It is no secret that the NFL is a violent workplace. The game is a battlefield and a player doesn’t make it beyond Pop Warner unless he is willing to hit people. During a player’s early development, he is congratulated with a pat on the back for a hard hit. If he is talented and has enough hard hits under his belt, he is rewarded with a high paying job in the NFL.
To be a successful NFL player, he must buy into the culture of on-the-field violence. He must embrace it wholeheartedly. It becomes a part of who he is and therein lies the danger, because violence is not acceptable off-the-field. So how does a player learn to turn it off when he leaves work?
Perhaps a lesson from the martial arts would be helpful. One of the paradoxes of martial arts training is it is a path of peace. We learn to fight so we don’t have to fight. I know this sounds a bit Orwellian, but bear with me. Often a beginning student of the martial arts wants to learn how to be tough…how to hurt people. Frequently, this is because he was a victim of violence himself.
But something amazing happens that changes everything. A shift occurs during the give and take of training. Let me explain what I mean by “the give and take of training”. To learn a fighting skill the student works with a training partner. Each student takes turns executing a technique against a training partner. The technique is often painful when you are on the receiving end.
Most beginning students think the most important lesson is to master the technique…get really good at delivering pain. I believe that the highest level of mastery is learning to diffuse conflict without hurting anyone. Each time the student yields…or allows his training partner to practice on him, he becomes more and more aware that fighting hurts. More importantly, he has less and less desire to give or receive pain. The violent turmoil they felt as a beginner has evaporated. In its place is a peaceful intent.
It seems to me, that players in the NFL work in a culture where they only think of delivering that big painful hit before someone does it to them. Instead of a cooperative environment with a willing training partner, they face an opponent who intends them harm. They are trained to react with with swift violence.
There is no peaceful intent in the NFL. Maybe time spent in a dojo would give him better control of his instinctive violent reactions. Maybe he would see his training partners as a cooperative friend. Maybe that lesson would extend outside of both the dojo and a NFL game, so when he faces conflict with his spouse, he sees her as a cooperative friend…someone he loves and not an enemy.