Is the big, bad wolf scary because he's a wolf?
Presumably, the woods through which Little Red Riding Hood traipses so carelessly are full of wolves, making this particular wolf especially imposing not in his wolfness, but in his bigness and badness. He is the exception to the rule of the general acceptability of wolves.
By emphasizing the Big Bad Wolf (henceforth, BBW) in our mythical parlance, we create an object of derision which eases the fear we might feel by contemplating the existence of wolves as a group, all of which would more than likely eat our grandmothers given the chance. Another way of saying this is that the BBW is a scapegoat.
Hang with me, sports fans...I'm getting there.
I only today saw the footage from the Miami/FIU game. It is, of course, shameful. More shameful still is the glacial and inadequate response on the part of the University of Miami and NCAA Football. The former I was surprised to see; the latter, I was not.
This fiasco reminds me of another which took place a few years back, during which an otherwise reasonable man named Mike Tyson took a Big-Mac-size bite out of Evander Holyfield's ear. I remember the shock and revulsion that followed, unanimously and without irony, from every corner of the sports and extra-sports world. "How could such a transgression be tolerated?" pundits clucked around the country. It was a greater sin, it seemed to me, than the rape of a woman.
But the reaction to Tyson's late nite bite wasn't the problem. Commentators who took issue with it were, of course, in tune with the general public's disgust. But the indignant surprise that such a thing could happen and the implicit agreement that the normal state of boxing as a sport was just fine I found sickening. I'm no pacifist (at least, I don't think I am), but I say if you create a sport that caters to (at best) a working-class group of young people, give them few other options, train them in essence to be killers (gloves and headgear notwithstanding), and glorify every life-threatening hit they deliver what you get is, in a word, gladiators. To say that Tyson biting Holyfield rather than delivering him his umteenth case of the dizzies is barbaric is to have both an uninformed definition of the word and an unhealthy piousness for the sanctity of "the rules." Tyson, to sum up, became the BBW, and boxing went ahead newly chaste.
I'm no fan of the U. In fact, Miami is probably my least favorite college football team, largely for the same reasons outlined so capably by BoSox 3458 and because I think Michael Irvin is an absolute caricature of himself. But to look at what happened last week as an aberration rather than the logical outcome of a formula is to pin the BBW on Miami and let college football as a whole off the hook. I worked in college football for two years, and it's a cesspool. Backhanded dealings, the erasure of the "student" portion of "student-athlete," perks which morph quickly into entitlements, and expectations the likes of which none of us who is not a college football athlete could meet: and this was 1-AA! With the NCAA, you have a business masquerading as an educational organization, the equivalent of calling Microsoft the computer club. This facade allows a number of otherwise reputable institutions to take in ridiculous sums of money on the backs of its own set of gladiators who, like all gladiators, are given few options. And, since this is football, they are trained to hit people as hard as they can, to seek advantage when no one is looking, and, finally, to make a name for themselves. The idea is that if everyone does this individually, the team will become fearsome.
Well, mission accomplished, and there's no doubt that Miami and Larry Coker have much, perhaps more than anyone else in the sport, to answer for. But let's not allow this moment to pass without interrogating the nature and status of college football as a whole. Yes, Miami is a joke, but to call many of these young men college students is a bigger joke. And the biggest joke is to join in the chorus of shocked and horrified pundits who point at Miami and thank goodness that the "rules" don't permit this sort of thing. I'm not saying that football shouldn't be violent. I'm saying that we don't get to be sanctimonious when it gets real.