The following essay was previously published in the Prairie Progressive.
Three feral cats have adopted our backyard natural habitat. One is an old tiger-striped tom that’s been wandering the neighborhood for years. The other two showed up last summer as adorable
black kittens, one male, one female, scrounging the ground for any leftover birdseed. Wild birds have flocked to our yard for ages and the cats upset the habitat’s balance and my serenity. So
every morning before sunrise, you’ll find me feeding cats, followed by the birds, hoping that full stomachs deter the cats from attacking the birds. The two male cats get it, they eat and go off for naps. The female cat, like clockwork eats the soft food, leaps off the deck to partake of the bird seed course and then goes hunting for dessert. One morning, she gave me her yellow-eyed feline stare while gripping a dead sparrow in her mouth, clearly communicating, “What did you expect? Cats will be cats.”
The instinct to hunt, the challenge of outsmarting your prey isn’t reserved for wildlife. Sports is where we can observe the culture of the wild played out by civilized men. Football even has a wildcat formation. It’s designed to confuse the defense by replacing the traditional quarterback lineup with a different positional player to take the snap from the center. It isn’t used much, because savvy defenses have learned how to defend against it. But that’s the intriguing part of football, the quest to figure out a way to win by outsmarting your opponents, without breaking the rules or at least not getting caught.
Coach Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots has won six Super Bowl rings; more than any other coach. He said he thought he was within the rules when operation Spygate was exposed. During a game with the New York Jets on September 9, 2007, New England
videotaped the Jets defensive coaches’ play signals from New England’s sideline, which was considered an unauthorized location by the National Football League (NFL). Belichick was given the maximum fine ($500,000), the team was fined $250,000 and lost its first round draft pick.
Quarterback Tom Brady has won seven Super Bowls, yet he was suspended four games for being the mastermind behind Deflategate. He allegedly ordered the deflation of footballs before the 2014 American Football Conference against the Indianapolis Colts, thereby giving the Patriots an edge and winning the game. The team was fined $1 million dollars and lost 2 draft picks.
Please, don’t bring up Bountygate to a Minnesota Vikings fan. The New Orleans Saints were punished for paying out bounties to intentionally injure opposing players. It reportedly took place from 2009 to 2011. Minnesota fans continue to stew over the 2009 NFC Championship game, where Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was repeatedly targeted and eventually seriously injured by the Saints players. New Orleans went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Upon discovery of the numerous premeditated assaults, the NFL commissioner doled out punishment to the coaching staff: Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season; defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, but this would be overturned the next year; and general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games in 2012. The team was fined and gave up a couple draft picks. The Super Bowl win still stands.
In comparison to these other Super Bowl champions, Aaron Rodgers’ behavior is strikingly mild. He could be dubbed the king of winning games by drawing the opposing team into penalties. Rodgers is known for tricking the defense to jump off sides, catching twelve men on the field during substitutions and the infamous Hail Mary throw down the field to draw a pass interference call. It wins games and it doesn’t break the rules.
Rodgers drew heavy criticism by bucking against the NFL vaccination policies. After testing positive for COVID, it surfaced that he wasn’t vaccinated but had earlier told reporters who asked about his vaccination status, “Yeah, I’m immunized.” Last summer, Rodgers brought a holistic approach as an alternative to vaccination to the NFL. He was turned down.
Some players will remain vaccine hesitant; their bodies are their livelihoods. When
asymptomatic, unvaccinated Vikings safety Harrison Smith tested positive for COVID at the same time vaccinated Vikings offensive lineman Dakota Dozier wound up hospitalized, it doesn’t help the vaccination argument.
NFL players aren’t the only organisms looking for loopholes. COVID continues to mutate as its survival competes against vaccines. Wouldn’t it make more sense to learn from the pandemic and develop policies that promote a healthy work environment that applies to everyone, so that players, coaches and staff can protect themselves from all illnesses, instead of being politically polarized by COVID? But who am I to judge? I’m the one out there every morning doing my daily exercise in feral futility.