Damnatio ad bestias
In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were involved in the chase for baseball’s home run record. Both men hit baseballs distances that became legend. At the time, Major League Baseball was enjoying a rebirth of sorts, baseball was no longer a boring game, it had become a very exciting game; incredibly muscular men mightily swinging their wooden sticks at tightly wound baseballs and sending them 500 feet in the opposite direction. Barbaric! It was starting to look a lot like men’s softball, but who was complaining? Certainly the caretakers of the business of baseball (the profiteers) who were raking in huge profits weren’t about to pull the plug. The use of performance-enhancing drugs and band substances had re-shaped the game of baseball and it has taken years of hard work to clean-up the game, a process that is ongoing. During the “steroid era” baseball was still the same game, using the same bats, and the same balls. Only the players had changed.
The National Football League has progressed in a similar fashion. As the players have evolved into ‘bigger, faster, and stronger’ athletes the game has become a more violent sport. But, has the way the game is being played changed? No. It’s still the same game, but with stronger players on the field the hits have begun to take their toll. Open-field tackling, hits that are usually at full-speed and sharper angles, are doing the most damage. Running backs, receivers, linebackers, defensive backs and special team’s players are putting themselves at risk and are the ones being regularly carted off the field and back into the locker rooms.
Although football equipment has improved dramatically over the years, the number of injuries has continually increased both in number and severity. The use of performance-enhancing drugs and prohibited substances have turned the men of the gridiron into chiseled Adonis’s and the game has become faster and more dangerous. They have truly become modern day gladiators and the fans are loving it. Viewership is up which translates into huge profits.
The NFL has opted to change the way the game is played rather than aggressively policing their players for PEDs and prohibited substances. Good move? Some say "let them play football", just limit the octane of the fuel and the allowable horsepower, like NASCAR does. The WWE has had problems over the years with their wrestlers as a result of steroid use. Wrestling is an entertainment sport, football and baseball at one time were competitive sports with rich histories and should have been able to control this problem with rules, but they have not. Who is going to stop it? Certainly the caretakers of the business of football who are raking in huge profits aren’t about to pull the plug on their cash cow. Professional football, though still competitive, has begun to look more like an entertainment sport, which generates higher profits.
The players and their families are the ones suffering the ill-effects; filing law suits because of the debilitating head injuries sustained while playing professional football. But on who does the blame really fall?
You could blame the NFL. They make the most money and could enforce rules to prevent injuries. You could blame the owners. They make a ton of cash and they have turned their heads to illegal substance use in order to compete. In defense of performance-enhancing drugs, some say they have leveled the playing field. Everyone is taking them and so games are close and the fans stay and pay till the end… Or you could blame the players. They’re the ones taking the PEDs and they’re completely aware of the risks involved.
The NFL Players Association could step in and vote to enforce their own rules regarding prohibited substances, but they have not been overly aggressive. Or... you could blame the fans. The fans support the league and the caretakers of the game (the profiteers) react to their customers. As long as the coliseums are full, flat screens are on, licensed souvenirs are being purchased along with beer and parking, gambling and fantasy leagues are operating, everything is still good, they’re not about to change anything. Football has always been a violent game, but more recently it has become a blood-sport and the fans are not the ones complaining.
From 1965-'73 Dick Butkis was one of the most feared players in the NFL; he laid people out. But in today’s game Mr. Butkis, even in his prime, would get man-handled by these kids who are ‘bigger, faster, stronger’. So should the NFL change the way the game has been played since the league’s inception in 1920? Perhaps, but not without addressing the use of performance-enhancing drugs. That is the more difficult task and that’s why the NFL has opted instead to change the way the game is played.
The caretakers of the NFL will have to huddle-up and decide the future of professional football. If they change the way the game is played by limiting the target area of tackling and hitting, they could risk losing the portion of the audience who tune in to watch the violent hits and according to several sources “the NFL has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world.” If they choose to aggressively police the locker rooms for prohibited substances and enforce stricter policies for violations like baseball has done, they will need to create a task force and that takes time and money.
And if it’s not enough to wait for the NFL’s injury report, a list of prohibited substance suspensions would be an even bigger problem for odds-makers, gamblers and fantasy sports aficionados, all big parts of professional football in the current version of the modern era.
When solutions create problems, especially those of a financial nature, those making the decisions are caught in a dilemma and the NFL will have to make some difficult decisions.
One thing is certain- If the NFL doesn’t make some changes and professional football continues being the blood-sport it has become, they will have to increase roster sizes to counter the number of players (gladiators) being carted off the field on a regular basis.
The NFL isn't exactly Ancient Rome around the 2nd century BC where damnatio ad bestias (Latin for "condemnation to beasts") was used as entertainment and was part of the inaugural games of the Flavian Amphitheatre , but it's headed in that direction. "Feed them to the Lions, Bears, Panthers, Bengals, Jaguars" may be exactly what we're doing to our young athletes seeking careers in the NFL...