Edward Southerland: Plowing the south 40
By Edward Southerland
May 5, 2017
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Spring is here, and with it robins and flowers and tractor pulls. The robins are real, the flowers are real, but the tractor, not so much. Actually, the word tractor is a misnomer, as there was little resemblance between the fire belching monsters in these events and Farmer Bob’s trusty old John Deere. This is a good example of how a sport or contest for ordinary folks gets corrupted by specialization.

Doubtless the first pulls started when one farmer bragged to his neighbor about the pulling power of his horses, mules, or oxen. The neighbor leaped to the defense of his own animals, and a friendly contest was arranged to settle the argument. When the draft animals gave way to tractors the contests went the same way, and since it is easier to juice up horsepower than a horse, the competitors started looking for the edge. What had started as a competition growing from useful work became a contest of specialists.

I propose a new rule for tractor pulls. Before you get to the pulling, you’ve got to take your equipment out to a field and plow a few acres. Neatness counts, and if your efforts don’t pass muster by a team of 4-H judges, you’re done for the day.

This idea could be applied to other activities that have drifted away from their original purpose—like NASCAR. The important part of that outfit’s name used to be “stock car.” Why not go back to the roots like this? On the morning of the race, give each driver some money and send him off to a local car dealer to buy a ride. If they’d do that, we’d really see what happens when the rubber meets the road.

Then there’s golf. Golf started in Scotland with folks knocking a rock around a pasture with a limb off a tree. The modern golf course is more manicured than a blue ribbon pooch at a dog show, and the club makers’ research and development budgets make the pentagon look like pikers. Why not give the links lads and lassies some hickory shafted mashie niblicks, and let them have at it?

And while we’re at it, let’s bring back the stymie. Under the old rules, if an opponent’s ball lay between your ball and the hole you had to go around or over it—no marking and clearing the path. In the rediscovered instructional film series made by Bobby Jones in the early 1930s, he demonstrates how to putt with a lofted iron so the ball hops over the obstruction and into the hole.

Would basketball be a better game if the dunk were banned and the three pointer eliminated, if the game went back to being one of teamwork rather than self-indulgence? Probably.

Football might be more fun and more competitive without unlimited substitution and behemoths whose job is to rush the passer from the right side on third down when the ball is between the 25 and the 30. As for baseball, it’s a well know true fact (Dr. Murney. Das Tru Facten Wel Knowen. Berlin; 1923), that the designated hitter and the aluminum bat are motes in the eye of the all mighty.

Still, there is one sport that has remained true to its origins, steadfastly marching through the years in an undeviating path, refusing all entreaties to change. Yes, Virginia, professional wrestling is just as phony as it ever was. Thank goodness for small favors.