Schwartz: Wadley Penalty Example of Sucking the Fun Out of Football

September 17, 2017

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

All things considered, it doesn’t matter.

Akrum Wadley streaks down the right sideline, no one between him and the end zone. He looks over his left shoulder to make sure he’s safe. He is. He’s about to score. He’s excited. He high steps two strides.

Two strides.

Out comes the yellow flag. Back comes the touchdown. Wadley is punished. The Hawkeyes are punished. A lesson is taught and allegedly learned. Seven plays later, the Hawkeyes score a touchdown that doesn’t get called back.

Penalties like the one called against Wadley don’t help college football. They hurt college football. Such penalties impose unrealistic expectations upon players and rob the sport of its most valuable commodity: fun.

Wadley neither taunted his opponent nor upstaged his teammates. He was happy. He physically demonstrated that emotion. Instead of celebrating Iowa’s accomplishment, however, the penalty divided us into two camps.

In one camp are those who felt something toward the call between annoyance and outrage. Yes, Wadley technically broke a rule, but it’s a stupid rule.

In the other camp are those who treat football like it’s something holy, something so fragile that it must be preserved and protected from foreign influences. Joy, for example. There’s no joy in football. Football turns boys into men. It defeats communism. It makes sure emotion stays where it’s supposed to – bottled up inside.

Or better yet, run through the tunnel, find a broom closet, and celebrate in there. With the light off. After everyone has left the stadium. Preferably after the season has ended.

Good grief. Lighten up.

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Three ingredients make sports great. The first is superhuman physical accomplishment – athletes who fine-tune their bodies and minds to accomplish feats that few people can. The second is community – that feeling you get when you’re walking down the street in Des Moines, Manhattan or Denver and see someone else wearing the Iowa Tigerhawk. That means something.

The third is emotion, both the highs and lows. But especially the highs. It’s LeBron James and Kevin Love embracing when the Cavs won the NBA title. It’s Bryce Harper calling out his own sport – baseball – for being old and boring, and baseball responding by loosening its necktie. It’s Deion Sanders high-stepping – yes, high-stepping – his way to the college football and NFL Hall of Fames.

What Wadley did Saturday afternoon wasn’t wrong. It was natural. Any right-thinking sports fan knows there is a difference between Wadley’s enthusiasm and outright taunting, like Terrell Owens did to the Dallas Cowboys in 2000. Watch this clip. Owens runs away from his teammates. At one point he actively avoids a teammate who tries to celebrate with him. Owens goes so far beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable that he causes a fight between the teams.

Those who rule college football should know the difference, too.

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“I told [Wadley] he’s way too good of a player to do that kind of stuff,” Kirk Ferentz said.

“That kind of stuff.”

Ferentz has to say that. He’s the coach, and he shouldn’t be condemned for thinking that way.

But, really, what kind of stuff? Expressing happiness too soon? Too demonstrably?

It’s “that kind of stuff” that makes football so great in the first place.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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