How does one define unnecessary roughness in a game whose object is to run a ball 100 yards down a field while being attacked by a phalanx of 300-pound men? Isn't the game of football, by definition, unnecessary and rough?
After all, there is nothing necessary to be gained by carrying a spheroid-shaped piece of leather through a couple of poles stuck into turf. Doing so will not cure world hunger, help us to colonize space or rid humanity of Donald Trump.
And as to roughness, while I suppose "rough" is a relative term, it could hardly be argued that football is in some way not rough. Compared to Roman gladiators battling to the death, then no, football is not rough. But compared to other alternatives, such as reading or taking a leisurely stroll?
Clearly, the very idea of unnecessary roughness in football is an oxymoron. Let's do away with the officials and let the guys have at it, full force.
Not that I am knowledgeable enough about the game of football to make any recommendations about how it should be played, though I have tried to educate myself, God knows.
About five years ago, I procured a copy of "Football for Dummies." I kept it by my bedside and even attempted to read it from time to time, but was unable to make it past Page 20.
Occasionally, I watched a game with the book in hand, consulting the index when announcers mentioned complicated technical terms like "tight end" (conjuring alarming associations) and "snap" (which could refer to so many distressing possibilities in a game where very large men regularly pile on top of each other). Eventually, though, I gave up.
One night, I finally realized that there was only one thing more boring than watching football, and that was reading about it.
It is not that I don't appreciate rough sports. In fact, my favorite sport is rodeo, which flaunts and even celebrates danger. What I don't like about football is that there seems to be so much time during the game spent standing around waiting for various officials to examine video footage to see how many inches were gained during the last play.
In rodeo, there is no such nonsense, and, best of all, there are no timeouts. The athletes get out and play at their peril. They taunt the angry bull, leap from the racing horse onto the steer, and climb atop the rowdy bronc. And if an animal doesn't comply with the program and holds things up in the chute, out come the rodeo clowns to cavort in the arena until the errant beast is wrestled into submission.
Football needs a little more of that rodeo spirit. Let's stop requiring referees to act like schoolyard teachers keeping their pupils in check, and let the players do what they are trained to do -- play the damned game, unnecessary roughness and all. Until then, football will always seem to me more a performance than a game.
Even the scuffles on the field during Super Bowl Sunday had a ring of inauthenticity, reminding me of the kids who agree to a fight during lunch break, in the middle of the quad, where it will surely be broken up before any good punches are thrown.
It was as though the tussles were directed skits rehearsed beforehand, and I doubted there was much real passion in any of it.
Perhaps this is because football at the Super Bowl level is little more than an afternoon-long commercial. Advertisements, in fact, have become as integral to the game as the self-important analysis of the commentators and the halftime gyrations of made-up and costumed pop stars.
In the end, while watching the annual NFL homage to football last Sunday, I felt as though I was watching a play and not a sport. From the players taking the field to the closing speeches lauding the Ravens as champions, it was all show.
Give me a good La Grange or Mariposa rodeo any day. Until football loses its Broadway-revue affectations, I'll pass.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.