By Travis Armideo
Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz. Bill Romanowski. Charles Oakley.
Remember the days when there were certain athletes who just struck utter fear into the hearts of their opponents and rival fans alike? In the NFL, Romanowski used to patrol the middle of the field looking to take opponents’ heads off. The NBA’s Oakley was basically a bodyguard for his team’s star players. And The Hammer was the NHL’s original hockey enforcer.
Players of that type are, if not long gone from the world of sports, certainly close to it, and it’s a shame. While not every ‘bully,’ ‘goon,’ or ‘thug’ was a supremely talented athlete, they each played a very significant role for their teams: they caused chaos and threw the other team off their game.
That was their job; to rough up the other team—particularly their best players—and to take opponents out of their rhythms and disrupt their game plan. Their mayhem somehow provided a spark for their own team, shifting momentum their way.
But this seems to be a lost art in sports today. One extra hit, little bump, or “statement-making” foul or penalty may change the entire course and attitude of a game or series. Lance Stephenson garnered national headlines and internet memes during the 2014 NBA Eastern Conference Finals for blowing into LeBron James’s ear during foul shots, and was labeled a dirty player. For blowing into his ear! What happened to gamesmanship?
Of course, the crackdown on violent behavior could partially be traced back to November 19, 2004—the night of the infamous “Malice at the Palace,” better known as the Pacers-Pistons brawl that spilled into the stands. That incident forced all professional leagues to reexamine player behavior, and sports haven’t really been the same since.
Whether it’s called gamesmanship, toughness, or simply being a goon, how much extracurricular or hard play should be allowed on the field, court, or ice? Apparently, not much.
The trend nowadays in sports is more focused on finesse, with harsher penalties being levied on the rougher behavior we used to see. Obviously, an important reason for that is player safety, as such play typically means more injuries. But while injuries are always a concern (and rightfully so), and everyone enjoys the pure talent and finesse aspects of sports, it feels like we may be losing an edge to our athletics; an edge that once played a meaningful and important role.
Brute force, strength, and cunning used to be a huge factor on defense. There’s a reason people love former NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s stories of messing with opponents in their hotel rooms the night before games, or the way former NFL defensive back Ronnie Lott and former NHL defenseman Scott Stevens used to absolutely terrorize opponents who had the misfortune of traveling through the middle of the field or ice. While it’s great that scoring is up in most sports leagues, sports aren’t supposed to be all about offense. And while defensive players are learning good positioning and fundamentals, there’s a whole aspect of the game they’re missing out on.
Ronnie Lott and Bill Romanowski couldn’t exist today. Just look at the NFL’s crackdown on contact with receivers. Without the ability to be physical, cornerbacks are at a huge disadvantage against receivers. Even the vaunted “Legion of Boom”—though rightfully feared—is being neutralized by the NFL’s stricter rules.
Just imagine the pain Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor would have inflicted in the NFL of the ’80s…
Is it necessary to weed out the bullies, goons and thugs from sports, or should athletes still be allowed to put fear into their opponents? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Travis Armideo is Lead Marketing Specialist at Gladiator Custom Mouthguards