Thursday, June 4, 2009

Whipping, Breakdowns & 1970's Football

In the 1970's in the NFL, football was downright dirty. Players had tricks they used to get an edge that were right out of a scene from Braveheart. Clotheslining was legal, so was (said by one player I saw interviewed on the subject) 'jabbing your fingers into an opponents neck and grabbing his voicebox'. That sounds pleasant, huh?

At this time in the sports' history, highlight shows were popping up, and those highlight shows were becoming popular (only a portion of games were even shown in the early to mid 70's). The brutality of football and these laissez faire rules resulted in some very bad injuries, and some stomach turning episodes. To combat this, Rozelle had NFL Films never show, or distribute the brutal stuff - the dark side of the game would stay hidden, come hell or high water. Rozelle's reasoning was simple: Selling the game to new markets would be hampered if the brutality of it was not snuffed out.

After that policy not being overly successful (you can not stop progress and technology), the NFL, under his guidance, changed the rules. No more dirty stuff, no more clotheslines, no more head hunting. The players would be fined and suspended, no questions asked. Of course, the players hated this. They had plied their trade for years one way, and were asked to do something different.

Some of the excuses used against the changes came from them, and the old guard. One such argument was that fans loved the brutality, they cheered when big dirty hits occurred and changing the game would cause the game to suffer. Rozelle was a visionary, however. He knew that the people in the stands would always love football, and watch football. It was not about them, it was about the new markets that did care if they saw people get hurt, or possibly die right in front of their eyes. If they did not change the game those markets could not be sold to, using the relatively new medium of live sports on television.

It is clear that the policy worked. The NFL changed their demo from men, to men women and children. Changed it from an insular game in cities, to a game to sell the world. More people watch the Super Bowl than live in 80% of the world's countries. People tune in for the halftime show at a rate that tune in for some of the most popular television shows in existence. Football is still a brutal game, but if you ask the masses, the brutality of it is rarely mentioned. They changed the mindset within a generation.

This is why I support doing everything we can to stop breakdowns, and stop whip brutality. It is not about us as insiders and what we want, it is about selling the game to new markets. We can not sell a game where you see a driver jam his whip into a horses genitalia. We can not sell a game where one of our equine participants falls down and dies at the finish line, like we see all too often with the runners.

The ORC is currently changing the rules in Ontario. In harness, no more brutal whipping between the legs, dropping the feet, raising the whip over your head like you are a Greek God of war, or doing 1970 NFL "tricks" to try and make a horse go faster. In thoroughbreds I saw the second race last night at Woodbine, where the jocks were made to carry 'lite-touch' whips. These are all proactive measures.

The next time you hear the argument that fans want to see whipping because they think they got a fair shake for their gambling dollar, tell them it is not about us, it is about the future. Tell them to think big, just like Pete Rozelle did well over 30 years ago.


That Blog Guy said...

A copy of this post should be distributed to all the horsemen in Canada and the United States. You said it all and very concise.

dana said...

Agreed with Pacinguy... great post.

ITP said...

One question......what is so brutal about the dropping of a foot from the stirrup (not kicking, but just letting the foot brush the hock)? It doesn't look brutal to the fans. It certainly doesn't make any brutal sounds. Compared to whipping, it certainly is much less brutal, if brutal at all.

ITP said...

Also....When I go down to the Rio in a couple of hours to play in the WSOP 10K mixed event....If I asked a bunch of other players, the guys who bet on everything with both fists.....Do you ever bet harness racing and if not, why not? a few would say they do.....a few would say the takeouts too high....a few would say racing is too much work....and the rest would say it's crooked/fixed. Not one would say anything about whipping.

Chalk Eating Weasel said...

Jam the whip in the genitalia? I was thinking,"Man, I've seen some jockeys get busy with the whip, but I've never seen one go that far, and it would be quite a feat if he could accomplish it." Then I realized you talking about harness racing. Nevermind

aka Chalk Eating Weasel

Gene Kershner said...

Love the Mike Curtis photo..

That Blog Guy said...


I understand what you are saying about the heavy hitters not mentioning anything about whipping. Admittingly, not many gamblers who already bet on harness racing will complain about the whipping; the people who will complain are the general public.

Why should we worry about the general public? A good bunch of the future bettors of harness racing will come from the general public. In addition, it is the general public who can go to their legislators and seek to outlaw racing just as they have been successful in outlawing greyhound racing in many states. They can make it very uncomfortable for racing of all types.

In a way, you still have to market a little to those who don't bet on the horses so they maintain a view of indifference rather than a view of opposition.

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