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.
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