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Was Jack Tatum an Asshole?

Former NFL defensive back Jack Tatum died yesterday.  Tatum, who spent 9 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and one season with the Houston Oilers, was a 3 time Pro-Bowler (73-75) and member of the ’76 Super Bowl Champion Raiders.  He was also the defender who collided with John Fuqua in a 1972 playoff game which led to the “Immaculate Reception.”  However, you likely know none of these things about Jack Tatum.  It is likely that you simply know of him as the guy who paralyzed Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game and subsequently never apologized.  For that one act, many have simply associated “Jack Tatum” with “asshole,”  but is that fair?

In an interesting post for Deadspin entitled “Jack Tatum Killed Darryl Stingley, and We Made Him Do It,” Barry Petchesky argues that Jack Tatum’s paralyzing hit was really just a logical result of fan desire for football violence and the NFL subsequently fulfilling that desire:

Don’t blame Jack Tatum for doing what we wanted him to do. Blame him for doing it too well. We need players like Tatum so that when it all goes wrong on some fluke tackle, we can point to them instead of acknowledging that horrific injury is the only logical outcome of the game as we know it.

Petchesky is completely right in placing some of the blame on the feet of fans and the NFL in general, but NFL players are not unknowing victims here.  Fans want violence, the NFL provides a forum for it, and the players voluntarily participate.  In some cases, the NFL has attempted to cut out some of this stuff with rules protecting “defenseless receivers” and the rules governing QB hits.  Could they do more?  Probably, but I don’t think fans or even players really want that.  How many times have you turned on NFL Live or any other NFL related show only to hear some former NFL player deride the rules protecting quarterbacks?  For many players, it seems that the aggression is what they love about the game.  Turning the aggression down is equivalent to turning down the effort they give on the field, and for most that’s unacceptable.

So, was Jack Tatum as asshole?  Answer is probably not.  Should he have apologized?  Yeah, probably.  He did paralyze another human being in the course of playing a game, but it was a game they both agreed to play.  Tatum’s hit wasn’t dirty or illegal in any way.  He was simply doing what a NFL defensive back is meant to do, which is to hit the offensive receiver as hard as possible.  That’s football, for better or worse.

Do you agree/disagree?  Please leave your comments below

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3 thoughts on “Was Jack Tatum an Asshole?

  1. James S. on said:

    I agree with you. Jack Tatum was not an asshole, he was just a good defensive back doing his job. Football is a tremendously violent sport. That savage violence is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in the sense that the violence makes the game so much fun to play and watch, but a curse in the sense that participants run the risk, albeit a slight one, of suffering catastrophic injury.

    People who have never played football really can’t understand just how brutal it is, and, consequently, most of them don’t understand why that brutality is so appealing to those that play football. Growing up, I played baseball, basketball, and football all my life until I graduated from high school. I can tell you that football is by far the most fun sport to play, because of its inherent savagery. There’s something cathartic about playing football; its barbarism is somehow simple and beautiful. (Remember, the truth is that we modern humans aren’t really much different than cavemen.)

    But there’s a price to be paid for playing a game that fun. Every football player, whether he’ll admit it or not, has had a sleepless night or two because he was worrying about making a tackle and never getting up. I know I worried about that very thing many times. The risk of serious injury is something that every football player is keenly aware of, and it’s just something with which a football player must make peace. Likewise, football fans must also accept this as standard operating procedure; it’s very sad, but that’s the way the game is.

    Football is like a lot of other inherently dangerous things in the world: every time you board a plane you know that there’s a slight chance that you’ll die in a crash, but that doesn’t stop most of us from flying. When you go swimming in the ocean you know there’s a small chance that you’ll be attacked by a shark, but that doesn’t stop most of us from bathing in the sea. If you enjoy camping or hiking, you understand that you could be attacked by a bear or bitten by a venomous snake. Most of us have just learned to live with these risks because the rewards are so great. The same thing goes for the sport of football. It’s impossible to make a sport like football safe – if football was safe, it would cease to be football, and that is something players and true fans don’t want.

  2. Frank R. on said:

    No Jack Tatum was not an ASSHOLE. He was a football player who gave 110% the whole game. He was a very aggressive player who made the opposing receiver think about “Where is Tatum” right before the ball would get to their hands. I believe that family is what kept him away from seeing Darryl Stingley family on both sides . I think it haunted him for the rest of his life.

  3. The Trevathan hit led me here. Trevathan’s hit warrants a ban.

    “Tatum’s hit wasn’t dirty or illegal in any way. ” I do believe reading that it was a legit fluke and the extreme awkwardness of the collision.

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