Scott Hardie | December 23, 2018
When do you think American football will switch to a flag model? I don't mean mandatory saluting of the national flag like the now-mandatory standing for the anthem. I mean a contact-free model similar to flag football, to reduce concussions and other severe injuries. I deliberately chose to start that question with the word "when," but if you think it will never happen, I'd like to hear your thoughts on why.

Samir Mehta | December 23, 2018
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Steve West | December 23, 2018
Never. The violence is gladitorial. Without it, I don't really see a market.

Scott Hardie | December 25, 2018
Football used to be far more violent. In the early days of the sport, there was no passing, and no padding. Players were regularly trampled to death on the field. Teddy Roosevelt, of all people, made football a safer sport. People at the time said the violence was essential and the sport wouldn't survive without it, but football has thrived ever since.

I see no reason why that couldn't happen again. Full-contact tackling is not essential to the sport. Flag football, or some similar variation that reduces contact, would feel very strange at first and would be met some inevitable resistance from people who resent change, but it could and would gradually become normal. It would lead to a better quality of play, because the best players wouldn't be out for weeks at a time with needless injuries. A generation of kids has stopped playing the sport because of the risk of injuries, which, when they come of age to be professional, is going to lead to poorer play and declining viewership anyway.

As for boxing, the sport is significantly less popular than it used to be. It went from mainstream entertainment to niche sport. MMA fighting is ascendant these days, but it's too violent to become a popular family entertainment like football.

Am I wrong?

Samir Mehta | December 25, 2018
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Scott Hardie | December 27, 2018
Televised poker I get. Anyone can play it. You don't have to be in great shape; you just need to know the rules and have a starting bankroll. So, it's easy to watch the players peek at their hole cards and try to put yourself in their seat and figure out what you'd do. You can also read the other players' physicality, trying to discern tells, which is a significant part of the game.

I have heard that the game has changed in recent years. A generation of young players have become so aggressive about avoiding tells that they make the game excruciatingly boring. They wear headphones and sunglasses and hoods up, so there's zero conversation with them at the table (half of the fun for some players), but worse, they take the maximum allotted time per turn. If there's a five-minute time limit, they'll sit there like a statue for four minutes and 55 seconds before making a simple raise. This aggravates everyone else at the table, which no doubt leads to worse playing on their part, as they make increasingly desperate moves just to get rid of the silent jerk, so I can see the advantages of it. But damn, way to suck the fun out of the sport, both for the other players and for anyone watching a tournament game on TV. The time limits need to be sharply reduced; players can ask for an extension on the rare occasions when they need more time to think.

Years ago, I enjoyed my NASCAR weekend with Steve Dunn, but it was clear that much of the appeal was the physical attending of the race -- the sights, the sounds, the tailgating experience, the "liveness" of it all. I can't imagine TV races recreating that.

And I don't mean to knock eSports at all, since I like and respect some friends who are into it. But I can't imagine sitting there watching other people playing games. Every once in a while I'll check out some impressive speedrun on YouTube just to see what top-level play looks like, but a minute or so is the most I can tolerate.

Similarly, I don't understand the "let's play" phenomenon, online channels where you can watch other people play video games and narrate what they're doing. I guess it comes down to the personality of the person playing and talking. I don't find most of the hosts to be even remotely appealing, but I guess I'm way out of the age range for this stuff.


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