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A modest proposal for eliminating bad behavior in football fans: The NFFL

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Let’s face it: fans of both American and European football can be disgusting. I’m not sure what to do about soccer — it seems the riots continue and there will always be select beatings of unfortunate visiting fans. But I think I have an answer for American football…and it came to me after I watched a video of an Eagles fan (they lost) spitting in the face of a Saints fan (they won) at the end of a recent playoff game.

We can all agree that this is bad form. Perhaps we can all agree it is disgusting, no? But, perhaps — as I often point out to my writing students on the verge of their “problem solution” papers — we can eliminate the problem by simply recognizing and removing its cause.

Look: we can’t very well turn apes into diplomats, and, let’s face this as well, some guys are and always will be Cro-Magnon. So those, we rule out. I think, however, if we rethink the whole nature of football, we may be able to eliminate the bad behavior of those chaps for whom we can hold out at least some hope: the hotheads who fall apart after their teams lose but who really are, at heart, okay guys — and I believe that includes most of the guys in the stands…

First of all, owing to recent rule changes, football really is becoming quite a disturbingly civilized sport. No one is allowed to touch each other anymore, to tackle too hard or to speak too harshly to an opponent. (I hear there is a proposal on the table for a five-yard penalty for calling someone a “dumb guy” but I don’t know if it will come to pass.)

What was once a hard-hitting game of poetically controlled violence has become a bit of a smokescreen for a carnival show. We think we see hard hitting action, but what we are really given is a parade of carousing fops who put more energy into dancing after a touchdown and into (actually, not metaphorically) beating their chests after a sack than they do into good, clean, old-fashioned hits.

Fear of future physical consequences (both long and short term) has led to the development of rules geared toward the protection of players and it has turned the game into something a guy, like me, who was born in the sixties, barely recognizes…

…which is fine. If we are going to protect the players, let’s do it, but let’s give up the weak posturing. Larry Csonka and Jack Hamm no longer exist in professional football. We will never again see a game with hits as hard and clean as in the ’87 Fiesta Bowl between Penn State and U. of Miami. So what we do is we go all the way. We turn the NFL into the NFFL: The National Flag Football League.

(For those of you who don’t know, flag football players dangle flags from their belts; once the flag is grabbed and pulled out by an opposing team member, the player is “down” — thus eliminating the need of the crass practice of tackling or of “touching.”)

This will create two beneficial outcomes: (1) less injuries, because the guys will barely even invade each other’s dance spaces and (2) less crappy behavior by fans (the latter of which is the prime focus of this solution).

Benefit one is obvious: without dudes slamming into each other, less dudes will get hurt. But here’s the glory of the second part: Less injuries and less physical wear-and-tear means more games are possible and more games possible means less weight on each contest (not to mention the peripheral benefit of increased advertising opportunities during broadcasts).

The way I see it, with flag football, teams could play several games per week — maybe three. This works out to more than forty games for the regular season. This more than doubles the number of games in the regular season.

Sixteen games just isn’t enough, people. How can the poor, testosterone-fueled fan be expected to recover from three-week-straight run of losses without some show of violence — maybe a broken coffee table or a spittle incident; or worse, maybe, the reflex abuse of a loved one? How do the emotions rebound from week of  hope, nurtured, only to be dashed in three hours on a Sunday, over and over again, year-after-year? Even the best behaved of blokes can’t be expected to be gracious after suffering such an emotional blow with so few remaining opportunities for redemption.

And the pain of losing after getting one of those ridiculous “wildcard” spots….? No mere human could endure such a lift and fall in such short order…

We water it down. More games. We lower the intensity: none of that barbaric tackling going on.

And in the end, a World Series of Football. (Enough of this “Super Bowl” crap. What the heck is a “Super Bowl,” anyway? Why not just call it a “Mega Plate” or a “Collosal Saucer”? Silliness.) Seven games to determine the champion. Disappointment will now be served up in small, bitter, progressive slices, the way it is in baseball, which allows for a mourning period, most of the time. Sure, we can’t prevent the occasional GAME 7, but, at least there is a chance of denouement…a denouement that could very well save lives (or, at least, innocent coffee tables).

Let it be done. Let us be brothers yet again. Are you ready for some flag football?

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
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