Football’s death spiral?

Andrew O’Hehir:

If baseball is, or at least used to be, a languidly paced sport played on an asymmetrical greensward that recalls America’s agrarian past, football is an industrial product of the modern age. Confined to a precisely measured rectangle that mimics the electronic screen, football plays out in staccato bursts of violence, interrupted by commentary and meta-commentary, near-pornographic slow-motion replays and scantily clad young women selling you stuff. Though I’m not sure that the commercials during the Super Bowl, or any lesser football game, really have much to do with consumer products as such. Instead, they’re selling an idea, the idea of the sort of person you must be if you’re watching the game: Funny, alert, sexually alive, a bit self-mocking, surrounded by friends and endlessly loyal to football, to America and to television.

Also, you’re apparently the kind of person who enjoys watching men do irreversible damage to each other’s brains. A bit of a buzzkill, I know. Football these days looks a lot less like symbolic or theatrical violence and more like the real thing. This brutal collision sport, which is essentially unique to North America, is deadly to those who play it and toxic in other ways to those who worship it. It has poisoned many otherwise honorable American campuses with corruption and hypocrisy: If Jerry Sandusky using his association with the revered football program at Penn State as a cover for raping children is by far the worst example, abuses of a less dramatic sort are widespread in college football.

While the murder-suicide committed in December by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher certainly could have happened in another setting — such things are entirely too common in American life – it reminded us that the hyper-masculine culture of team sports has a vicious dark side that’s all too often inflicted on women. It also referred us back to that 1990s debate about the connection between spectator sports and domestic violence, which has not been anywhere near as conclusively debunked as football fans like to believe.

Let me put it bluntly: Would you want your daughter (sister, friend) going to a kegger thrown by the local football team? Didn’t think so. I wonder if the frequent concussions don’t have something to do with extreme lack of impulse control and aggression that often manifests in rape by athletes? Regardless of the reason, I’ve known enough female victims that I can’t see the culture as anything but toxic. Giving them your adulation only makes it worse.

I still remember working the copy desk the night Nicole Simpson was found murdered. As the updated wire stories came in, I turned to my managing editor and said, “It sounds like the cops think O.J. Simpson had something to do with it. We need to hold a spot on the front page.”

Joe, the former sports editor, got very agitated. “No, no, you don’t understand. This is O.J. Simpson! He won the Heisman trophy! I met him once, he’s a helluva nice guy!

I looked at him like he was crazy. Only a man could have that level of cognitive dissonance about an athlete, I thought to myself. “Okay, whatever,” I mumbled. And of course we all know the rest of the story.

6 Responses to Football’s death spiral?

  1. jawbone February 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    And George Carlin addressed this very well:

    Here, thanks to Baseball Almanac, is a transcript of this famous monologue.

    “Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
    Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.”

    I cannot resist smiling just thinking about this comedy/philosophy piece by Carlin.

  2. jawbone February 3, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    My brother and I were talking about the head injuries esp’ly, but all the major injuries caused by playing the “game” of football.

    It came up while discussing the Pro Bowl, which my brother referred to as the No Bowl, due to so many players being cautious as they didn’t want to get injured during a game without any “meaning.”

    And also the managers and owners sure didn’t want good players sidelined due to an injury during such a game. A “real game”? Sure, let them be injured if it helps to win, even play them injured if it’s a “must” win….

    I kind of laughed about how the “pro” part takes the “game” part out of the game of football. I asked how football could ever become a game safe for the players’ brains.

    My brother thought it would most likely begin to look somewhat like how the Pro Bowl is played–with significantly less physical mayhem, less fierce contact. Maybe more tactical plays.

    We didn’t see how to make it safer.

    I mentioned that the protective hard plastic helmets had, in some analysts’ opinions, made using the head as a battering ram “safer” for those who used their heads to batter opposing players. Our dad had played way back in the days of the leather helmet (which was pretty classy looking to me). With the leather helmets, the attacker would hurt just as much and maybe more than the object of a head butt type play.

    But, we really couldn’t figure out how having a safer form of the game would go over with fans.

    In a later chat, my brother felt soccer did not result in brain injuries — we didn’t get into that one very deeply as I was rushing to get packed and back to NJ.

  3. susie February 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Soccer is also dangerous.

  4. jawbone February 3, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    In slight defense of the sports editor’s reaction: I felt sorta the same when it was revealed that lance Armstrong had been doping to win all those races.

    When he finally made his confession to Oprah, I felt let down, that I’d been wrong to place faith in his statements, etc. When it was reported, my SIL just kind of sighed, “Oh no.” Just what I was feeling.

    I really identified with Armstrong, admiring his will power, ability to overcome cancer and go on to win big time. I believed that his rehad had led to a new way to cycle (supposedly using a higher gear and pedaling faster meant he kept more energy to finish strong, etc. or something like that).

    I was really disappointed, even tho’ I realized there might well be something behind all the insider allegations against him.


    Anyway, I wonder if his doping affected his relationship with both his wife and then with Sheryl Crow…. I just googled and found this report (from the gossip section):

  5. Marsha February 3, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    Just last week I told my son…at the risk of being thought an extremist…that I believe the violence and obsession with football is part of what’s driving guns, and killings and the love affair with drones,etc. We’re #1….wasn’t that a football thing years ago? I feel as if Sundays are like watching the masses in the Roman games…..thumbs up or thumbs down. Sickening!

  6. Allie February 4, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    Football deserves to die from the pro level on down. I used to give college-level sports a pass but no more. The entire business is corrupt and fosters a patriarchal sense of entitlement; a rape-culture mentality. It sickens me.

    And aren’t a huge number of pro players actually felons? And don’t get me started about Michael Vick…

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