Cowboys vs. Eagles Aftermath: Musings On Tashard-gate

As all of you know all too well, Tashard Choice was "caught" on camera asking Michael Vick to sign one of his gloves, an incident that has Cowboys Nation all a-flutter. Those who have defended Choice have claimed that he was getting a signature for his charity, "helping hands," for which he auctions off game-used gloves. Others noted that Choice, who played for Georgia Tech, is from the Atlanta area and undoubtedly grew up watching Vick play for the Falcons. So, the story goes, it was an Atlanta thang and, if you aren't from the Dirty South, you just can't understand. Choice himself tweeted that the glove was for his nephew.

Ultimately, none of these excuses matter to rabid Cowboys fans, who claim that he shouldn't be fraternizing with the enemy--Vick plays for the much-despised Eagles, for chrissake!--much less asking for an autograph. The greybeards among us hearken back to past behavior between the Cowboys and their most hated rivals: the mutual loathing of Landry's Cowboys and George Allen's Redskins; Jimmy Johnson's public tirade against Buddy Ryan and his "fat rear end" after the infamous "bounty bowl." Oh, we cry to the heavens, for a Diron Talbert or Andre Waters to instill such enmity once again!

Alas, those days are over. Increasingly, NFL players are a secret society, the most exclusive of fraternities. In part, this has happened because the sport is so much more brutal than it used to be. The height/ weight/ speed ratio of the average NFL player has increased tremendously since I began watching the sport, and it continues to increase. The result is that collisions between players are exponentially more violent than they were in, say, the mid 70s. I recently read an assessment of football collisions, and the author cited a study claiming that an average NFL running back absorbs four to six collisions per game equivalent to a car accident! With this level of violence, NFL players, not unlike Vietnam vets, develop a singular, shared experience that "outsiders" cannot hope to understand. As a result, they (players as well as vets) become insular, a "we" in opposition to the vast, uncomprehending "they."

This divide is further exacerbated by the size of NFL contracts; professional locker rooms now resemble cushy millionaire's clubs. Add to this the fact that NFL players assign status to their fellows by the size of their contracts--believe me, they do (this is one reason why the players respect Jerry Jones; he's one of the few people in their world who has more Benjamins)--and its not a huge logical leap that they assign this status, or lack thereof, to the non-football playing, non-millionaire public.  By NFL players' logic, the ordinary schlubs who fail to make seven figures might invade, but can't hope to comprehend, their universe. Players on other teams can and do comprehend what it is like to be an elite athlete and have endured the various physical hardships of this sport, and thus they bond over their common experience.

This is all to say that for the Tashard Choices of the world, a fellow player isn't the enemy--and certainly not one whose athletic ability is elite among a group of elites.  Such a figure is unequivocally to be admired rather than loathed. No, when NFL players look across the line, they don't see hated rivals; rather, they see fellow entertainers. Just because they get paid to beat the crap out of each other doesn't preclude them from hugging it out afterward, when the show--yes, I said show--is finished.

So, if today's Cowboys can't hate the Redskins, who can they hate?  Where to locate the ire formerly reserved for the moppet-haired Chris Hanburger? I'd submit that the object of many players' derision, loathing, or worse, is that unwelcome gang of critics who scrutinize without truly comprehending; the awkward dorks who don't appreciate what it takes to play this violent, brutal sport; those soft-bellied eggheads who question their dedication and toughness, when they don't have the physical wherewithal to survive a single play from scrimmage without significant injury.

Who is this hated group?  The press, of course. Just ask the team's resident philosopher, Martellus Bennett. When asked about Tashard-gate, he responded: "Y'all blow everything out of proportion if you ask me."
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