Punch-Outs At The Dawn Of Humanity

The male human face evolved to be able to take a punch.  That’s the intriguing conclusion of a recent scientific study — one that raises some curious additional questions.

The study examined how facial bones respond to impacts and determined which bones are most likely to be fractured in a fistfight.  It then looked at the bone structures in the skulls of our distant ancestors and saw that the same bones were the ones that showed the most development in terms of sturdiness and thickness.  Those also are the bones where there is the greatest difference between the male and female skulls.  The scientists then put two and two together and concluded that natural selection was at work and was preferring the male proto-humans that could best absorb a right cross to the chops.

This theory, if correct, tells us a lot about early humans.  First, under Darwinian theory natural selection operates in response to prevalent conditions, not the occasional unusual circumstance.  That suggests that early human males were brawling constantly, rather than having a dust-up once in a while.  Instead of the human apes using an animal bone while Also Sprach Zarathustra welled in the background in the opening scene of 2001:  A Space Odyssey, think of them squaring off and trading left uppercuts, like participants in a melee during a professional wrestling match or British soccer hooligans.

Second, evolution works only if the trait being selected against doesn’t continue in the genetic pool.  This means that our brittle-skulled ancestors didn’t just shake off a knockout blow and go home to procreate with the missus — they were killed outright.  Whether they were beaten until their skulls cracked like eggshells or just knocked out and left to be devoured by sabertoothed tigers (or hungry members of other tribes), they were cut off from further contributing to the human evolutionary tree.  We flabby modern humans survived to sit in front of our computer screens because our male forebears were tough, thick-skulled, strong-jawed types who didn’t go down at the first blow.

Science is interesting.

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Testosterone Time

On Sunday, as Russell and I watched the Browns first soar then sickeningly crash and burn, I was reminded again of how many men can be, well, assholes.

Detroit is only a few hours away from Cleveland, and there were a lot of Detroit fans at the game.  Many of them came by bus, decked out in their jerseys and headpieces and other Lions finery.  In the municipal lot, where the buses park, there was some good-natured ribbing between the fans, and Browns and Detroit supporters posed for friendly pictures.

IMG_5088But then, a few beers later, the game started, and for some fans the good-natured veneer boiled away.  Some Detroit fans were seated in the row behind us, and the men among them started to get into it with the Browns fans below.  When the Lions grabbed an early lead, the Detroit fans started taunting about the game and the Indians, then when Cleveland grabbed the lead Browns fans responded with insults and celebratory dances calculated to provoke — which they did.  By the time more beers had gone down and the game started to go south for the Browns in the second half, one-finger salutes were exchanged, fists were shaken, and the escalating situation seemed one swing away from a melee.

I looked at the men involved.  Each of them was with his wife, and the women were cringing with embarrassment at their middle-aged husbands acting like stupid adolescents.  No doubt they also worried that they might be trapped in a brawl and then have to worry about their spouse being arrested or injured.  I felt sorry for the women — and also felt sorry for the rest of us who had to witness the absurd, testosterone-laden tableau.  Fortunately for everyone in the vicinity, the situation was defused when the principal Browns fans involved meekly stumbled down the stadium stairs after a bonehead play by Brandon Weeden put the game out of reach.

I was glad no fighting occurred, but I found myself wondering:  do those guys, Lions and Browns fans alike, have any perception of how imbecilic they look?  When they wake up the next morning with a hangover, do they burn with shame at their behavior and apologize to their long-suffering wives?  Or is self-awareness and contrition simply inconsistent with acting like a complete jerk?

When Rivalries Get Ugly

The San Francisco 49ers played the Oakland Raiders last night.  Although the two towns are separated only by the San Francisco Bay, they are fierce rivals.

Last night’s game was marked by significant violence.  Two guys were shot, and another guy was seriously beaten in a stadium bathroom.  The story on the violence also features a video of a slugfest in the stands between two big guys who probably had too much to drink and were mouthing off until things got physical.

I’ve been to Browns games where violence seemed to lurk just below the surface, and it is a scary scenario.  After all, when you go to a professional football game you are sitting with tens of thousands of strangers, many of whom have been drinking steadily as they have enjoyed the on the field violence.  It makes for a volatile situation.  It doesn’t take much to move things from taunting to brawling, and once a brawl breaks out it can spread easily.  And then, suddenly, you go from an orderly scene, where you are sitting with other fans watching a sports event, to a melee where the guy sitting next to you could decide he wants to punch you out because he doesn’t like your t-shirt or can’t figure out any other way to deal with the testosterone rush.

I’m convinced that the vast majority of sports fan fights are alcohol-related.  Sports teams could cut back on the fighting if they cut back on the beer service — but they don’t because that would cut back on the profits, too.