Recently I was watching a bio on former NFL player Lyle Alzado on the NFL Network series “A Football Life.” As a defensive lineman in the most violent of sports, he looked for every edge. Unfortunately, that included his using steroids, and little doubt remains that contributed to the brain cancer that ended his life at the early age of 43.
During one part of the show, there was a famous clip from 1982 when Alzado, in a fit of what many would call ‘roid rage, while engaging Jets offensive lineman Chris Ward, tore the helmet off Ward’s head and threw it at him.
That prompted the league to then put a rule in place shortly after the incident, Rule 12, Section 2, Article 15: “A player may not use a helmet (that is worn by anyone) as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at any opponent.”
Matt Millen, one of Alzado’s former teammates, recalling the incident said, “It’s not so much that the rule exists. It’s more fun how the rule got put into place. I mean, it’s not like the fathers of the game sat down and said, ‘Hey, if somebody ever takes a helmet off, he’s not allowed to beat the other guy with it.’”
While watching the rest of the program, I couldn’t help thinking about how often rules are put in place, which, of course, is when someone does something that ranges anywhere from imprudent to downright outrageous.
I thought about the time I was on vacation in Virginia Beach at a hotel called The Viking across the street from the famed Boardwalk. The hotel pool had an interesting sign posted on the side of a small utility building. The building had a flat roof and stood just a few feet from the pool’s edge. The sign said, “No jumping off the roof into the pool.”
Now, to me, that kind of indicated that the sign didn’t make an appearance until there was an incident, where, I’m guessing, a passel of agile boys found a way to get up on that roof and do their majestic cannon balls and jack knives into the inviting waters below.
Actually, this form of loophole closing has a long history in our country. While at one time, especially on rural roads, there were no speed limits, that is, until cars’ increased technologies added acceleration and accidents happened that were blamed on speed and, of course, drivers’ impaired judgment. Thus, speed limit signs began popping up like so many wildflowers.
Even as far back as colonial times, in response to those Sons of Liberty who dumped that large shipment of tea into Boston Harbor, the British, to prevent such acts of resistance, passed a series of punitive laws the colonists dubbed The Intolerable Acts. Of course, the Brits’ intention was to make an example of Massachusetts and reverse the trend of resistance by colonists in matters involving the authority of Parliament. And, we know how that turned out.
When I discussed this with my lady friend, Jane, she laughed and told me an anecdote that proved my point that, more often than not, rules are not proactive in nature. As a Mercer County farm girl, Jane told me that there weren’t a whole lot of rules in the country.
She said she and her brother Ben often would drive an old dilapidated pickup around in the fields long before either was legal. However, years later, when she’d established her own house to raise her two kids less than a thousand yards down the same road from the house in which she was raised, she did find it necessary to enact a rule involving driving a car on the property, but only after one of the teens over and enjoying a fire in the spacious backyard at the invitation of her son decided to circumnavigate the house through the yard..
Thus, came a new rule, no driving around the house! When I reminded her of her own fun as a girl driving off-road, she put her hand up and said simply, “Hey, different times, different circumstances!”
And, so it is, folks, with governments and institutions and individuals. Rules will so very often come as a reaction to what has already been done. After all, referring to one of the most ubiquitous of admonitions on signs in parks, playgrounds, pools and other gathering places, horseplay just may not have been prohibited until the first horse decided to play.