Tougaw: Sports are rooted in combat and we should stop watering them down

Taylor Tougaw

Recently, Americans have watched many sports go by the wayside. Attendance at major sporting events is in decline, and many games have been blacked out on TV. It seems that sports that used to captivate global audiences are no longer relevant on the world stage, or even at the local level. This is because they have been too far watered down — people want to see physicality and tough competition, and that is exactly what is being taken away.

Athletes are warriors, and they should be able to get as physical and competitive as they want. Sports started out as war games; many early games were actually training for warfare and combat. From ancient Mayan war games where people were put to death for losing, to the British soldiers in WWI, sports have been used as bonding apparatuses and for training. But now, games that were cherished for being rough-and-tumble competitions are being diluted into nothing. Basketball is boring according to many collegiate fans. Football is slowly losing its reputation for big hits, and hockey is soon going to be taking fighting out of the tradition of the game. As a society, we have forgotten that sports are combat. Sports are about winning, and pushing the human body past its limits.

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The fact is, sports are exciting and important because they exhibit that which the average human body cannot or will not do. Athletes embody the spirit and determination of the human will; they push themselves to extremes that many of us would find daunting and impossible. But for some reason, society is watering these sports down into feel-good pageant shows. Attendance and participation is dropping rapidly as the rough nature of these sports is subdued.

One way we see this really hit home here in Fort Collins is when we look at attendance during basketball games. The school, athletic department, and team have all put statements out to the public trying to attract more people to support the team. It’s a good basketball team, a good stadium and a good program, but still, nobody shows up. Many of the responses to the low home game population attribute things like working jobs, studying for school or trying to catch up on other academic-related functions to absence from games. 

Also, it’s boring. Many people don’t go watch basketball (whether it’s pro, college or high school) because they’re bored. Now, I’m not saying I find basketball boring. I’m also not saying that the vast majority of people find basketball, as a whole, boring. What I am saying, however, is that the way basketball has been watered down makes it boring. It feels like 50 percent of the game is spent watching guys take free throws because the referee called a foul when someone’s wrist may have been grazed. This is happening to sports all across the country. I shouldn’t have to mention men’s pro soccer.

Most people are familiar with the controversy surrounding concussions and head injuries in football. For those that aren’t, the NFL has made very strict rules regarding head injuries and an attempt to cut down on them by eliminating tackles leading with the head, targeting players, kickoff distances, and potentially implementing different helmets, or no helmets at all. The fact is, that isn’t for us non-football players to decide. Who are we to decide what NFL players can and can’t do? That is none of our business. They know the risks, and they choose to do it because for some, it’s quality of life over quantity.

Ed Reed, a retired NFL football player, said in an interview to 60 minutes that he does not like the new concussion rules the NFL has put in place. He says, “If they’re going to give me this test and this test is going to be a negative towards me as a player and I got to go home now and I can’t play this game anymore, no. I don’t want to know ’till after. I don’t want to know until I’m retired.”

Sports have their roots in violence. In his 2011 movie Fightville, Tim Credeur, an MMA fighter, says that sports are just human conflict and are watered-down version of war. There shouldn’t be a trophy that everyone gets for participating — one person wins and one person loses. The goal is to leave no trace of controversy in regards to your superiority. You must be be physically, in every way, better than your opponent.

 And if you don’t think that sports are being watered down too much, wrestling was eliminated from the 2020 world Olympics. Wrestling, the sport that quite literally defined the Olympics in ancient Greece, was voted out in February of 2013.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) overturned the decision in September of 2013 and reinstated wrestling in the 2020 Olympics, but we have now seen that wrestling, which is a sport built completely on the concept of physical domination, is under the intense scrutiny of modern society.

To the dismay of players, coaches and game-goers alike, hockey may see an end to the fighting that occurs within the sport. However, fighting is one of the biggest draws of hockey. It is seen as a traditional and integral part of the sport. The NHL is now requiring new players to wear a visor as part of their helmet. Additionally, they are not even allowed to take their own helmet off in order to curb fighting. To get around this, when players want to fight, they willing take one another’s helmet off.

Perhaps this is why mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the world — it’s unbridled, unapologetic, warfare. Its growing popularity can be seen as a testament against the growing pacification of other sports. If you find that hard to believe, just remember that 2,000 years ago, the most popular sport in the most civilized part of the world was gladiatorial fights that ended in maiming and death.

Many people condemn the sports listed in this article as barbaric; just grown men beating the crap out of each other for absolutely nothing. However, these athletes all give us something to look up to. As stated before, they truly push the limits of the human body and human will. These are the alpha males and females of society whom cement their place at the top through hard work, discipline, and determination.

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It’s time we let them do just that. Sports are for us to admire and athletes are for us to emulate, if we so choose. We should not be trying to bring them down, but rather allowing them to play their sports they way they are meant to be played, in hopes of getting back to the enjoyment of watching sports as well as creating a better version of ourselves.

Collegian Columnist Taylor Tougaw can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @TTougaw.