Recently, questionable decisions have been made by both the NFL and by College Football coaches (including our own Brady Hoke) in pursuit of a win or, more importantly what a win brings, money. Money is now the center of all things in sports, from ticket sales, to merchandise, to player and coaching contracts. The driving force for all things done by football organizations these days seems to be cold hard cash. In J. Huizinga’s article Homo Ludens: The Play Element in culture, Huizinga lays out the several aspects of play that he believes to be true. These aspects include
- Play is voluntary
- Play is limited by space and time
- Play is disinterested
According to Huizinga, we do not play to win, or play to be paid. So why are both money and winning so important in the act of “playing” football? In fact, it seems that both money and wins are so important to NFL organizations and college teams that they are willing to do whatever it takes to get them.
Let’s open this conversation up with the man at the center of current NFL scandals: Ray Rice.
On March 27th 2014, Ray Rice was indicted on counts of third degree aggravated assault against his then fiancé in a hotel elevator. Rice was then suspended for a mere two games of the NFL season due to his felony charges. However, a few months later a video was released showing the assault. It was this video that led the NFL to suspend Rice indefinitely. So why did it take a video released to the public in order for the NFL to do this? It seems the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens saw Ray Rice as an asset to their team that they couldn’t afford to lose. Who in the NFL offices care if Ray Rice beat his girlfriend? Who cares if this alleged felon is, as a member of the NFL, looked upon as a potential role model by young boys everywhere? If he is able to bring home the win and another Super Bowl title, what else matters?
In addition to the Ray Rice incident, the following event, from this past weekend, is what compelled me to write this post.
On Saturday, the University of Michigan football team kicked off their Big Ten season against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Thus far, our football team has not been doing so hot, and much of the blame has fallen onto the shoulders of head coach, Brady Hoke. Should Hoke lose his job? It seems the number of losses will be stated as the main factor. The more losses, the further ticket sales drop, which at least in the student section are already down approximately 36% since 2012. Pressure has now fallen upon the players to play well or in some way feel responsible for their coach losing his job, but the pressure has also impacted Hoke, although he denies worry about losing his job. It seems however that fear of losing games, his job, and money for the university has caused Hoke to do some questionable things.
In Saturday’s game, Hoke decided to start sophomore quarterback Shane Morris for the 2nd time ever and his first in the Big House. Morris’s first start had occurred as the result on an injury to starter Devin Gardner. This weekend however, Gardner was benched due to ineffective play in this season’s previous games. When Morris was the victim of a brutal hit early in the 4th quarter, he started showing concussion-like symptoms. With the appearance of a possible concussion, Morris was left in the game to finish the series. No matter how much Hoke thought we needed Morris to win, protocol would indicate that Morris’s apparent head injury should be enough to result in him being removed from the game. Apparently not in Hoke’s mind. Shane continued to play until he himself had to say enough at which time Devin Gardner was put into the game. Gardner even scored a touchdown and that was that. Or was it? Later in the 4th quarter. Morris was put back into the game after a hit caused Gardner’s helmet to fall off. At this point in time, one would assume it to be clear to Hoke and his staff that Morris was in no condition to take the field. The team had the option of calling a timeout to so that Gardner would not have had to miss a play. Instead, Morris was put back in the game for one play to execute a handoff after which he was again taken out. After the game, Hoke’s comments regarding the situation were as follows; “I don’t know if [Morris] had a concussion, I don’t know that”
Isn’t it the coach and his staff’s responsibility to protect the players and be aware of these things? It seems to me that maybe even subconsciously, Hoke chose to ignore the warning signs in favor of a better chance at a win. A win that would promote ticket sales and higher attendance that in turn result in more money for the university and his own job security.
Along with Huizinga’s definition, when I hear the words “sport” or “play” the first concept that comes to mind is fun. But what’s fun about a player (Rice) being an awful influence to everyone who watches him play? What’s fun about a player risking further, more serious injury because his coach told him to play on?
In my opinion, the aspects of money, financial gain and winning at any cost have taken over the sports world both professionally and collegiately. This has impacted the judgment of individuals in positions of authority and lead to me to question, ‘are athletes in professional and college sports really playing at all?’