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
[hidden by request]

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
[hidden by request]

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.

Scott Hardie | January 3, 2023
I have brought up this topic for discussion with several other people since 2018 and still have not found a single person who agrees with me that eliminating full-body contact in American football is not just preferable but inevitable. I continue to believe it, although today I would argue specifically for touch football (perhaps aided by some kind of high-tech contact-detection technology in the gloves) rather than silly-looking flag football.

Last night's sickening injury of Damar Hamlin, after a series of other gruesome injuries this season, has refueled the ongoing debate about player safety. It's been controversial since the sport's inception, but tackling has become especially hotly debated since at least Chris Henry's CTE diagnosis in 2010. For as long as I can remember, the momentum has always been on the pro-safety side, which seems to gain strength with every passing year. There's a growing public perception that this blood sport is too dangerous to enjoy in good conscience; must healthy young men risk life and limb weekly because of our collective lack of imagination? For now the NFL can outspend the problem, investing lavishly on spectacle in order to attract more viewers than it loses (not to mention throwing money at bullshit initiatives to pretend like they're doing something), but at its current rate, I don't see them outrunning the ever-growing controversy forever. If the societal pressure doesn't force a change, the economic reality will: Allowing full-body contact injuries to occur is massively and wastefully expensive for the teams, and too expensive to continue indefinitely if the sport's popularity plateaus or shrinks. A tackling-free NFL might be vulnerable to stronger competition from a wilder rival such as the XFL, but I still can't see that dislodging it from its dominant position.

As for the so-called gladiatorial appeal of the on-field violence, does anybody outside of a few scattered lunatics really watch football for the tackling? That seems like the kind of thing that everybody cynically assumes about other people but isn't actually true, like how people supposedly watch motor sports for the crashes. People watch football to cheer their own team and jeer their rivals, and for the athleticism of the players and the pageantry of the show, and because every game (on TV or in the stands) is a very well-produced modern entertainment, and because a community has formed around fans of the sport. How many sickos are out there who are truly, in their hearts, watching because they want to see men suffer terrible, painful, life-altering injuries? I'd wager that it's far fewer than the number of fans who turn away from the sport after one too many stories about brain trauma wrecking players' lives. There are plenty of people who resist change in any form whatsoever, and also many people who will get riled up when various Tucker Carlson types loudly denounce any attempt by the NFL to eliminate tackling as "wokeism run amok" or whatever. But I just don't see this limited resistance holding out indefinitely in the face of the pro-safety movement's momentum. If the NFL could find a way to reverse that momentum rather than merely outrunning it, then they might have a chance, but I can't imagine what that would take, and apparently neither can they.

Want to participate? Please create an account a new account or log in.

Other Discussions Started by Scott Hardie


Sometimes the way to solve a problem is to solve two problems. One of the major reasons why we all don't have flying cars is that they're too dangerous for us to operate. Go »

Zhivago Follow-Up

I said a lot about Doctor Zhivago in previous entries, so I won't say too much tonight. I watched the second half of the movie tonight and have just one complaint to register. Go »

God Goods

Holy shit. Thanks Anna. Go »

American Sniping

Can we as a nation please get over the idea that saying anything critical of something tangentially related to an armed serviceman constitutes an unacceptable attack on the military? Go »

Hall of Fame 2017

It's my pleasure to add another deserving player to the Hall of Fame. This year, Samir Mehta gets the honor. Go »

Third Party

What is your take on voting third party? I've heard it said that you have a moral obligation to vote for the other party if you believe one of the two major parties has nominated a dangerous person for office, and I don't quite buy that, because I think there's more to voting than that. Go »