The controversy regarding the misconduct by pro football player Odell Beckham last Sunday, including the reactions to the NFL’s one-game suspension of Mr. Beckham, seems to have involved the usual array of fans divided between the “football is a violent game” crowd, and the “enough is enough” people. For a summary of the pertinent events and a reasonably balanced description of both extremes of the reactions to them, see this piece by Ian O’Conner:

Another perspective: football is indeed a violent game, and we love it for that, but the violence it presents is controlled violence, and what Mr. Beckham did to the defender was not at all controlled. The game is indeed a metaphor for war, which, though fought to the death, tends to be directed by people who are able to control and exploit their aggression and violence. Likewise, the violence in football is controlled, by both the people who make the rules (the league or conference in which it is played) and those who enforce them (the referees and their crews). Without intelligent control, football is just hockey (before it cleaned up its act) or pro wrestling (which is theater, not sport). Uncontrolled violence may be OK for Quentin Tarantino movies, but it would shrink the audience for football – which would be good for no one and a victory for some, like the people who are exploiting the issue of concussions in order to advance their case for destroying football by Ralph-Naderizing it.

Rules are necessary in every undertaking, be it serious or frivolous. Without the rule of law, there is chaos; we are just barbarian warriors, even if dressed up in Mao suits. Football, without rules that are reasonable and are clearly and uniformly enforced, would likewise degenerate into chaos and would lose its mass appeal. The NFL was not built on plays like the 5-lateral kick return that ended the 1982 Cal-Stanford game (and wiped out the Stanford band). Yes, the NFL often treats its players like delinquent, ill-mannered children; many of its rules aim to educate and improve the behavior of the players, right down to rules on how the players dress (like the proper way to wear your socks) and how they celebrate their triumphs large or small (no taunting or excessive celebrations). And the league has a point – the Beckham-Norman blowup would have been business-as-usual at junior high school-yards across America. Football wants to rise above that kind of adolescent behavior. It wants the players to conduct their mock warfare in a disciplined manner, because it wants to improve the game, to enhance its appeal, to prevent it from being demeaned. Football, without a “rule of law,” would be much less entertaining.

As Hayek demonstrated, the key to a true rule of law is to ensure that all the rules (regardless of how smart or dumb) be enforced uniformly, promptly, and without any kind of discrimination based upon whose behavior is being regulated – we must all comply with the same set of rules, and we should all expect to be punished for each of our transgressions. China claims it has a Rule of Law (“you break the law, you are punished”), but its enforcement is so arbitrary, inconsistent, and corrupt that it hardly merits the term.

It does not matter whether the talented Mr. Beckham is, at heart, a good guy, or whether he came from a troubled background. As a matter of fact, it appears that he came from a very solid home and received loads of support, and that the main stereotype he fits is that he was always surrounded by people telling him how great he was, or was going to be. Of course Pete Rose apparently was also a good guy, even though he has this one really bad habit.

Mr. Beckham should not be banned for life, or even for more than one game, but his behavior should not be ignored and the rules should not be relaxed to excuse such behavior. There is no irony in the notion that a game that encourages violence is also a game that regulates violence.


  1. I was very disappointed that the league did not see fit to suspend Beckham for two games. They needed to send more of a message.
    Of course my first surprise was that both players were not removed from the game.

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