The Anti-Sportsmanship of Seattle's 12's
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
The one commonality among competitors is the desire to win. After all, how interesting would it be if football players politely stepped aside saying 'Please, after you."? How challenging would that be? And lets face it, we're addicted to challenge. Our movies, and literature, and games (be they geek or jock) are centered around the idea of someone meeting a challenge. Would anyone speak well of 'Thor Ragnarok' if The God of Sparkly Thunder stepped aside for Hela The Evil Half-Sister Of All Things Spiky and shrugged his shoulders at her homicidal, imperialist ways? (spoiler alert?)
And, believe it or not, challenge is a good thing. It helps us grow and improve (as often illustrated in the aforementioned media). I once played chess with a co-worker 4-5 times a day 5 days a week for six months. The one constant was that if one of us won most of our games the previous day, the other would come out on top that day. Not because we were taking turns, but because the challenge pushed each of us to improve in small steps. I remember being thrilled at one point as I realized, whilst studying the board, that I was looking 8 moves ahead with no more effort than most people take while driving; which is actually kind of terrifying. I don't even remember who won that game; its not relevant. Now I ask you, would I have gotten to that level if I'd been palming strategic pieces when my opponent foolishly looked away?
Winning is simply a means of determining skill. Winning against someone that you've lost to is an indication of improvement. But lately it seems that more and more "competitors" have come to focus on winning as an end in itself with the single mindedness of a three year old on an epic quest for a chocolate chip cookie. Have you ever witnessed that? There is no length they will not go to, up to and including: architecture, dissembling, diversions, acrobatics, the hiring of lookouts, throwing up road blocks, getting a . . . well, you get the idea.
Such is the case when competitors forget the value of challenge. When all that matters is that tally mark they will stop at nothing to get it. Who cares about little details like better team? FYI, when you here people decrying the nature of competition these are the examples they use.
Enter Seattle and its notorious 12's. And, no, I'm not suggesting that they are the first unsportsmanlike team in the history of sports. They aren't even the first team to recognize their team's fans for their help. The term 'The 12th Man' (or the 13th, or the 19th depending upon your sport of choice) has been in use since long before the city of the needle even had a franchise. But up until recently the 12th man referred to the moral support fans provided, that allowed players to keep from getting down, to push themselves further, and to win more often. Texas A&M actually copyrighted the term (hence Seattle switching from the 12th man to the 12's) in reference to a man from the bleachers that ran onto the field (I'm fairly certain there's some mental instability here) lined up (or at least a healthy dose of Jack; it was Texas), and made a tackle. He was of course arrested, and the play didn't count. For some reason football commissioners have some nitpicky issues with random people on the field. If nothing else I imagine the liability insurance would be insane.
Just like Seattle's fans. Up until they got their grubby little mitts on it home field advantage referred to the advantages conferred by not having to spend hours or days in cramped buses and airplanes to reach a game, and the moral boon of people cheering for your team. But there is a big difference between supporting your team and sabotaging their opponents. The former provides a passive influence to the game (as in the word 'viewer') like a backslap or a toast. The latter is an active component (as in the word 'player').
Of course the NFL has noted this issue in the past. In 1989 they instituted a rule that penalized the home team with the loss of a timeout or even a 5 yard penalty in the event that the offense couldn't hear the quarterback. This rule is actually still on the books, but is not being enforced. Apparently owners complained when ticket sales fell. Gotta worship that almighty dollar, even if the drop in sales was a temporary event. And I think it safe to say that they've lost more sales to people who don't like the way they look with bleeding eardrums (damned divas; am I right?) than the fanatics enshrining accumulated tally marks.
There have been other attempts. The idea of allowing the teams to have in helmet receivers has been kicked around for some time now. Unfortunately the NFL has been reluctant to allow more than one player on each side the benefit of such devices, probably out of fear of the same loss of sales.
But, personally I think penalties and ear protection are too reactive. The NFL needs to think more proactively. I suggest that they be allowed to record the fans as they scream incessantly at their offense and play that recording back when the home team's offense takes the field . . . looped.
Is it really that big a deal? Am I exaggerating this issue when I belittle the practice of people attempting to emulate a jet engine's noise at takeoff? After all, emulation is the highest form of praise is it not?
Well, if this were a contest about which group of maniacs could best emulate random ear splitting noises I'd be fine. Go at it. But this is supposed to be a contest involving the skill and teamwork of two groups of exceptional players playing a game; a challenge, if you will. But like an 8 year old with an aim bot its hardly proof that your better than someone when the contest isn't fair.
This is the point where you ask me how unfair it is.
Fine, I'll just tell you. I mean, I know your dying to find out. I can see it in your eyes. What? No, I'm not watching you through the screen. That would be weird.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, how unfair the 12th man has become. Perhaps a few examples. First, lets look at the Seattle Seahawks; big surprise there, considering the above picture, I'm sure. Looking at the last ten years the Seahawks have amassed a record at home of 82-31 which is a win ratio of 2.65. Yet their away record is only 49-61; a ratio of .80. This means they are 3.31 times more likely to win at home than away.
Contrast that with the L.A. Rams, a team whose fans have actually complained about how quiet the Colosseum is. In fact these same fans have proposed renovations and "improvements" that will allow them emulate the good folks at Century Link Field, who are themselves attempting to emulate airplanes. Something most of us grew out of around the age of 13. Over the last ten years the Rams have earned a record at home of 41-61; a ratio of .64 wins per loss. And their away record is 32-73; a ratio of .44 wins per loss. This means they are 1.46 times more likely to win at home.
3.31 vs 1.46. Now that's not a comment on the quality of these teams, just on the difference in their home and away stats. Same teams. Same players. Different fields. That's a significant difference.
Now I know what your thinking. Or more likely, what your shouting at your monitor as you read this heretical blasphemy. But Seattle won a Superbowl! They stomped the Broncos! There was no home field advantage; no 12th man. If they owed getting to the Superbowl to their fans how could they have won so handily?
Now I can't say for sure, but I'll bet the answer to that question can be found in Richard Sherman's boasts directly after the game. I tried to find a youtube link; couldn't seem to find any. But in essence he claimed that the defense 'broke the code' of Peyton Manning's play calling. Ostensibly this allowed them to know exactly what plays he was calling and react.
This of course being the same Peyton Manning who changes his play calling every game and often between halves! But what if they were simply observant early on? I might buy that if there was a demonstrable learning curve as they figured it out. But the Seattle Seahawks' defense dominated every minute they were on the field. Almost as if they knew going into the game about his play calling. Almost as if they'd spied on the Broncos as they practiced the last 2 weeks. If the New England Patriots had been caught doing this it would have been called Spy Gate 2: The Revenge!
But would they cheat? Would they take any advantage that came their way? If your still reading this you've probably already ascertained that their reliance upon the 12th man proves that yes they would. Just like the 8 year old aim-botter, the minute winning becomes your all consuming goal there are no limits. You will cheat, lie, hurt people; whatever it takes to win. Because winning is all that matters.
But hey, its just a game right. It's not like anyone gets killed; well unless the NFL embraces the practices of the Aztec Ullamaliztli players. In general, no one gets hurt right?
Wrong, at least according to the CDC. The record for noise at a stadium is currently 142.2 decibels. The previous record was 137.6. And according to the CDC this is well past the level that would cause permanent hearing loss when exposed for any length of time.
That's right; these fanatics are willing to cause players permanent damage simply for daring to oppose their team.
Now I don't feel bad for the defense, or the people on the sidelines because they can wear ear protection. And I don't feel bad for the fans in the stands because they chose to engage in this idiocy. But the offense can't wear hearing protection due to their selfish need to hear the quarterback. The term that comes to mind here is captive audience. How would you feel if people came to your work and screamed at 140 dB? Most people cringe when a baby cries in public. And I really doubt that as these athletes, when asked as kids what they wanted to do with their life, said 'I want to go into an incredibly competitive and physically straining job that includes the high probability of serious injury where, if I succeed, other people will scream me deaf'. Personally I'd take firefighter.
And the absolutely worst part here is that they are proud of this behavior. These fans gloat about the number of false starts and delay of game penalties they cause like a toddler regaling you about their latest adventures in toilet training. And yes, they want a cookie too.
I ask you, what does it say about a team that its fans have to resort to such dishonorable tactics to win a game?
Thank you for reading. This has been another Soapbox Moment.