College football players are in town for the summer. Many are taking summer classes. They are not allowed to practice or meet with coaches. Most need the classes to meet NCAA progress toward degree requirements, but players also take the classes because coaches want them on campus to lift, condition, watch tape, all of course, on a voluntary basis.
Young football players are recruited for strength, speed, football intelligence and above all competitive ferocity. Coaches want fierce competitors who push themselves to get better, who push their teammates and ultimately push competitors around the field.
As I have mentioned before football involves the disciplined application of force, of tremendous force. Young men 6'4" 235 pounds colliding with other young men of similar dimensions. It involves explosions off the line, quick cuts, intense running, challenges and two players hitting each other as hard and fast as they can. The recent death of Jack Tatum, one of the most implacable hitters of all time reminds us of this. In one hit Tatum made Darryl Stingley a parapalegic. In another he literally knocked off the helmet and concussed Danny White, before this became normal. In his book, They Call Me Assassin, he stated "I like to believe my best hits border on felonious assault."
Players need the capacity for contained explosive violent application of force. This capacity crosses easily over into the capacity for violence. Many football players grow up ia population where their size, strength and capacity for anger or violence made them successful football players. Their anger and violence also helped protect or rescue them from violent and harsh backgrounds.
The combination of anger, ferocity, fierce competition and applied force breeds fights and quick tempers on the field and in practice. Coaches simultaneously use it--they often speak of controlled rage--and set boundaries around it. The anger, rage, and intensity can slide into brutality only too easily. The key lies in a structure of team, coaches and culture that channels the violence. It lies in support and reinforcement for behavior that sets strong absolute limits to what can be done and enforces it relentlessly. The team provides a chance to players to grow into men of disciplined focus and ambition, if it works.
These six weeks with a critical mass of players on campus taking summer classes, not necessarily the most engrossing activity for anyone. Without the constant structure and guidance of coaches this time together produces the restless energy and quick tempers, partying and drinking, brawls, DUI, assaults, robberies and the passel of violent activity that signals the near start of football season. High spirits, boredom, free time, stupidity, aggression, easily sparked anger, criminality, all slide only too easily into each other. It's a dangerous time for anyone and especially college football players.
It is important to remember that lots of college kids get arrested on alot of charges, but none of them make the headlines. On a weekend in Eugene, Oregon, there might be 27 arrests for minors with possession but only one makes it on the front page of the paper, the football players. Also this is a sign of less corruption, as the inimitable Steve Spurrier points out that thirty years ago the players would be let off, now they "go straight to jail."
This recurs every summer and reminds us of the difference between crowds and teams. Crowds remain essentially unpredictable, fickle and easily ignited. Teams provide focus, order, intensity and direction. The paradox is that free unstructured time poses a danger for the football players, especially the younger ones. Most of the turmoil will end when practices start and coaches reassert control, besides the two a a day practices exhaust them. The players need the coaches and structure of practice and team culture to check, refine and direct the anger, rage and violence into skillful and directed force.