Last Night’s Game

Last night’s professional football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals epitomizes my frustration with the sport.

First, let me tell you. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. I became a Steeler fan around nineteen sixty-nine, when I was thirteen. That wasn’t a good year for the Steelers. They finished with one win, and thirteen losses. Things began picking up the next year.

Second, about ten years ago, I began thinking that football has become way too violent. I tried watching less of the sport. I marvel at the players’ speed, grace, and athleticism, and enjoy the multiple levels of tactics and strategy continuing throughout a game even as I rue the violence. I’ve thought, like others, what is the solution to reduce the violence, especially the flagrant fouls, and the head injuries?

Last weekend featured a couple of them. Gronk of the Patriots was suspended for his hit. Other suspensions and fines are being issue. But how much do these mean to these players? Yes, they recognize that they’ve let their team down when they’re suspended, and that it could affect winning records, contracts, sponsorship deals, and championships, with all the collateral associated with a season, like home-field advantages, pride, rings, and trophies, but these same players are pushed to be aggressive and competitive. They’re amped up on adrenaline. To expect them to stop instantly, in the middle of motion, when the whistle blows — and is heard — and tamper their emotions is not always realistic.

Especially so in a game like last night, between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Their games have been especially tough and violent for several years. Memories of results and actions linger, affecting how the two teams feel about each other, and how they play one another. The game last night featured penalties, marked off in yards and loss of downs. Quoting Kevin Siefert on ESPN:

The game was also reminiscent of the playoff game due to the high number of penalties. The Bengals set a franchise record with 13 penalties for 173 yards. The two teams have combined for 1,088 penalty yards in their matchups against each other, including playoffs, since the 2015 season. Their 32 major penalties, such as unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct, in the same time span is nearly twice as much as any other matchup in the same period.

Wow, right? Yet, it keeps escalating. These penalties and suspensions aren’t working. Maybe something more concrete is required, like a loss of points instead of yards, or a loss of downs. Yes, flags can be thrown, and players ejected, but perhaps it’s not enough. Maybe a flag is required to warn them, one more personal foul, and you forfeit the game.

Too extreme? Perhaps, but that’s what the NFL is all about: winning and losing. Until something tangible is done to immediately affect that line, the escalations will continue.

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