The tragic death of football great Junior Seau has caused even more discussion over the danger of the game, and what, if anything, can be done to make it safer. Slate is hosting a debate on whether the collegiate game ought to be banned. One of the participants, Malcolm Gladwell, has also written an article comparing football to dogfighting. It’s an interesting comparison, but to my mind, the central and very significant difference is that dogs don’t know what’s happening to them. They can’t agree to fight or not. They’re trained for it and they don’t why. Football players are human beings who can make an informed choice.

There is also the oft-made comparison of football players with Roman gladiators, but I believe that many, perhaps most, of the gladiators were captive soldiers from armies the Romans had defeated who had been enslaved and forced to be gladiators. Again, they had no choice in the matter.

But, you may say, it does not matter whether the fighters are man or beast, slave or free; the problem is in what such a violent sport means for our society. What kind of people are they who watch a violent game, with the participants suffering awful injuries, for entertainment? As Gladwell observed, it is the support of millions of fans that makes the choice to play pro football so appealing.

For myself, I never watched football for the “big hits” or anything like that. I watch for the strategy and the fun of seeing how teams use schemes and planning to foil their opponents. But it’s true that hitting hard is a key part of the game. It is well known, for instance, that a key part of New York’s ability to stifle New England’s offense is that they are able to hit Brady and throw him off his game.

And the violence and the injuries do create a conundrum for the well-meaning fan. No one wishes such ill on another person who is, after all, just someone earning a living. But there is still the inescapable truth that if a star on your opponent is unable to play, it makes it that much easier for you to win. And winning is “the only thing”, at least according to the great football coach Vince Lombardi. It was this unavoidable system of incentives that led to the Saints’ bounty scandal. It is also what makes people concerned that such a violent game is so popular today.

I don’t think anyone can ever ban football entirely–it would confirm the worst nightmare of every libertarian were the government to do that. The government would, however, be entirely within its rights to ban minors from competing in it, which I think would cause irreparable harm to the college game, and probably change the pro game quite a bit.

I watched a couple of Andrew Luck’s games on TV last year. I’ve only seen highlights of RG III. So this is just a knee-jerk reaction, not backed by any intensive film study or anything like that.

But Luck, every time I watch him play, looks incredibly awkward to me. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but he looks tense. He’s a good player, but there’s just something very odd about the way he plays. Something about his running and throwing motions is very weird looking to me. RG III, on the other hand, looks really confident and comfortable on the field. It’s not just that he’s more athletic; it’s his whole demeanor.

What does this mean? Probably nothing. I’m not a professional scout, so what do I know? We all know Luck is going first and RG III is going second, but I thought I’d mention this. If Luck is a bust and Griffin is the next big star, I can say I saw it early.

I enjoy watching football. And I am fascinated with the personnel decisions that go into making championship-caliber teams. So, naturally, I really like the NFL draft. It’s always fun to see who teams get, and then imagine how their choices will play out.

There’s just one thing I don’t like about the draft: the endless mock drafts that come before it. Those drive me nuts.

Don’t misunderstand me; I enjoy being an armchair GM and saying “Team X should draft so-and-so” as much as anyone. But most mock drafts aren’t really trying to predict what will happen, or even what you think should happen. They’re just saying “Hey! Team X could draft Player A. And then Team Y drafts player C. Where does that leave Player B and Team Z? But what if C goes to X, B goes to Z, and and A falls to late in the first round?” And on it goes. My point is, once the top quarterback prospects are gone–which is usually by the fifth pick–it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. That’s why you watch the draft–to see who goes where.

Now, I have no problem with predicting outcomes of games. To me, that’s fun. But that’s because I believe you can actually have a success rate significantly greater than 50% if you know the game. (I don’t, by the way.) But with mock drafts, it seems like it’s all just guessing and fantasizing based on nothing in particular. You might have some idea of a team’s needs, but even then they sometimes surprise you by taking a player they don’t need.

I never understood the point of it, myself. Add to all this the fact that teams sometimes deliberately put out misinformation and it makes seem even more like just a guessing game. I prefer to try to analyze a team’s needs and figure out who they should take based on that–though the drawback to this is that I don’t know if I’m right or wrong until several seasons later.

I, Mysterious Man, do solemnly swear that I will not write another post about Tim Tebow after this one until he does something of note on the gridiron. After the conclusion of this post, the name of this ridiculously over-hyped athlete shall not appear in these pages again until he performs some feat of either remarkable skill or ineptitude at the sport he is paid to play. I have already spent too much time writing about him, but I just had to say this.

While reading about the Tebow to New York trade, I have observed that people seem to feel one of two ways about him. Either they think he is a sanctimonious jerk with a cult of insane followers who is not fit to play professional football, or else they think he is a Great American and an inspiration to children everywhere whom John Elway and the liberal media have cruelly mistreated–dare I say “martyred”.

The anti-Tebow forces believe his fans will destroy the Jets by clamoring for him to play. The pro-Tebow people think he will win the starting job and go on to win 15 championships.

These views are both wrong. First, let me deal with the anti-Tebow group.

Yes, I think Tebow is sanctimonious. Yes, I think Tebow loves being a celebrity. He is not so different from guys like Chad Ochocinco or, to use a Jets example, “Broadway Joe” Namath, although he goes about building his brand in a different way. That’s my assessment of him, although I can’t be sure. I’ve never met the man.

But it doesn’t matter; I don’t want him to be my friend, I wanted him to play quarterback for my team. His personality isn’t that relevant.

People keep saying that his rabid fans demanding he play now will make Sanchez uncomfortable. So what? If Sanchez can’t play well enough to shut those people up, that’s his problem. And like I thought when my fellow Buffalo fans said Tebow’s apostles would put pressure on Fitzpatrick: the coaches make the decision; not the fans. Coaches are supposed to be smart enough to make decisions based on a calculation of what’s good for the team, not emotional stuff. The fans always want the backup quarterback to go in unless the starter is already an all-star. Coaches know to ignore that.

On the face of it, it looks like madness on Denver’s part to trade a second-year quarterback who turned a team around, won the division, and won a playoff game. The only reason people can excuse it is because Tebow has the most abysmally bad throwing motion that has been seen in the pro game in years. In terms of almost all other factors, he looks like a good prospect.

Personally, I would have rather had Tebow than Manning at quarterback. Obviously, Manning was once great, but he’s getting old and injury-prone. Tebow has a lot of potential and is still young.

As for you Tebow fans: quit acting like your hero has been punished and humiliated by the Denver organization. He’s being paid millions of dollars to play a sport and live in New York City. That’s not really a terribly bad situation for a young man starting out in his career. I am not feeling sorry for him. If anything, the Denver fans are who you should feel sorry for.

Furthermore, there is not a media conspiracy against him. I know many of you somehow believe he is being persecuted for his religion, but the fact is that he was endlessly hyped coming out of college. And if he is perhaps being unfairly criticized for his lousy throwing mechanics now, it’s only because nobody dared criticize him for it in college. I remember in the SEC title game in 2009, he threw one of his dreadful passes into the endzone, where a defender intercepted it. And his receiver was open on the play; it was entirely due to his inability to throw properly. But no one at the time said, “that was an awful pass”.

Tebow is a pretty good runner and a lousy passer who has the potential to become a pretty good starter. There have actually been lots of guys like that throughout the sport; it’s not that unusual. The rest is just kind of a proxy battle in the alleged culture war.

Steve Rushin has an article on complaining about the military terminology that’s used to describe football–e.g. “bounty”.

I sort of agree with his sentiment, but the fact is: football–and most sports–are proxies for war. That’s why they exist and why they appeal to people. On the whole, this is a good thing; since football is much less deadly and has many more rules than war, it is really a better activity that quenches the same desires. But it’s still “our” side, decked out in “our” colors, going out to uphold “our” honor by defeating the enemy.

It’s too bad, but as I see it, take away the war analogies from football and you’re left with nothing.

What say you?