Well, it is ten years after 9/11/01, but like many Notre Dame fans, though I’m trying to watch the news coverage, I can’t stop thinking about last night’s loss to Michigan.
I’m pretty hard core when it comes to following ND football. My parents met on a train going to see Notre Dame play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 1973. I went to at least one game a year through most of my childhood, and you know what I remember? Domination. I used to wear a T-shirt to school that said ‘Decade of Dominance’ which highlighted ten straight years of beating Southern Cal. ND was in the running for the national championship year in and year out. Two-loss seasons were failures.
But all that has changed. Now any bowl win at all is reason for relieved celebration. We got very excited this past year about Notre Dame beating USC for the first time in many years, but it wouldn’t have happened without a late dropped TD pass by the Trojans. There have been miserably bad losses to teams like Tulsa, UConn, and even Navy–a team to which ND hadn’t lost in several decades. Many of us thought ND had things turned around last year with four wins in a row against some fairly good teams. But with two painful losses to an average South Florida team and a very clearly below average Michigan team to open the season, it seems as if unhappy days are here again.
So what’s going on here?
One meme is that Notre dame can’t get the players it once did because of higher admissions standards and the lack of typical draws for college kids in South Bend, Indiana. But in addition to schools like Stanford disproving this myth, the numbers themselves don’t lie: by every standard out there Notre Dame continues to get top-10 talent out of high school. But it has not been anywhere near a top-10 team.
Last night I started to believe that the team was cursed. Yes, cursed. I’m also a Chicago Cubs fan (God help us) and if there is one thing we know about, other than heart break, it is about curses. Nine turnovers in two games to start this year? The Bush push? Fumbles that go out of bounds to stop the clock rather than stay in bounds? Safeties randomly falling down on fake field goals? There was a play last night which was maybe the best argument for a curse: ND absolutely stuffed a Michigan running back, hit him so hard that he fumbled, and the fumble randomly bounced back to the quarterback, and the quarterback walked into the endzone for a touchdown. I’ve watched a lot of football over the years, and I can’t ever remember anything like that happening.
But actually, I don’t believe in curses…and, even if I did, I’m not sure its the best explanation as there have been breaks that have gone our way (see USC dropping the pass above). So, what’s left as an explanation?
I keep on coming back to the mental part of the game. Our players just seem to play scared–especially when things start going badly. They play timid, and play not to lose. They seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders and are willing to let things happen rather playing with an aggressive, attacking, take-no-prisoners confidence. Some have blamed the coaching for this, but Brian Kelly (the current coach) has been very successful at getting others players at other schools to play with aggressive, attacking confidence. Perhaps, as some posters on at NDNation have said, one can trace this back to the university’s cultural formation (emphasis added):
Basically ND gets good players but the atmosphere softens them. He mentioned that he spoke with a player this week who said he came to ND with a chip on his shoulder but no longer has it. He mentioned something about coaches at ND saying basically the same thing about the atmosphere at ND versus other places where they’ve coached.
I think ND has transformed itself into Disneyland for home games the past 20 years and the changes in the makeup of the student body and basic rules of conduct the past 25 years has gradually transformed ND into a much softer place. ND used to be a male dominated school well into the 80’s mixed with lots of drinking and a lot less political correctness. That’s not ND today. It doesn’t make ND a bad place, but it does make ND a place that softens the edges of many players over the 4 years they are there. The reduced practice time allowed now also reduces the ability for any coach to beat that soft crap out of his players when he gets them in his hands away from the safety of the main campus environment.
How can they not have a chip on their shoulder? How can our coaches not promote an ‘us vs. them’ mentality when the polarizing nature of ND football just screams ‘us vs. them’? It baffles me….these are our football players, not our ushers, PR specialists, fundraiser or chaplain team. We should fucking hate everyone we play. In Christ’s name, amen.
ND puts so much emphasis on the academic, spiritual, residential, etc. (and I’m treading lightly here), that we inevitably deemphasize the importance of performing on the field.
Not an excuse, but I remember that the brawling ND teams were squelched because the fighting was ’embarrassing’ the University.
The teams that I remember watching growing up were edgy. They were ready to brawl. They had a big chip on their shoulder. They were not going to be intimidated. Growing up in Wisconsin, I also happen to be a Green Bay Packer fan, and I remember the kinds of things that Mike Homlgren (who some thought of as a ‘finesse’ coach) told his team on their way to winning the superbowl:
“We can beat these guys, but it’s not about outsmarting them or having a better scheme,” he told his players. “Football is about kicking someone’s ass. Football is about physically pounding the opponent. If you want to win this game, you have to beat the crap out of these guys.”
He’s right. That’s what it is. And top-tier football players have to have to be formed in in this way, don’t they? And, as we know from our virtue ethics, it takes a whole community to form someone’s character–it isn’t just about the immediate ‘family’ (in this case the football team). The broader university must contribute to the forming the kind of person. But as the posts above (and my own experience) indicates, the University of Notre Dame seems to be forming its student-athletes as different kinds of people. People that the posters above call ‘soft’ and ‘politically correct’, but that, I think, we might call ‘ethical’ or ‘Christian.’ This seems to be incompatible with the kind of violent character necessary to play football at a high level.
So, in light of all this, let me ask the question once again…but slightly augmented. Should a Christian university have a top-tier football program?
Carroll College lost its first home game yesterday since 2006, so we here in Helena can relate to your confusion in the midst of defeat. I addressed a similar issue about sports and morality on the blog I used to write before CMT.com took over:
It is a common trope that sports build character, but what sort of character? I think you are right to point out that the “bad” character traits of the Christian are the “good” and necessary traits of athletic champions.
I also wonder what sort of character is fostered through watching sports. In general, I consider myself pretty peace-loving and non-violent until the start of the NBA season rolls around. All of the sudden, I find myself praying for certain notorious enemies of the game (*ahem* Lebron) to become the victims of randomly violent fouls. I cheer for Terry as he smack-talks his opponents at the free-throw line. And I never have such a problem restraining a foul mouth as when I watch the Mavericks throw away a lead in the last few minutes of a game.
Aquinas addresses this issue in II-II 167.2 and ad. 2 under the vice of curiosity. He argues that sight-seeing with reference to watching games for pleasures becomes sinful when it “renders a person prone to the vices of lust and cruelty on account of the things he sees represented.” Augustine also addresses the dangers of watching gladiatorial games in Book VI of the Confessions:
Now, our games are certainly less violent than the gladiatorial games mentioned here, but the danger of being unconsciously sucked in, of gaining pleasure from violence and strife, and of having one’s character changed by what one sees seems a similar danger in our own sports environment today. Your quotes about the nature of football seem to confirm this.
For the Love of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (add Irish lilt and additional blarney), was that an American Irish-Catholic post, or what? I don’t know about ‘Camosy’ though.
In terms of the case of football, I think the argument turns on whether the notion “beat the crap out of the other team” is merely doubly metaphorical, or triply metaphorical.
We all agree that it is not truly literal. It has nothing to do with the other team needing to change their pants.
Second, it is not the primary metaphorical meaning. By ‘crap-beating’ we typically mean inflicting a bodily assault on another person, intending to seriously injure them, and it is understood to be a criminal activity. Presumably that’s not the meaning either, as no coach would openly declare that their strategy is to instruct their players first and foremost to inflict serious bodily injury – whether by legal or illegal means – on their opponents.
Thirdly, it could mean that one trains one’s team to play particularly edgy – to always play at the edge of legality, to take advantage of an opponent when they are in a vulnerable position, and it they get injured, too bad. It is a form of intimidation, to instill fear in one’s opponent so they make ‘unforced’ errors, drop catches, throw the ball too early, cough up fumbles, etc. I take it that this is what Camosy questions as compatible with a Christian ethic, and also seems to assume that this is a winning, and the only winning, strategy available.
Fourth, and I think this is different, is that ‘beating the crap out of the other team’ can mean that one’s team plays a particularly physical (but neither illegal or edgy) brand of football. It is a common belief that if one runs the ball a lot in the first half, even if it is not particularly successful in terms of yards gained or touchdowns made, often pays dividends in the second half, where the defense is ‘softened up’ or worn down, and it is easier to then run successfully in the second half. This is simply one legitimate ‘tough’ way of playing football, that plays into macho culture, but otherwise seems relatively harmless (it is football of course!), and is not problematic unless modern football is per se morally problematic to Camosy.
There’s a term – smash-mouth football (and I am sure there are others) – where the meaning is somewhat vague, and I expect some mean the third meaning, and others mean the fourth.
So, if ‘beating the crap out of an opponent’ is only doubly metaphorical, and means playing on ‘the edge’ and being at best negligent about the health of opposing players, then that is, I believe, morally problematic. It is triply metaphorical and simply means playing a tough, physical football, then I don’t think it is problematic.
The other potential problem with Camosy’s argument is that there are of course many potential explanations for Notre Dame’s recent lack of success. I’m not sure I would want to base my argument that it necessarily a lack of ‘toughness’ on the opinions (even if entertaining) of a few unhappy fans on a blog. It is not clear to me that a team has to be particularly ‘tough’ to be successful as a football team. I”ve seen no statistics that show that teams that get the most unnecessary roughness penalties or inflict the most injuries on their opponents are typically more successful. But that’s another discussion.
As a Notre Dame fan myself, I was upset Saturday night too. But there are lots of possible explanations for this loss, and I don’t think it is fair to say that the Catholic identity of the university makes it impossible to have a winning athletic program. We need to look at turnovers, play calling, and a whole host of other factors. If you want to talk about virtue and Notre Dame football, fine, let’s have that conversation. But NDNation is not the place to go for cool-headed analysis and reasonable discourse. I would also disagree with your analysis of our players’ “playing scared.” Where’s the evidence of this?
Emily, do you disagree with the specific points made by the NDnation posters, or are you simply dismissing anything that comes out of there and not worth paying attention to? In my experience, if you can filter through the BS and ranting, its the best play to go for getting in depth discussions of Notre Dame football that goes beyond ESPN and the ‘rah, rah ND’ stuff…and I think this kind of discussion is good evidence of that. Furthermore, though I was talking about the trend of the football program in the last 20 years and not this last game alone, there were multiple times key ND players played scared on Saturday night. Our punter has been freaked out from the beginning of the season, for instance, and continued his streak of not hitting a single good punt all year. Gary Gray has played scared the whole game and, instead of simply having the confidence to turn around and let an interception fall into his hands, he either gave up touchdowns and underthrown balls, committed pass interference, or both. Our quarterback, for fear of being sacked, refused to check down to his second receiver and time and time again threw into coverage.
But that’s just one game. We could look at the first game as well (Crist and company were scared out of their MINDS for that game), but my main point was the trend over the last twenty years. Multiple people (coaches, players, fans, etc.) are noticing that this team doesn’t have the chip on its shoulder, its will to utterly dominate its opponents, that it had two decades ago. (Charlie Weis famously tried to get his team to play ‘nasty’ as a theme of one year, but was unable to do so.) This is across multiple coaches, multiple athletic directors, multiple good-to-great recruiting classes, and multiple football eras. There has been once constant: the university itself. During this time university has made a concerted effort to ‘clean up’ the image of the football team (particularly after Holtz’s teams would get into pre-and-post-game brawls with teams like Miami and USC…he would even use the threat of a fight as a way to motivate his players…he once finished a pre-game speech against Miami by saying, “Save Jimmy Johnson for me.”) I think it is a fascinating question to ask about ND football that deserves in depth consideration.
John, what is the ‘criminal activity’ reference doing for you? In certain areas of life (mainly sports) what would be criminal assault in other areas of life is not only legal, but expected and encouraged. If you did on the street what they do in boxing and ultimate fighting you’d be thrown in jail. Same with football. If I run as hard as I can to take out someone sprinting to catch a taxi here in NYC and hit them like they do in football, I would and should be arrested. And often times the goal IS to injure another football player…or at least to hit them hard so many times that they play less effectively. One of the rules for a good defensive back is to ‘always make a receiver pay’ for running a crossing route over the middle. Like a body-blow boxer, good running teams are focused on pounding their opponents into submission. Quarterbacks, in particular, are targets for being knocked out of the game…and we see this most clearly when, after an interception, defensive players immediately turn to look to ‘block’ the quarterback (read: take him out) even if he has no chance to make a play.
To form excellently football players (in the NCCA and NFL, at least), it seems to me, you have to form people who aren’t very good Christians. You have to form ‘nasty’ people…people that are willing to engage in activity, that in any other context, would be illegal. This, apart from the specific questions about Notre Dame football, is the ethical point I wanted to raise. Do folks disagree with it?
Perhaps there is something to the whole “curse” thing? You mention you are a Cubs fan. Coincidence? Perhaps over the past 25 years, as more and more Domers moved to the North Side and embraced the Cubs, their curse (which I firmly believe in) started being brought in to ND Stadium on Saturdays? Wasn’t Bartman a Domer? I suggest some sort of scapegoat ritual involving running a kid from Lake Forest with a Cubs jersy on off the campus and over to IUSB. Either that or all Domers could become White Sox fans. 🙂
Well, I have to say that I stopped reading NDN. During the Weis years I was an avid reader of BGS: http://bluegraysky.blogspot.com/ (full disclosure: I’m married to one of the BGS writers). As Dylan writes in his last post over there, one of the questions that comes up over and over again is “Can Notre Dame Still Compete?”
As we analyze the game clips from Saturday night, we have to keep in mind that we have an outsider perspective. We don’t know the plays that were called. We don’t know what route a receiver was supposed to run, or what formation the defense anticipated… so, like any approach to other “sacred texts,” we have to approach our analysis with a bit of caution and humility. What evidence do you have that Tommy R. threw into coverage because he was afraid of being sacked? That’s speculation– an interpretation of the “text” and one plausible explanation but not the only one. But we also need to look at how much time the line gives him, at the routes his receivers run and how the defensive coverage adapts to those routes.
Back to the big picture– Catholic identity should infuse the athletic program at a Catholic university. But this does not mean “soft” players who can’t compete. It means institutional support for academics so that our players graduate and we don’t use and abuse athletes. And it means abiding by NCAA regulations and self-reporting when we hear of violations. It means zero tolerance for sexual violence. Football players do not get a “free pass” in the classroom or the courtroom.
When we talk about the requisite virtues for success on the field, let’s look at the difference between the positions. It will look different for a QB than a tight end or a defensive back. Penalties like late hit and unnecessary roughness are counterproductive for a team who wants to win… so even that is built into the game. A good player can be tough and resilient and smart and dominate the opponent while still being “Christian.”
Charlie, I find this conversation very intriguing. I really really hope that it’s Notre Dame’s deep Christian virtue that somehow keeps our football players from being the vicious dominators we wish they were. That would be awesome. But then I’d like to see us lose with say, fewer turnovers and fewer penalties for personal fouls. And, I would have to wonder what suddenly made us “more Catholic” and therefore more soft and/or virtuous 20 years ago.
I don’t really follow these conversations, but, I’m curious, does anyone suggest that this “softer” atmosphere roughly coincides with the release of _Rudy_? I mean, on the one hand, Rudy (especially as played by Sean Astin), is the poster child for “give 120% every practice, every game.” On the other hand, the movie rather implies that if you believe hard enough, even hobbits can play football at ND. (Okay, that was an unfair confusion of 2 Sean Astin characters, but stlll….)
I think the question about whether a Christian school should have a top-tier football program is a great one. I think it’s connected to a lot of other issues about college athletics (especially football and men’s basketball, which have become major generators of revenue) and the costs and benefits of them both to the schools and the players. It’s also connected to formation in a whole load of values (not just beating people up, but teamwork and discipline, to name a few). In other words, I think it needs a lot more analysis, but it’s a great question.
Emily, yeah, I used to read bluegraysky consistently in grad school, and I think its pretty good, but since I started teaching full time I don’t have the time I used to, so I stick with NDnation because of the diversity of views that exist on their message boards. But to your first point, I just don’t think it is as complex as you are making it seem. We don’t need to be in the huddle to confidently draw many different kinds of conclusions from a football game (it certainly isn’t like an ancient text in its distance from the experience of the modern interpreter!). How many times does Reese have to throw into double (or triple!) coverage–often with a wide-open player that he inexplicably doesn’t see–before we can conclude that he isn’t going through his progressions? (Especially when he is a very young quarterback and especially when the guy he continues to force the ball to is Michael Floyd.) And then once we conclude that this is what is happening, what reasons do we suggest he has for not going through his progressions (especially on plays where he has time to throw)? I’m willing to consider other options. If you have a different interpretation, please do offer your alternative. I’m interested to read it.
But the more important point I’m making in this post is about the kind of person you need to form to be a top-tier team college football team. You don’t just need people who are willing to ‘work hard in the weight room’ or something. You need to form people who are willing and eager to, as Holmgren said, ‘beat the crap’ out of their opponent. You need to form, as Weis said, ‘nasty’ people. Getting a personal foul, every now and then, isn’t a bad thing in this view…if it helps you intimidate your opponent. Just before my first play of high school football my Dline coach told me to go on the first count no matter what. Why? Wouldn’t it hurt my team by giving the other team five yards? No, the thinking what that if I knocked the guy in front of me on his butt, hard, that violent act would intimate him and I’d have the better of him the rest of the game. Anybody that has played football knows that it is just as much about physical and mental intimidation–brought about by violence–than it is about strategy and hard work. So this is my question: can that kind of attitude, one that attempts to dominate and intimidate with violence, be reconciled with a Christian life? (Perhaps especially keeping in mind that if the required behavior took place on the street rather than the football field it would be cause for arrest and being charged with felony assault.)
Dana, I’ve never thought about the Rudy thing…that’s very interesting. That might fit into the general ‘wussification of Notre Dame’ theme that some old-school ND fans believe is an explanation for all of this. The Disneyland campus atmosphere fits into this too. Also the kind of people that now go to the games: someone mentioned that the stadium was LOUDER in the South Florida game after the rain made the all the people who weren’t hardcore fans leave. Etc. There is something to explore here.
But, to your thing about what made ND ‘more Catholic’…I suspect these old school fans would blame Monk Malloy and, by extension, ResLife. They would blame hiring of coaches first on the basis of their doing the bidding of the administration (Davie, Willingham) with regard to behavior and character of the student-athletes…rather than winning football games.
Love the post, Charlie! It strikes me that one could ask similar questions about having ROTC on a Christian campus…
I think it is important to separate out the issue of action-description from that of moral evaluation. I sense to the extent we are disagreeing it is a question of our descriptions, how we are describing the “essence” of football. You think it is more inherently and irredeemably violent, and I think that is more an unfortunate undercurrent that it not essential, and always needs to be rooted out of the game. I mean, there is of course an “unnecessary roughness” penalty, and I think you can make an argument that if that penalty was properly enforced (i.e. roughness not essential to tackling the player at that spot), then most of your concerns would be addressed.
If there’s a moral question, it is that there is a cultural attitude that tolerates way more unnecessary roughness than is appropriate for the game properly understood and played. But I don’t see that as essential to football.
What I take to be your main moral concern, that Christians should not be involved in inherently violent sports where part of the aim is to injure your opponent, is to my mind obviously true, and am with you 100% percent.
Of course, the retort I expect is that “Who cares about the essence of the game” since the sport IS currently very and perhaps irredeemably unnecessarily violent, and there is indeed a lot of gratuitous violence going on. If it is irredeemably, then I agree with your tacit conclusions about the incompatibility of it with Christian convictions and practice.
However, I do think it makes a big difference if that violence is a fault or weakness of the game, rather than it’s essence. Then I do think it can be reformed.
Of course, I finally should add that I am intimately acquainted with these issues, but with regard to another culture, another country, and another sport. As a huge hockey fan in Canada, there is much cultural consternation over violence in hockey, especially with the potential career-ending concussion of hockey’s greatest player – Sidney Crosby – at the age of 23 because of a form of unnecessary roughness (elbows/shoulders to the head of opposing players, especially when they are unaware/vulnerable). Thankfully there is a significant movement in Canada to eliminate checking in hockey for kids, and also a growing movement that professional hockey needs to do much more to protect the physical well-being of its players. It is perhaps that that inspires my hope.
John, I take your points here…but I think hockey is a little like basketball or European football in that you can imagine it played (and remain the same sport) without the significant violence. (Isn’t American/Canadian hockey played with far more violence than it is played with in other parts of the world?) But is American football really that way? Holmgren, when he said that football is about kicking someone’s ass, wasn’t talking about the kinds of plays that you have in mind about unnecessary roughness, was he? Football games, it is often said, are won or lost ‘in the trenches’, on the line of scrimmage, where huge people are pounding and smashing each other play in and play out. It is also won by solid tackling: most often accomplished by using force the hurl your opponent to the ground. They are also won by causing turnovers–often created by hitting your opponent so hard that he cannot hold onto the ball. I suppose football could be played like we used to in grade school…two-hand touch…no line…etc. But then no one would watch, right?
Charlie, I’m currently in Moral Theology at Notre Dame, and joined in ND’s day of mourning following the Michigan loss (“full dreary was her cheer”). It felt like the football equivalent of seeing Rome get sacked for the twentieth time by yet another Germanic tribe who wanted the right to wear “I conquered Rome” t-shirts. As though on cue, Irish fans everywhere vent that Lou Holtz’s teams – like Scipio’s or Caesar’s Legions – would never have allowed such indignities, after which we decamp to the pub for pondering football theodicy (“wherefore the curse?”) over some purely medicinal Guinness.
In terms of your highly interesting post, I want to argue that you can have a warrior ethos of top-tier caliber at a Christian college. First, some distinctions. I read you as saying: 1) Notre Dame football culture once had what you call an “aggressive, attacking, take-no-prisoners confidence”. I’ll call this the ‘warrior’ ethos generally. 2) This ethos was brawling, male-dominated, heavy-drinking, potty-mouthed, not politically correct, and (this is crucial) top-tier. I’ll call this the ‘chauvinist’ version of the warrior ethos. 3) This ethos was lost for something the chauvinist party (with Stout’s “terminal wistfulness”?) describes as ‘softness’ or ‘political correctness’. The initial theory is: 4) maybe campus and football culture must have the chauvinist warrior ethos for a team to be top-tier, and the question is: 5) should a Christian college approve of this?
I think the question that is missing is: must a warrior ethos be a chauvinist ethos to have top-tier caliber? In other words, can we have 1) without having 2)? If so, then being Christian may not in principle necessitate ditching the warrior ethos just because you renounce its chauvinist manqué. (It may culturally necessitate it, of course: i.e., if a community lacks the cultural resources to have a warrior ethos that isn’t chauvinistic).
I think you can have the honey and avoid the sting. As evidence, I would point to the “chivalrous” form of the warrior ethos, and oppose it the chauvinist kind. (And by “chivalrous”, I mean the actual medieval thing, not the absurd ghost concept our culture makes of it.) Unlike the chauvinist, the chivalrous ideal aimed for courtly speech and manners of a sort that would look to us like theatrical, over-the-top politeness . But on the field of combat it aimed for all the “aggressive, attacking, take-no-prisoners confidence” that turned opponents into jelly. The gist is captured in Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, when Sir Ector says over the dead Launcelot: “Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest”. Note that the knight is not a compromise between ferocity and meekness; he is each in its due manner and proper setting. When Launcelot is praised as the best knight in the world (having “top-tier” status), his response is not a roaring, gloating, let’s-get-wasted chauvinism. Instead, with courtly humility, Launcelot “wept as he had been a child that had been beaten”. No doubt this chivalrous ideal was seldom realized and had its own imperfections; but my point is just to argue that the warrior ethos purged of nastiness – indeed, decorated with rituals of courtesy, even toward enemies – can still “kick ass”.
I won’t muse on whether we have the cultural resources for anything like this. (Though the wag in me is tempted to say that we’re waiting for another, doubtless very different, Richard the Lionheart.) I just want to argue that what you find problematic in the warrior ethos we’ve got be can rejected without losing “top-tier” caliber so long as the “aggressive, attacking” qualities (Plato’s “spirited element”) are tempered by others. It was courtesy and “gentilesse” in the chivalrous ideal. I expect it was a certain view of magnanimity in the Byzantine and Samurai warrior ideals. You can have the one without the other, and therefore you could have a warrior ethos that produces “top-tier” results and is the sort of thing Christians could approve of. Would you more or less agree? Back to the Guinness.
Wow, David, wow. This might be my favorite blog post reply in the history of blog post replies. In addition to bringing me back to my ND undergrad days when I used to get to take English electives like ‘Arthurian Legend’, it really tugged in my dorky fantasy- and Middle Ages-loving heart strings. That said, let me ask you some questions.
What work, if any, does “chauvinist” do for you ? I’m not sure one needs to be a woman-hating/using, beer-swilling pig to have, all at once, the kind of killer instinct necessary to be a top-tier football player that is also intrinsically morally problematic for Christianity. Indeed, I think you just have to be the kind of person that is willing, no, EAGER to act in such a way on the football field that, in other walks of life, would get you several years in prison.
And that gets me to my next question: so say we have a person who engages in intense violence in some contexts who also engages in sweet courtly love in other contexts…are they somehow justified with regard to, or less guilty of, said violence? I’m not sure why that would be the case. A Samurai might have a certain level of magnanimity with regard to some people, but if he is testing the sharpness of his katana on hapless passers-by at a crossroads, then…well…so what, right?
But this really doesn’t get to the point which you were trying to make…which is that it is possible to have the honey without the string (though I’m not sure the violent act of a safety trying to take out a wide receiver on a crossing route is “the honey”). Just as we can have the community of courtly love which forms knights who can nevertheless ‘turn it on’ on the battlefield, we can have places like Notre Dame form student-athletes as good Christians and they can ‘turn it on’ on the football field. I guess my understanding of human nature is such that I wonder whether this kind of bifurcation is anything other than the product of fantasy. Can one really be trained to the kind of football player that Holmgren wants–the kind of player that will simply kick the ass of his opponent the way asses need to be kicked at the highest levels of football–and be able to totally divorce those violent practices from other parts of his life? So, not only do we need to ask your good question about what cultural resources are available to us, but also whether a person like the (doubtless very different) Richard the Lionhearted character is even anthropologically possible in the first place.
Charlie, North American hockey’s relation to violence is more complex than you allow. It is certainly not like soccer. Among other things, hockey allows two guys to drop their gloves and start punching each other with their bare fists (and ‘honorable’ players remove their helmets at the start of the fight!), and this bare knuckle fist-fight is allowed to play itself out for a minute or two before the linesmen intervene to break it up (typically when the fighters get tired out or one guys falls to the ice or is getting ‘overly’ clobbered). And while there’s a penalty for fighting, it is typically off-setting, so it puts neither team at a disadvantage. But enough of that.
I still think you are emphasizing the violent aspect as essential, and downplaying evidence that counters your argument. The way safeties turn themselves into human torpedoes to ‘clock’ a crossing wide receiver a split second after he catches the ball, is, I’m guessing, a relatively recent development. I simply don’t see that at as typical in football matches on espn classic. I bet you if you watched all the Superbowls for the last 40+ years and noted the nature of each tackle throughout the game, you would see a significant evolution in the game and what constitutes the ‘tackling.’ I’m betting you don’t have the human torpedo means of tacking in football in the 60s-80s. I’m completely open to being wrong on that, of course. But right now I still think you are basing your judgments on anecdotal evidence, and perhaps coming to premature judgments based on the language used to talk about types of tackles, a language which itself may have changed in meaning over the last 40 years.
Of course, football players have all gotten bigger, stronger, and faster with improved strenght and conditioning (and at times steroids) over the years, and there might be a need to revise the rules to improve safety in light of this development. Of course, what you don’t acknowledge is that a lot of rules have changed over the years to better protect e.g. quarterbacks, and this years changing kickoffs to largely eliminate runbacks, to avoid the full speed tackles that have caused injury. Football is in fact very interesting in the ways in which it does change the rules to avoid injuries to some players (i.e. quarterbacks and kick return specialists). Over the years it has also outlawed blocking from behind and blocks to the knees and lots of other rules to protect the bodies of players. So I think you are emphasizing examples of things not outlawed (e.g. “blocking” quarterbacks after interceptions or safeties acting like human torpedoes) while ignoring all the rules and rule changes that HAVE been implemented precisely to avoid the anything-goes warrior mentality.
To sum up, while in the end you may be right, I’d like to see some serious empirical (rather than anecdotal) evidence to substantiate the truth of your claims about the essential character of football…
Actually, John, I think its clear that the older people think they played the game much tougher and that there were more injuries and they played through worse pain, that people were more nasty, etc. Ronnie Lott and Chuck Cecil, for instance, are from a previous generation of safeties that did things which today are simply illegal.
And I guess I wasn’t clear enough about what I was trying to say about hockey. I was trying to say that if you got rid of the violence in hockey it would still be a lot like basketball and baseball in that it is a sport that could remain intact without ‘dropping the gloves.’ As you know, I don’t think football is like that. I don’t think people would watch two-hand touch football…but I think they’d watch hockey without the fights and checks. Am I wrong about that?
Thanks for the kind words and pointed questions, Charlie. You ask what work the word “chauvinist” does. You describe an aggressive attitude in football you never quite name, and patch in other sources. It gets called: “aggressive, attacking, take-no-prisoners confidence”, a “chip on the shoulder”, “heavy-drinking”, “ready to brawl”, “kicking ass”, “f—-ing hating the other team”, the “will to utterly dominate”, “male-dominated”, being “nasty”, etc. I used “chauvinist” because no other adjective seemed to capture all these descriptions at once. If you prefer another term, I’m fine with that.
You note that someone wantonly violent in one context doesn’t get off the hook by sweet-talking in another. Chivalry was practically invented to make just this point. The goal was to modify our brute violence sentiments in an overall “courteous” direction. Chivalry demanded not just being a great lover, but extreme polite manners (“fair speech”), and ceremonial forms of respect shown to courtly beauties and “thy worthy enemy” alike. In the literature, the lilting and respectful cadences you find spoken by one knight even to an enemy he despises are as far removed from speeches about “F—ing hating the other team” as a well-bred dog is from the snapping, verminous creature of the pack.
This is especially amazing given how scurrilous the medievals tended to be. Far from being “soft” or politically correct, they were naturally as full of racy, hard-hitting, street-corner abuse as any football coach. (E.g., terms like “abominable bitchery” for what we’d call “pre-marital” sex are common). Those who got to the level of “courtesy” got there by a difficult moral education: by art, not nature. But no one thought they’d “softened”: they could still “kick ass”. (The Saracens said that the Frankish knights were – along with themselves, of course – the only real warriors in the world.)
I doubt whether many lived up to the “chivalrous” ideal. The novelty is that they recognized aggressive feelings in their natural state to be something ineradicable which could nevertheless be “licked into shape” a bit. Being “taken up” into virtues like magnanimity and courtesy, they would be partly transformed. Were any “perfect, as Launcelot was perfect”? I doubt it: but to approximate is better than getting nowhere.
You say it looks like a bifurcated anthropology to picture the knight or football player who “turns on” the violence in one context, but has higher standards in another. But the manner and motives with which one aggressive group (say, chauvinists) “turn on” aggression may differ vastly from that of another (say, the chivalrous). Case-in-point is another warrior ideal Christians would reject: the pre-chivalrous or “old heroic” ideal. Homer’s Achilles kills men who beg for mercy, or takes them captive to kill at leisure. The heroes of the Norse sagas were “as cruel in inflicting” as they were “stubborn to endure”. Attila “had a custom of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired.” The heroes of Kipling, shorn of courtesy, also veer dangerously close to sub-Christian brutality: the “old heroic” still shows up. (So does something like the “chivalrous”: great courtesy is often seen in the martial arts, if not in football.) I suspect “old heroic” is where aggressive sentiments go by default when not ordered with great effort somewhere better. My guess is that the chauvinist ideal is “diet” old heroism: what ’s left when you lose real courtesy, but still have a bit of democratic cosmetics to tone down the brutality.
This leads to the moral difference. Like the old heroic type, the chivalrous “turned on” violence. But any knight who “turned it on” the way Achilles or Attila did would be thought a monster who sinned against every canon of chivalry; botching courtesy, honour, and mercy to enemies alike. He’d probably only get mentioned as a cautionary tale, or to explain some curse hanging over his descendants. Historical knights may often have been just as bad, and the point of this is not medieval revivalism. But their example shows that if a culture has the resources for it, it’s possible to aim at a warrior ideal better than chauvinism or old heroic, and much less tough to reconcile with Christianity.
Are you equating tackling with violence? Not that I know a lot about Rugby, but would you apply the same logic to playing rugby, which involves tacking, but not the kind of nonsense which I see is superficial in football, but you see as essential?
As for the Lott and Cecil reference, dude, you’re anecdoting me to death. That’s not an argument with legs.
Baseball avoids all these problems. Go
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Notre Dame got a victory last night. Check out this quote from the Tribune:
“That was the whole message: Everybody do your job, be where you gotta be, and do it with ill intention,” said linebacker Manti Te’o, who amassed 12 tackles. “We were trying to send a message all game.”