Most criminals have already gotten away with so much that the threat of punishment means very little to them

Most criminals have already gotten away with so much that the threat of punishment means very little to them

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

I’ll just say it upfront – I rooted for the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl because of my Missouri ties. I’ll also say I care very little for football. Frankly, I’ve never understood the game but apparently, one group wants to go someplace the other group doesn’t want them to go to in possession of something that both of them think belongs to them.

They can assault each other but, fortunately, the players wear pads and helmets to try to avoid getting hurt. And there are rules. When making a tackle, the defensive player can grab his opponent’s jersey or body in an attempt to stop his forward process. This includes grabbing the player’s legs to trip him or hitting him with your shoulder. The play stops once the defensive player has the offensive player on the ground or has stopped the offensive player from moving forward. And no tripping.  There are penalties for unnecessary roughness for leading with his helmet, hitting an offensive player in the head during a tackle, tackling a player who’s out of bounds, and for tackling a player after the whistle has blown.

The referees can rule that the other team gets the football or that any ground gained can be reduced. Defenders receive 15-yard penalties for roughing the passer for tackling a quarterback after he throws the ball. Defensive players are penalized 15 yards if they grab the back of a player’s shoulder pads to make a tackle — known as a “horse collar” tackle. Players receive either a 5- or 15-yard penalty if they hold the face mask of a player’s helmet when making a tackle.

Games originated, one presumes, as a less lethal practice for combat, hunting, or other survival skill that tribe members needed to know and for which there needed to be champions as role models. Games test leadership, decision-making, physical prowess, and endurance.

Even with referees and replays, there are still arguments in front of television sets in living rooms and bars across the world about what really happened or what should have happened, or what so-and-so would have done if it had been him in that situation. Coaches and commentators get verbally skewered. But in the end, nobody dies, nobody gets sued, and the game doesn’t define every football player everywhere.

Even the most elite millionaire athletes are not expected to perform to perfection. With the benefit of advance knowledge of the playing field and their opponents, none make 100% of their passes, goals, shots, hits, kicks, or pitches. The crowd may be roaring, and there may be the occasional item thrown on the field – or the occasional naked guy – but rarely is an angry crowd a lethal threat to a player.

For those in battle with opponents on the streets and roads patrolled by America’s police officers, there are no referees to stop the play. The penalties are not a setback in the game, but life and liberty. There is no instant replay, only body camera video released after legal considerations are considered and long after the amateur cell phone journalists have cemented their own edited version and narrative.

Sports are great and fans are great. Just because the struggles of police officers are different than the challenges facing athletes, there is no reason to hold one in higher or lower esteem than the other. It would just be nice if more of the public would give the same respect and regard to law enforcement officers in their fields of battle as they do for their teams. Officers make split-second decisions too, under far less controlled and predictable conditions. They operate under a set of rules that their opponents do not. The criminal opponent is allowed to use any weapon and any means to fight the police officers while the officer has many constraints. Sure, the criminal may face a long time in the steel-barred penalty box, but it seems to be of little concern to the bad actors who have already gotten away with so many violations that the threat of punishment means very little to them.

The men and women policing America could use fewer Monday morning quarterbacks and more folks cheering for them.