I’ve written a novel about football. It’s still in the revision process, a back and forth where I try to nail down symbolism, metaphor, imagery, and theme—the stuff you might remember from your high school English class. All the stuff you probably hated.
During my last round of revisions, a buddy told me to try and play up the “necessary violence” of football.
“Yeah, like why a mother would let her son actually go out and play, given the risks.”
I’d never given much thought to such a term, so I posed this question to a few coaches who I admire and respect. Basically, I just asked them how they justified what they did, especially considering the risks.
Rick Jones, head coach of the Greenwood Bulldogs, put it like this: “The goal of football is to create teamwork, discipline, and unselfishness in the lives of our young men. It is hard to do all of those things without the element of ‘necessary violence.’ Football is tough. It’s hard. It’s outside the normal bounds of human decency at this time in history.”
We can’t just run down Main Street and tackle the people we don’t like. In fact, football—and other sports like boxing and MMA—remain one of the few places where such violence is accepted.
Violence, at least in America, is illegal, regardless of whether it creates teamwork or discipline. How, then, can we expect a game like football to prepare young men for their futures?
J.R. Eldridge, head coach of the Arkadelphia Badgers, incorporates violence into his overarching team mantra: “Vicious, Violent, and Relentless,” or “VVR” for short.
When he first took over the Arkadelphia program, parents voiced concerns over his promotion of violence. Except it wasn’t bloodshed Coach Eldridge was after. Instead, he wanted his players to “viciously, violently, and relentlessly go after the goals they had in life.”
As a people—especially in first-world countries like America—we’ve moved away from the violence of our past: Civil Wars, World Wars, duels in the streets at high noon. And rightfully so.
We’ve progressed. We’re enlightened. For the most part, the only violence we see is on the news. But history, as we know, is doomed to repeat itself. If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely living in world of excess, a comfortable world. If you have clean running water at your house, you’re doing better than 780 million other people on Earth. That’s one out of every nine people on the planet.
I say all of this to underscore that we are all a product of our circumstances. Considering the world in which we live (we being you and me, people with enough money to subscribe to a newspaper or read one online), there is very little need for violence.
But if things were to change (and things do change, remember the American Revolution, the fall of the Roman Empire?) what new norms would emerge in terms of violence? How hard would you fight in order to provide food and shelter for yourself, your family?
I’ll concede a form tackle isn’t likely to help any young man as he moves into his career or family life, but lessons learned from the pain of defeat, the thrill of victory, getting knocked flat on your back and having to get back up again—those are “necessary,” albeit “violent” lessons, that will benefit the next generation, and all the generations that are to come.
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