Commentary

Hitting the mail, no intent to injure

Readers discuss NFL bounties, the MLB postseason and the dunk contest

Updated: March 13, 2012, 2:03 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Could you watch the NFL if it wasn't violent?

Honestly, I couldn't.

I'm not a violent person. I've never committed a violent act, unless you want to count that boy I beat up in grade school for talking about my mother.

But there is something intoxicating about watching human collisions. I don't want to see anyone hurt or injured, but I do delight in ferocious hits.

I can admit this openly, but some fans believe if you love the violent nature of football, you also love to see people hurt or injured.

In my column on the Saints' bounty scandal I chastised those fans who criticized the Saints after the NFL said former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams incorporated a system that paid defensive players under the table for explosive, possibly dirty hits.

[+] EnlargeNFL Hit
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesFans are watching for the hits that should be captioned with cartoon collision noises.

Jim from Akron, wrote, "the only part of your article I had a problem with was your assertion that 'fans crave the game's violence.' Sure, some fans do. Maybe a lot of fans do. I don't. Never did, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Yet columnist after columnist lumps us all together as mindless barbarians wanting to be entertained at any cost to player safety. I never purchased or watched an 'NFL's Greatest Hits' video. I always admired the guys who could avoid contact the most."

The lure of sports is that it gives us an opportunity to examine and be entertained by human beings who can perform athletic feats that none of us could even dream of duplicating, which includes the body's ability to inflict and absorb punishment.

It doesn't make us cruel, twisted or immoral, but let's at least be honest about how the violence factors into America's obsession with football. It's the same reason disaster movies tend to become box-office hits.

We like to see things blown up. And on the football field, we like to see players blown up, too.

On to a peaceful mailbag …

My problem isn't the big hits, it's the culture that stems from the dirty mentality. Players began to think like dirty players, especially young players who want to be part of the group. Dirty players think differently and I think these bounties breed that type of thought. It's the difference between going hard for a rebound and elbowing someone in the face, and putting your foot under a jump shooter to try and roll his ankle. This incentivizes the foot under the ankle, and I take issue with that.
-- John Pearson, Philadelphia

Here's what I've come to understand about most football players, especially defensive players: They want to hurt everyone. Do they want to take away another player's livelihood? No. As hard as it may be to understand, football players simultaneously respect their opponent and take pride in putting another player out of a game. Sounds sadistic, I know. But there is a borderline dirty mentality that I believe exists among most players. There's no question that some players are blatantly dirty, but I'm not so sure the game of football could exist as we love it without the players' ruthless mentality.

[+] EnlargeCubs/Giants 1998 Playoff
John Zich/AFP/Getty Images Barry Bonds and the Giants lost the one-game playoff in 1998.

In response to your column about Major League Baseball expanding its postseason it might help to think of the expansion as something different than 10 postseason teams. After all, two of those teams will finish the postseason 0-1. In reality, baseball isn't really adding playoff teams. They're simply building in a one-game playoff to win the wild card. Don't want to play a one-game, do-or-die scenario? Win the division.

Besides, no one grumbled in '98 when the Cubs and Giants played a one-game playoff for the wild card. Same in '07 when the Rockies and Padres played. That's exactly what will happen this year, only now it's guaranteed instead of only happening when two teams finish with the same record. That's why all the talk about the "last-day drama" is laughable, too. A day like last Sept. 28 hadn't happened in YEARS in baseball and may have never happened again. Now, we'll have two games on one day that will both be win-or-go-home games between the fourth- and fifth-best teams, theoretically, in each league.
-- Mike Ivcic, Yardley, Penn.

You didn't ask for this rant, but it relates to a particular beef I have with the NCAA tournament. The NCAA tournament is widely considered the best postseason event in all of sports, but its overwhelming popularity can be attributed more to the tournament's one-and-done setup than actual quality of play. Sure, there have been excellent, well-played games, but the way sports fans are wired, you could have a one-and-done candy bar eating contest and everyone would love it.

Just because a playoff berth is decided by one game doesn't make it a good idea, or automatically compelling. Yes, you're right, Mike, if a team wins its division -- which is now more important -- then it doesn't have to worry about an one-game playoff. But why expand? Giving more teams an opportunity to make the playoffs dilutes the entire process, and I happen to enjoy a stingy playoff lineup.

I also drink prune juice and don't want anyone stepping on my lawn.

Your logic is so flawed that it is laughable. When baseball divided itself into east and west divisions, stupid people like you said it would ruin baseball forever because we would never see a great pennant chase again like we saw in 1951 when the Giants edged out the Dodgers. Since then we've had the Miracle Mets chase down the Cubs in 1969, the Yankees run down the Red Sox in 1978 and the Braves overcome the Giants in 1993.

When baseball went to three divisions stupid people like you said we would never see a great playoff race like in 1969, 1978, 1993. Then along came last year.

Now we have stupid you saying this will ruin baseball because we'll never see a great playoff race like last year. Aren't you tired of being stupid?
-- Glenn Hanna, Los Angeles

Well stupid people like me also thought "The Godfather: Part III" was a terrible idea and an 18-game NFL schedule is ridiculous. Expanding isn't always an indication of progress and growth; more typically it's a sign of greed.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Franklin
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesWith the likes of Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State will again be tough to defend on the perimeter this season.

I couldn't agree more with your article about the dunk contest. My idea is to open the dunk contest to amateur players whether they be from the NBA developmental league, Euroleague, or no league. Most great dunkers are typically just all-around great athletes, but usually are not the best basketball players. Give someone else with great athletic ability a chance at their 15 minutes of fame. Research Mr. 720 and you'll see that people would tune in for that!!
-- Robbie Brown, Concord, N.C.

After watching this I'll start officially lobbying to include Mr. 720 in next year's dunk contest.

But why stop there? Why not increase the stakes and have participants compete for a 10-day NBA contract? Why not have the NBA create a reality show around the average Joes competing in the dunk contest? Call it "Greatest American Dunker" or "Dunk Factor."

Sadly, I'm sure that commissioner David Stern would never approve. For basketball reasons, of course.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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