communities.

September 17, 2013 – by  Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.