Football player Jack Tatum said on television that the name of the game really wasn't to try to injure other players. But, from the furor raised by his book "They Call Me Assassin," the public might be excused for getting a different impression. It seems the Oakland Raiders defensive back makes no bones about violence as part of his job and calls for rules changes to reduce it. Everyone knows -- or should know -- that even professional football can be played clean and hard without sacrificing the exciting essence of the contest.
What is so dismaying is the tone of quotations from the Tatum volume. They suggest defiance of the spirit of the rules there already are. Consider the "tackle" that put pass receiver Darryl Stingley in a wheelchair. Tatum expresses regret but notes: "I could have attempted to intercept, but, because of what the owners expect of me when they give me my paycheck, I automatically reacted to the situation by going for an intimidating hit." Or consider the little game played with a fellow defenseman: one point for a "limpoff," when an injured opposing player can get off the field by himself; two points for a "knockout," when he has to be helped off.
Is there any sportsmanship in this? Is it stuff to sell books? Is it what some spectators really want?
"They Call Me Assassin" ought to be a word to the wise -- to football authorities to tighten rules and enforcement, to players to observe human decency on the field, to fans to refuse to be a market for violence.