'The Hunger Games' mirrors our ever-increasing appetite for sports violence

Mar 26 2012 - 3:29pm

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Found myself making an emergency run to the Coral Square Mall on Friday afternoon.

Seems Marina, my pre-teen daughter, just had to have one of those "Team Peeta" T-shirts all her friends were wearing to the much-anticipated opening of "The Hunger Games."

Besides questioning myself for spending $22.50 on a T-shirt -- and trying to remember the last time I set foot in a mall -- all this talk about author Suzanne Collins' best-selling series got me to thinking.

Not about how I could fill out a Hunger Games bracket, a wry spin on the NCAA tournament pool that plays off the idea that 24 teenagers are forced by the government to fight to the death (on worldwide television) in this post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Mainly, I thought about how comfortable our children have grown with the concept of violence.

For this we can certainly blame video games, and I typically do, but the modern sports world is just as much at fault.

No matter how much we talk about "cleaning things up" and getting our priorities back in order, the news cycle just keeps spinning too fast for us to slow, much less reverse, the ugly trends.

This past week, we've been bombarded with news of Bountygate, the sick system of bonuses for injuring opponents that the New Orleans Saints employed in recent years, apparently with the full knowledge of coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and general manager Mickey Loomis.

Payton and Williams, aka Dr. Heat, have been suspended for the 2012 season, Loomis for half of it.

This was swift justice meted out by the iron fist of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but do you really think it will stop under-the-table payments for over-the-top violence?

For a generation of players raised on "Beast Mode"?

What's more, if injuring former quarterback Brad Johnson could put $15,000 in the pocket of a defender on the blitz-happy Saints, as a report suggested Friday, why should America's youth recoil at some of the simulated violence they will see in "The Hunger Games"?

If anything, the tenor of Collins' brooding series fits neatly with what the modern sports fan has been witnessing (and demanding) for years.

Greed-soaked athletes shooting up with performance-enhancing drugs, all in hopes of claiming a luxurious life in a shining city once deemed beyond reach?

Collins calls it the Capitol.

Bare-fisted bloodbaths in the Octagon, a fancy name like "mixed martial arts" lending elegance to an activity that is as gruesome as it is wildly popular?

Sounds like Collins' Arena.

Between-periods montages of "aggressive highlights," produced and shown by the NHL home team to get the bloodthirsty crowd riled up? YouTube compilations of "knockout hits" on defenseless NFL receivers?

Katniss would be impressed.

And all this lip service being paid to eliminating concussions from our contact sports?

Not even the players seem to want that.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has admitted he probably would lie if team trainers asked how he felt after a helmet shot.

LeBron James, felled for several minutes, brushed aside an obvious blow to the head late in Tuesday's win. After joking about his football past, LeBron practiced the next day.

And Panthers enforcer Krys Barch -- Cato on skates -- ripped into anyone who would try to legislate concussion-causing hits out of big-time hockey.

"I don't know why you try to correct what's working," Barch said recently. "The hits are always part of the game. . . . We get paid huge money to do it, and most of the time you get paid big money, it comes with a lot of risks involved."

Barch made the strained comparison to U.S. soldiers sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they aren't properly compensated. So, who are athletes to wish for post-career lives in which their brains aren't addled?

"We know that risk when we step on the ice, so you go along with it," Barch said. "So, everybody just shut up!"

And go to the movies.

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