Sport on TV: It's time for the NFL to start touching down in the real world


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The Independent Online

NFL: Hard Knocks (Channel 4, Wednesday) follows the exploits at the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp in a place called Flowery Branch. Given all the adverse publicity about the new season of American football, it sounds like a pleasingly shady grove to retreat to.

Then you remember that Adrian Peterson has just been suspended by the Minnesota Vikings after his arrest for beating his four-year-old son with a tree branch and you realise that right now you can’t get away from the ugly brutality of the gridiron game, on or off the pitch.

Is it any wonder than these huge, very rich men become brutalised? The billions of dollars to be shelled out in compensation for concussive head trauma suffered by retired players bears witness to the elephants in the team room. In the corner of that room is a big bucket stuffed full of paper bearing the legend “Confidential documents - destroy”. One shudders to think what could be contained in there.

The size of the squads and sheer scale of the infrastructure involved in American football means it is the only sport where there is more money washing around than in the Premier League - even college teams have enormous stadiums, so the soul is infected at an early age, shaping the adult psyche. Of course you could say our footballers are no better, they are just smaller - they still treat women badly and are more than capable of losing touch with reality.

There’s a moment which could have taken place at any “soccer” training ground, when a few players are trying to catch a high denomination dollar bill as it is dropped through their hand. Wide receiver Roddy White (left) just can’t do it, which is strange because you’d think he would be good at catching things. But the symbolism of these guys letting money slip through their fingers is lost on the rather earnest narrator.

The flip side, naturally, is the all-American clean-cut high school hero of legend, and Jake Matthews is the Falcons’ golden boy. He’s not a quarter-back but a defensive tackle like his legendary father Bruce, and all the players and fans love him for his lineage and “perfect” ability. His Sister Marilyn asks if he wants to drop by and watch TV with her but he says: “Nah, I’m going home to lie on the couch and have mum scratch my back.” How quaint. Then he makes a mistake in a game and defence coach Brian Cox sends him away with these words probably literally ringing in his ears: “No sex, alright? See if you can go a whole year without it.” No wonder these guys have family issues. That would never work in the Premier League.

On the subject of dressing down, at one stage the head coach Mike Smith tells his players to take off  all their padding. This is greeted with incredulity and they really struggle to get the gear off. It’s almost as if they wear it all the time, perhaps as some kind of insulation from the reality of life on the outside. A fair few of them should be spending time inside.