Sports Opinion & Analysis

Like It Or Not, It’s The Nature Of The NFL

In NFL on October 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Football is a contact sport. It’s a sport where large and beastly men aggressively enforce their wills on others. It’s a sport where we, as fans, cheer for the hardest of hits. Where players like Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis are celebrated for their ruthlessness. Their violence.

While the sport might just seem like a game to its players and coaches and reporters and commentators, to the fan, their team is an embodiment of themselves. When their team is strong, the fan feels strong. When the team is weak, they feel weak. The team is also the physical representation of their city or state. Right or wrong, it is the name brand of their community.

And for Kansas City, their brand has been an embarrassment since they last won a playoff game in 1993.

Let’s remember these two points before we continue any further; the Chiefs have humiliated and frustrated their fans the past two decades, and football is violent. I want to make sure we remember that as we discuss an incident that happened on the field in Kansas City this weekend.

Yesterday, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassell was hit hard, injured, and had to leave the game. Because of that, Chiefs fans cheered.

Apparently, this was Cassel’s best play of 2012.

Today, everyone with a voice in sports is demonizing the Kansas City faithful because of their reaction. Chief’s linemen Eric Winston lambasted the fans who cheered. Yahoo Sports writer Eric Adelson scathed Kansas City in his Monday morning article. ESPN commentator Merril Hoge called the fans disgusting.

Everywhere you look, the people of Kansas City are being hailed as deplorable sociopaths. As the scum of the Earth.

I personally don’t have anything against Matt Cassel, because I don’t know the guy, nor have ever met him. I’m pretty sure everyone in the bleachers of Arrowhead Stadium yesterday can say the same. I am not a Kansas City Chiefs fan, but I bet that Matt Cassel’s injury, at least to the fans who cheered it, had nothing to do with Matt Cassel. It had to do with the Chiefs. It had to do with the success and failure of the team.

It had to do with the pent-up frustration of the fans for the team consistently failing year in and year out. It had to do with the frustrations over the team’s poor performance at quarterback. Having Cassel injured, in that singular moment, didn’t mean anything more to the people in the stands than the fact that the replacement quarterback was finally coming in, and the community could have hope in the position again.

“Wait, you want me to actually play now?”

Winston and Adelson and Hoge say that fans lost perspective, but this is only true to a degree. While the sport might just be a game, the NFL has marketed it in a way to convince people to spend $100 dollars on a jersey, $200 or more for tickets, and $300 for DirectTv, just to have the privilege of watching their team on television.

To the fan, the game left the realm of “just being a game” when people started having a financial stake in the matter, especially during a recession when finances are tough enough. If I have roughly $600 dollars invested in my team (minimum, per season), I am expecting that the millionaires who get paid a heaping sum will perform their duties to a reasonable expectation. When the don’t, I expect the team to do what is needed to try and reach that goal. I expect myself to vent my frustrations.

Cassel had already lost the trust of the people who are supposed to root for him, and his injury forced the hand of the franchise to move on to the next player at the position (at least for the rest of that one game). That is what the fans rooted for. The immediate consequence of the action, not the actual action itself. Not the prolonged consequence to the person who took the hit we are conditioned to glorify.

Still, Cassel was injured, and fans should have been respectful, Winston, Adelson, and Hoge argue. While this is partly true, Winston, Adelson, and Hoge failed to recognize that the NFL has trained people to root for hard hits. “Defense wins Super Bowls,” is practically the league’s mantra. Defense is bone crushing and scrappy. As fans, we hope to see that on the field, and we expect it. Granted, the game was being played in Kansas City, and it was the defense from Baltimore, the team playing the Chiefs yesterday, who made the hit, but we are conditioned to respect hits like that. The Ravens are infamous and celebrated for their “punch you in the mouth” style of play.

On the flip side to all of this, everyone also says “You have to have a franchise quarterback to win a Super Bowl.”

Now, to put those two ideas together, Matt Cassel has proven himself not to be a franchise quarterback, and he got hit hard. He has failed the Chiefs as a quarterback, and in that moment the opportunity for someone new came about. Right or wrong, the NFL has conditioned its fans to appreciate that. To enjoy it even.

In Kansas City yesterday, you had a stadium filled with people who naturally continued the progression of their current emotional state after the guy they have imprinted their feelings of failure was forced to leave the game and the new guy could come in to provide hope. That’s what happened. Not people enjoying that Cassel might have serious health issues because of the hit, or anything else.

While Winston, Adelson, and Hoge might be a partially right that fans yesterday lost perspective, Winston, Adelson, and Hoge also lost perspective when they failed to acknowledge that this sort of mindset is what the NFL created. It’s what gets fans to spend $100 dollars here and $600 dollars there. While I hope Cassel is okay, and I’m sure all the fans who rooted for his departure this mornings hopes the same, this lack of empathy is of the NFL’s own doing.

Winston, Adelson, and Hoge and all the rest can condemn the fans in Kansas City all they want, but if the same circumstances were inserted in any other city (inept franchise, failed quarterback, new guy on deck), I guarantee the result would be the same.

We all hope Cassel is all right, and won’t face any lingering repercussions of his injury, but in that moment, none of it mattered. It was purely raw emotion. And that’s how the NFL makes it’s money.

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