The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," Shakespeare wrote. Four hundred years after the premiere of Henry VI, it's still a big laugh line, and not because audiences think the sentiment is ridiculous.
Think about what could happen if we took seriously the advice of the visionary character Dick the Butcher. Right off, we'd eliminate most of the political class in this country. Big plus there.
Overnight, we'd become an unlitigious society. We'd have no litigators. People would have to settle disputes the old-fashioned way. We'd soon grow tired of reliving the wild West and learn to work things out without lawyering each other to death.
We'd liberate a grateful society from a number of Type AAA personalities who ostentatiously crowd us ordinary folk off the roads and out of parking lots with their canary-yellow Hummers. Free from the need for deliberate obfuscation, our written communication would become clearer than a Montana trout stream. There'd be fewer people who dared to charge $300 an hour for their time. And, without the lawyers to protect them, the straggling big billers would be no match for the rest of us.
It wouldn't work, of course. We couldn't really kill all the lawyers. We'd inevitably miss some, and enough would be left to sue the pants off us. Had lawyers been around, they surely would have survived the Great Cretaceous Extinction, just like roaches did.
Deep down, most of us don't really want to kill the lawyers anyhow. We need them. We like filing lawsuits. Winning big in court has become our modern Horatio Alger story. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps through hard work is for naive immigrants. Once they've been here awhile, they'll see the real American way.
Still, in the spirit of Dick, I offer several sporting proposals that, while far more modest than lawyer-killing, could have even more salubrious effects.
First thing, I'd kill the dunk in college basketball. I'd edit it from the game for the same reason that Mark Twain advised writers to strike their freshly penned phrases that made them swell with pride; that with which you fall in love will enslave you.
The dunk is a wondrous thing. Without it, there'd have been no need for Michael Jordan to fly. Dr. J would have been just Julius Erving. SportsCenter would last only 12 minutes. But we've become dunk junkies. We have let the rest of the game atrophy.
Hitting a pull-up jumper with any regularityformerly an entry requirement for the NBAwill make you a star. Once he puts the ball on the floor, any player who can elevate heads for the rim (and, often, for a violent collision). Even if they could drain a 15-footer every time, there's no percentage in the jump shot. You don't make the highlight reel by hitting short jumpers. If I had a dollar for every instance last year when I saw players pass up open jump shots for contested, high-difficulty drives, I could buy a whole week of lawyer time. Much as we love what announcer Joe Dean used to call "the old stuffarino," the dunk needs to die. I'd trade a few "oohs" and "ahhs" per game for the many more "owwws" as I wince at another rim-clank or ugly charge.
Second thing, I'd kill the aluminum bat in college baseball. It doesn't just stink. It doinks. There is no crack of the bat in the college game anymore, only a hollow ping.
But aesthetics aren't the half of it. The aluminum bat is partly responsible for an overall decline in big-league pitching and some of the grossly inflated offensive stats of recent years. With their metal-forged Louisville Sluggers, college hitters can get jammed inside and still drive balls beyond the infield for base hits. So college hurlers learn to pitch away. When these pitchers enter the major and minor leagueswhere aluminum bats so far are bannedthey often find it difficult to unlearn the habits they developed in the college game.
Unfortunately, it's hard to succeed in the big leagues if you cede the inside part of the plate to hitters. It's no coincidence that the game's most successful pitchers over the past decade (think Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez) aren't afraid to challenge batters insideand plunk one now and again to make their point. Wooden bats in college translate into better big-league pitching, which means fewer hits, which means fewer pitching changes, which means shorter games, which means happier fans. What are we waiting for?
Third thing, I'd kill the 85-man scholarship rule in college football. I'd reimpose the limited-substitution rules that were staples of the game until the 1950s. Limited substitutions (resurrected quite nicely by the Arena League) would mean a return to single-platoon football. When possession of the ball changed, most of the players would stay. Offensive tackles would become defensive tackles. Fullbacks would be linebackers.
College athletics in general would be better served in a whole raft of ways. Behemoth linemen, for instance, would become rarer than integrity in Washington. Most would lack the stamina to haul 300 pounds up and down the field both ways. Smaller, more versatile players would rule, just as mammals succeeded the brachiosaur.
Without all the sumo-linemen, there would be fewer injuries. There almost certainly would be fewer ex-linemen whose joints eventually broke down from all the weight placed upon them. Perhaps fewer parents would hold back their sons for a year in grade school to make them bigger for football. With less need to bulk, perhaps fewer high schoolers would use dangerous steroids or other muscle-builders, like creatine, whose long-term risks are unknown.
With the need for fewer players, college football rosters could be trimmed to a still-generous 50 scholarships. That would alleviate the crunch that has led many universities to comply with Title IX by eliminating some men's sports while engorging their sacred cash cow.
Or, with fewer football scholarships, athletic departments that operate chronically in the red (that is to say, most all of them) could lay down their heavy burden. Just think what that could mean. Tennessee might gain enough money to be able to pay off three ex-basketball coaches simultaneously instead of only two. Vanderbilt could start paying fans to fill seats at Dudley Field. Auburn would have more salary cap room. Alabama could hire more hookers.
With fewer scholarships, there'd be more good players to go around. There'd be greater parity in college football. There'd be hope for Vandy and Duke and Indiana, instead of unrelieved misery.
Just to be clear: were Binion's Casino to give me odds on the proposition, I'd bet we could actually kill all the lawyers before we'd see a return to single-platoon football or dunkless basketball. I still have hope for wooden bats.