Snow: Whether for the athletes’ violence or skill, football still draws a crowd

asnow@newsobserver.comOctober 12, 2013 

Football has always been a game for gladiators. But, unlike in the days of Rome, you don’t have to be a Christian to be sacrificed for the pleasure of the crowd.

Finally, the game’s violence is no longer being ignored. More former players are seeking damages for permanent injuries resulting from years of being repetitively bashed into semi-consciousness or worse.

I often wonder how much of pro football’s attraction is the game’s violence or its skills, i.e., the coach’s game plan, the players’ execution of it, the downfield passing or the elusive footwork of the ball carriers.

How can the game’s participants, including coaches, not expect injury – and perhaps permanent impairment – when, for example, two 320-pound behemoths collide at full speed like a couple of 18-wheelers crashing head-on at 80 mph?

One of football’s “18-wheelers” was the famed Lawrence Taylor, who played for UNC before joining the New York Giants and earning the reputation of football’s most feared lineman.

Taylor once broke famed quarterback Joe Theismann’s leg, ending Theismann’s career. He did the same to John Wangler, the University of Michigan’s quarterback, in a game against UNC in the 1970s. Taylor was the inspiration for Michael Lewis’ best-seller “The Blind Side.”

Legend has it that a New York Giants defensive back once told the New York Times, “I’ve seen quarterbacks look at Lawrence and forget the snap count.”

Football’s violence isn’t a new phenomenon. I recently came across a poem, actually a rhyming paragraph, that well portrays the violent nature of the sport.

It was written by Walt Mason, Canadian-American philosopher, poet and newspaper columnist who died in 1939:

The game was ended, and the noise at last had died away, and now they gathered up the boys where they in pieces lay. And one was hammered in the ground by many a jolt and jar, some fragments never have been found, they flew away so far.

They found a stack of tawny hair, some fourteen cubits high; it was the halfback, lying there, where he had crawled to die. They placed the pieces on a door and from the crimson field, that hero then they gently bore, like a soldier on his shield.

The surgeon toiled the livelong night above the gory wreck; he got the ribs adjusted right, the wishbone and the neck. He soldered on the ears and toes, and got the spine in place, and fixed a gutta-percha nose upon the mangled face. And then he washed his hands and said: “I’m glad that task is done!” The halfback raised his fractured head, and cried: “I call this fun!”

The above isn’t intended to be humorous. Sports injuries never are. But Mason’s exaggerated account of the game’s violence serves to emphasize football’s serious side effects.

Peeping Tom

A reader reminds me that in narrating the legend of Lady Godiva’s infamous nude ride through Coventry, I neglected to mention Tom.

According to the legend, before the noblewoman agreed to sacrifice modesty for tax relief, the people of Coventry were asked to remain inside and not look as Lady Godiva rode by.

All complied except a fellow named Tom. He peeped and was instantly struck blind. Such is the origin of today’s term “Peeping Tom.”

God’s abode

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Children’s Church, wherein the wee ones go down front for a mini-sermon. One never knows what to expect when the teacher asks questions.

A friend once told me of one child’s response at his church. During her comments, the teacher asked, “And where does God live?”

When a little girl quickly answered, “In the bathroom,” the puzzled teacher said, “Really? How do you know?”

“I know,” the youngster replied, “because every morning just before Daddy goes off to work he bangs on the bathroom door and yells, ‘My God! Are you still in there?’”

Mea culpa

Much to the distress of myself, my wife and at least three other readers, during a senior moment, I recently attributed the poetic lines, “Spend all you have for loveliness,” etc. to Willa Cather, rather than to Sara Teasdale. The lines are from Teasdale’s poem “Barter.”

Snow: 919-836-5636 or

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