Choke-less in Seattle

Suppose a batter hit a walk-off home run in a playoff game, and then, in addition to standing in the batters’ box for a few extra seconds to admire the ball’s trajectory, he also looked the vanquished pitcher in the eye and gave him the “choke” sign?  If the pitcher did not collapse at that moment from sheer shock and sensitivity overload, I’m thinking that the hitter should plan to wear catching gear for every at bat against that team for the rest of his career.

This baseball hypothetical is very similar to what Richard Sherman did last Sunday right after his great play to win the NFC championship.  As Sherman’s teammates celebrated together, he sprinted over to rival Michael Crabtree, and then he turned to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and gave the choke sign.

I’ve never seen a game in any professional sport end with the victor giving the choke sign.  A throat slashing  sign has been banned in the NFL because of its similarity to an actual murder, and the choke sign is not far behind this.

But football does not have the culture of revenge that baseball has. Sherman pushed poor sportsmanship to the extreme here, but football players appear to have the sticks and stones to not let names put them over the edge in any type of revenge culture.  This makes me makes wonder why baseball players can’t get past their hurt feelings.

Baseball players are extremely sensitive–so sensitive that a hurt feeling creates a burning grudge that is stored for months, and even years.  Baseball players believe in revenge–the kind of revenge that includes a 90 mph baseball being thrown in the direction of a batter’s head.

Today in baseball, believe it or not, it’s openly accepted that if a batter hits a home run and then stands in the batter box for an extra second , or steals a base in a blow out, he can expect “chin music” at a later date.  Sometimes teams wait years until the opportunity presents itself for revenge.  And this “chin music” is not the kind of concert anyone would want to attend.  The purpose is to create as much fear as humanly possible in a person for a split second as he sees the ball screaming towards his head.  While actually getting hit in the head is rare, this act of throwing there is hard to take lightly considering a major leaguer once died from getting beaned in the head.  A luckier player can get away with just being hit in their thigh by a fastball.

To people who have been around baseball for years, they proudly talk of how this system polices the game–and veterans pass this knowledge along to the next generation with pride.  But instead of a macho system, it seems more like a system based on hurt feelings hiding behind a violent response.

While football has no clear code of revenge like this, Sherman’s extremely poor sportsmanship seems to test the limits of non-revenge civility. Because in the NFL every player is very vulnerable away from the ball–and there are many ways to play chin music that could be just as dangerous and less detectable than in baseball.

Take the collision between receiver Wes Welker and cornerback Aqib Talib last week on the same day as the 49ers Seahawks game.  Talib was turning into a blind spot and got injured by running into Welker.  Patriots coach Bill Belichick accused Welker of a dirty play.

If anybody had wanted revenge, it would have been Welker towards his former coach who does not seem to like Welker.  Welker had put up monster numbers for years under Belichick, but for an unknown reason, Belichick benched him and limited his playing time to start the season in 2012.  It was only when the Patriots offense stalled and Belichick really needed him that Welker started getting his usual reps and ended up having another great year.

I don’t think Talib’s injury from Welker was intentional or dirty as Belichick accuses, and neither does the NFL as they just affirmed it was a legal play.  But this example does show how vulnerable a cornerback is in the overall field of play.

If something like this happens to Sherman next year, we might be seeing the emergence of a code in football like the one in baseball.  But the NFL appears very wary of something like this emerging in its already violent game.  For example, when the Saints started targeting players and giving bounties, the Saints head coach was suspended for an entire year.

I expect the NFL to work very hard to prevent the emergence of a code of violent revenge.  With concussions happening every week and carts taking players off the field for various injuries, football is already looking for solutions to tone down the violence.

With the choke sign by Sherman, the biggest take away is how composed the often labeled NFL gladiators respond to poor sportsmanship, and just how overly sensitive, insecure, and vindictive baseball players can be.

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