Most people, I suspect, are like me. They don’t mind watching a good brawl. It is in our nature to be glued to violence. Every good action movie has plenty of bare knuckled fights.
When you watch cars go around and around in auto racing, don’t you secretly hope for a nice wreck to spice things up?
It’s why mixed martial arts is becoming more and more popular. We may not be at the Roman Colosseum watching the gladiators, but, in many ways, we are not that far removed.
Deep down, we know people are setting bad examples, but, when it occurs on TV, it’s hard not to shrug and pass the popcorn.
So, there I was on New Year’s Eve, sitting in front of my television when a good-old-fashioned brawl broke out at the end of the Mississippi State-Tulsa bowl game. For a good few minutes, my eyes were glued to the TV set as players from both teams went at it. There was plenty of shoving, fist throwing and name calling. One Bulldog player even stomped his cleat on the helmet of a Golden Hurricane player.
Naturally, the broadcasters at ESPN, and later most college football gurus nationwide, said they were appalled at what they were seeing. They laid the blame squarely at the feet of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach.
"Mike Leach should be embarrassed," said ESPN College Gameday analyst Kirk Herbstreit. “This is a black eye for the sport. Maybe you don’t care about the sport, dude. It’s as bad as it could be watching that for people that are sitting around watching college football and that breaks out. It’s another black eye for college football.”
But, despite all of these denouncements from the likes of Herbstreit and others, wasn’t it surprising how ESPN kept running back the brawl replay over and over again — day after day? You would think something as awful as what they were describing would be scrubbed from our TV screens. But, despite the constant uproar from the talking heads, the TV producers in the back rooms kept running the tape — they knew what brings home the ratings.
To be clear, this was not a good look for Mike Leach. What happened at the bowl game just adds to his reputation as someone who not only dances to the beat of his own drum but also plays fast and loose with player discipline. Leach’s comments immediately after the game didn’t do him any favors either. Nor did the foolish video made by a few Bulldogs celebrating the brawl.
Still, the brawl is not and should not be the end of the world for Mississippi State. Despite only four wins this season, Leach can point to a number of positive signs about his team, including the fact that they won their last two games. If he can build on this momentum, Coach Leach can turn the brawl against Tulsa into a distant memory.
In the end, the brawl, and the reaction to it, show how complicated us humans are.
Of course, we abhor senseless violence.
Of course, we can’t turn away from it.
David W. Healy is the sports editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.