Shutdown Corner - NFL

In a profession measured not only on strength, agility and speed but more importantly the ability to beat your opponents’ ass, fighting is an inevitable occurrence. Collisions in football are similar to the forces one would feel in a head-on car accident. Now harness that feeling; you pissed? Imagine getting in an accident like that 10 times on your commute home from work? Adrenaline would be exploding from your veins! Who wouldn’t be ready to punch somebody in the mouth?

Most fights in professional sports occur not on game day, but rather on the practice field. Derek Boogaard of the Minnesota Wild may beg to differ, but exclude hockey and that’s probably true. A fight on the practice field can completely change the tempo of any practice. Most fights include an offensive and defensive player, many times escalating into a team-involved event.

Take the Baltimore Ravens, for example:

"Nearly all 85 players in camp were involved in a squabble Saturday that began when offensive tackle Oniel Cousins and defensive tackle Amon Gordon threw punches after running back Allen Patrick was taken down hard on a burst up the middle. All the players surged toward the middle of the field, and it was nearly two minutes before peace was restored."

It seems like every year there is at least one team in the NFL has a brawl big enough to make national news. A few years ago it was the Rams, this year the Ravens. What people don’t know is that there are countless others that never reach the public eye. Some of these altercations can be comical while other can be much more intense.

As a player I have been involved in both. Some fights I’ve been in the middle of a pileup laughing, dropping elbows on guys like "Macho Man" Randy Savage. While in others I’ve taken a fist to the jaw. One thing I would recommend is to always keep the chinstrap done up when a brawl breaks out. Most times you don’t know what you’re going to get. However, the great thing about a team is most fights usually end up as locker room jokes.

Fighting has little relevance in the real world, so why is it so widely accepted in professional sports? The very nature of the profession is conducive to fighting. Few jobs allow you to run at full speed to knock the hell out of your co-worker. Imagine it being okay to tackle Bob at the water cooler as long as it’s a clean hit. Forget any legal implication, just make sure to aim in the region of Bob’s chest and don’t forget to drive your legs through contact.

The thing is, Bob has a breaking point and it’s not long before Bob takes the water cooler and hits you upside the head. Bob’s retaliation would seem reasonable, however, it is ultimately counterproductive to a positive work environment. Bob should have paid more attention to his offer letter, where it clearly states that the chest is a clean hit, and that the water cooler has always and will always be in bounds!

Jim Zorn, head coach of the Washington Redskins, states, "Football is a physical sport, there is a fine line between being extremely combative every play, and maintaining composure once the whistle blows." He goes on to say, "I will not condone fighting; too much energy is wasted in a fight. As a coach I have to ask myself how to get players to focus their energy into productive play execution."

I think most players will agree fighting is a complete waste of time, energy and, in some cases, money; although, like Bob, most players have a breaking point. The fact is football is a physical game, a game where conflict is embraced by fans and the media. Players are paid to hit other players and in that case emotion can easily become a driving force in what happens on the field. Sometimes emotion can lift a player to make exceptional plays, conversely it can be a driving factor in poor decision making often resulting in a fight.

Chris Cooley is a Pro Bowl tight end for the Washington Redskins and blogs every Wednesday here on Shutdown Corner. Read more from Cooley on his personal blog, where he gets awesome all the time.

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