Muzzling the Big Boys

Just how difficult is it for our hard men to play hard these days? And no, this has nothing to do with Viagra!

Gone are the days of eye-gouging, sneaky uppercuts behind the play, not to mention the dreaded squirrel grip! A new brand of footballer is emerging, only it seems that many of the big fellas are finding themselves getting stuck in the metamorphosis process. What is their role? What exactly do the coach, referee, commentators and fans want and expect from the enforcers of our game?

It used to be simpler - charge the line like a wounded bull, ball tucked under the arm, using your body as a battering ram. Very simply, be the brawn of the team, whose purpose is to beat a path for the brains of the halves and legs of the outside backs. And, of course, to always defend yourself and your teammates, never backing down from a fight.

Point in case, is the traditional State of Origin brouhaha that used to mark the start of the contest. There was a victory to be won in these first frenetic moments, quite irrespective of the scoreboard. Who threw the first punch? Which side got the most punches in? Who showed the most passion? The war was still ahead, but at least we would know who won the battle.

In this instance, I think Reg Reagan may be right in lamenting the lack of biff in the modern game.

For the male of the species it is the age-old manner in which the men are sorted from the boys, not to mention being a legitimate technique for conflict resolution between their own.

As for the women, without betraying The Sisterhood, despite the emergence of the meterosexual male, with his designer clothing and ?product? coiffured hair, deep down I think most of us still like a bit of mongrel in our men.

Like the crowds of Imperial Rome, we bray for the blood of combatants to stain the sacred turf, to hear the tales of courage, of men with limbs barely hanging on by torn and ragged tendons, still managing to stare into the faces of their opponents, defiantly swearing through blood-filled mouths, ?'Tis but a flesh wound.?

But we are living in an age where occupational health and safety is the ruler and we its humble servants, and rightly so. The reality is we follow the toughest sport in the world, where major and debilitating injuries can easily happen.

We are also living in an era where cameras invade every inch of the football field, leaving no blade of grass, or grain of sand in the case of Suncorp, unturned. We have player-cams, crossbar-cams, reverse angle-cams, we even have sky-cams that are either probing for life on the remote planet of Tattooine, or are giving us a blurry, Blair Witch-like, aerial view.

Simply, there is no safe place left on the football field for player shenanigans and recent events have demonstrated that this applies threefold off the field.

We castigate the big men who fly close to the wind (usually with a helter-skelter of swinging arms), conveniently forgetting our own hypocrisy, being that this is what we secretly want. This is what the old-timers mourn the loss of, when they talk about how ?The game is getting soft?, and, ?Back in the days?.

Aren't we, after all, the ones who slow down when we drive past the scene of an accident to have a look, fear and morbid curiosity intermingled into naked human nature?

So, we try and shackle the tough men of the game by spouting off catch phrases like controlled aggression, an oxymoron if ever there was one. Aggression; the emotional drive to attack. Control; check or restraint.

We pump these guys up, getting inside their heads and hitting their switches, until they are baring their teeth ready to take chunks out of the opposition, then snap a muzzle on them before sending them into the arena - controlled aggression.

Give me a break! Do we really want these guys to be repelling their line with sardonic sidelong glances!

No wonder the big blokes look so baffled, as if they're trying to find the balance between the aggression of the past and the control of the present game.

Then again, it could be that I'm crediting them with too much and their looks of bewilderment, and often incomprehension, have nothing at all to do with an identity crisis!

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