Are Rivalries Dead?

Player safety is a good thing. It doesn’t take a genius to know that athletes are valuable assets that need to be protected in what has turned into a business. The business of sports. Not to mention these are, you know….human beings. Smashing your skull into another person isn’t exactly an easy way to make a living. Though they are probably just saving face, the fact is that player safety is now a primary discussion in every sport among league executives. While we have gained a sense of humanity, we have lost something: rivalries.

I dare you to compare one “rivalry” today to those in the past where sports and safety were never muttered in the same sentence. Football is probably the last holdout among the great rivalries in sports, at least at the college level. But even that has dwindled. You can tell the kids from Michigan put a little more into every hit when they square up with Ohio State, but the game has changed and there’s only so much that can be allowed.

The sport that has suffered the most is without a doubt is hockey. Disclaimer: I champion anything that reduces fighting in hockey. I think it’s mostly stupid, it’s not like NHL 16 where your entire bench gets an energy boost if you win a fight. I don’t need to see Jonathan Toews get punched in the head after already suffering more documented concussions than he should be comfortable with. But there is something to be said about how awesome this was…

You can’t watch that and tell me it’s not fantastic. NBC’s Wednesday Night Rivalry is not quite up to this level. Rangers and Blackhawks? Why? Because we disagree on who’s got better pizza and corruption? We’ll never see anything like that again, nor will we see anything like the Colorado and Detroit rivalry again.  The level of nastiness that those games got to will never be replicated. Player safety will not allow that. Player safety won’t allow nasty rivalries.

Even baseball, one of the few sports where contact really isn’t involved, has lost its luster in terms of the traditional rivalry. You’re going to tell me that the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry is as alive as ever? It’s not. Not even close. Why? Because beam ball is fading away. Intimidation for a pitcher is now a craft, much more mental than physical. Pitchers have to toe the line of pitching inside to get a mental advantage and actually hitting a player.

Beam ball and sticks to the forehead should fade away. It’s dangerous and simply doesn’t make sense for the future of the sports. However, I really hate that traditional rivalries have to be a sacrifice. Bears players are never going to really hate Packers players. They might pander the masses by saying the two times they meet every year means something, but in reality it’s just another divisional game. There’s not going to be another Charles Martin slamming Jim McMahon to the turf about five minutes after the play was over. Therefore there is no hate. Player safety has officially taken over. It’s good. It makes sense. But in some cases, it sucks.

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