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