Many Americans will be are glued to the television today (12.7.16) watching The Super Bowl; football; but many will do so over rising moral objections about the violence.
Pro football is a game of intricate strategies, the movement of the chess pieces, the tactical maneuvers, the athleticism of gazelle-like wide receivers, the brilliance of the quarterback who works in balletic tandem with them, and who in a millisecond calculated wind speed, route patterns, defensive alignments, and probability.
It is also a game of brute force, the elemental power of vicious competition, blood lust fired by hopes of glory and reward and fueled by a pure essence of male testosterone flowing through perfect killing machines; a gladiatorial battle of these perfectly-sculpted, genetically ideal, uninhibited human specimens of will, destruction, and mayhem.
Some of us may turn our heads away from the gratuitous violence, the head-snapping high tackles, and coordinated phalanx rush of defensive linemen who displace thousands of pounds of massive human force to crush the quarterback, to crumple him with crushing hits from the front and from behind, twisting his frame into contorted agony, throwing him to the ground in triumph; but few of the rest of us do. Yes, the game is a complex three-dimensional, dynamic chess match; a battle of intellect and will; a show of self-control, patience, and tactical restraint; but it is first and foremost a killer sport designed to inflict pain, suffering, and injury. We don’t just want to see our opponent beaten, we want to see him subjugated, humiliated, bloodied, and cowed.
This is why concussions worry the NFL, ESPN, and CBS/FOX – they may turn football into a wussy game of touch. This year the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has gone on the offensive saying, despite increasing forensic evidence, that the game is safe and getting safer. The League has instituted new rules and regulations that are designed to reduce risk, and its new protocol ensures that any player suspected of a concussion is quickly examined for any signs of disability and is required to leave the game if any are found. Because concussions are for more common than the NFL has been willing to admit, more and more players - many of them star performers - are being pulled off the field.
Great rivalries without star performers, however, are neutered affairs, amateur pick-up games that have interest for only the most collegial of fans. When quarterbacks go down – as they have, will, and must because of the rules of mayhem which permit bashing, pummeling, and throttling – the game is no longer the same. Second- and third-string quarterbacks send wounded ducks wobbling over the heads of receivers, make air-handoffs, collide with their own trailing backs, get pushed back to their own goal line because of delay-of-game penalties.
That eventuality, as bad as it is for the NFL is not what worries them most. It is the removal of the very essence of pro football – the untamed violence, the hurt, and the blood – which gives them the shakes up in the sky boxes. The NFL, the media, product advertisers, the team owners, and the thousands of stadium contractors, paraphernalia marketers are all in cahoots. They know that the bloody, brutal, violent game of professional football is exactly what the fans want.
What should be done about concussions; and more importantly, should anything be done at all? The country is divided. Some believe that the concern over concussions has gotten way out of hand. Anyone who plays professional football knows exactly what he is getting into. He knows that it is very probable that he will suffer at least one serious injury before he hangs it up. He, like the boxer who steps into the ring, knows that the game he has chosen to play is one based on violence, physical aggression, and controlled brutality. Getting injured is a professional risk, and well worth it.
Every single quarterback, receiver, offensive lineman, or defensive back has gotten turned around at some point in his long career from Pop Warner through high school and in college. They have had the experience of getting up from the turf, picking bits of mud and grass from their teeth, and being not quite sure what they were doing on the soggy, leaden field. Or spent hours in the whirlpool soothing aching joints and muscles. Scores of athletes have told their tales of not being able to move out of bed without Percocet, and not being able to move until ankles and knees have been trussed and strapped.
These athletes have understood the risk of professional football for decades, and they still knowingly accept it given the promise of big salaries, endorsements, and fame. They are intelligent, savvy individuals who know how to assess risk and to calculate cost-benefit. Who doubts that most Division A elite college players, many of whom come from poor, dysfunctional families, and for whom football is not only a meal ticket but passage to the Elysium Fields of endless bling and hot women, would still play? No one.
Other observers believe that nothing short of a fundamental restructuring of the game will do. Why can't football be played in a way that still relies on balletic grace, intelligence, strategy, and precise timing but without the maiming contact? Imagine a game with all the complex alignments, shifts, and movement of the current game - a game where supremely talented and trained athletes jump, accelerate, feint, and block but without the physical savagery.
While this might in theory be possible, it misses the point. Americans love professional football because of its ferocity, danger, and risk of injury or death. Who would go to a NASCAR race with Interstate speeds and Prius acceleration would last? Who would go to an NHL hockey game without the bone-jarring, concussive checks to the boards and the fights? Who would watch a prizefight if blows to the head were not permitted? No one.
For better or worse, America is indeed the violent society that critics have observed. From the Wild West to the inner city, shoot-outs settle disputes. We are an aggressive, ambitious, individualistic society which has never been shy or apologetic about using force. Our adventurous foreign policy is not a political aberration. It is who we are.
It is perhaps unfair to pick on the United States. The Middle East has recently erupted in a conflict as bloody, no-holds-barred, and violent as America could have ever concocted. Wars, civil conflict, religious and ethnic dispute, and family feuds are as old as the human race. Violence is as much a part of human nature as intelligence or creativity.
Politics is never far from any social issue in the United States, and American progressives have made more of the concussion issue than just player safety. “A legalized meat market”, social reformers shout. “The NFL is a latter-day slave plantation with the black man under the lash of overseers and nothing more than the chattel of wealthy, aristocratic owners”. To condone such anti-‘progressive’, licensed brutality when they are trying to promote civil harmony, international peace, and an end to history is simply unthinkable.
Frank Bruni writing in the New York Times in 2012 takes this ‘progressive’ sensitivity a step further. Not only is professional football a supremely violent sport which maims players for life, it is rife with anti-social behavior:
There’s something rotten in the N.F.L., an obviously dysfunctional culture that either brings out sad, destructive behavior in its fearsome gladiators or fails to protect them and those around them from it. And while it’s too soon to say whether Belcher [recent murder/suicide] himself was a victim of that culture, it’s worth noting that the known facts and emerging details of his story echo themes all too familiar in pro football over recent years: domestic violence, substance abuse, erratic behavior, gun possession, bullets fired, suicide.This is a very disingenuous observation. Of course there will be domestic violence, substance abuse, erratic behavior, gun possession, and bullets fired in professional football since they are common in the communities from which players come. No one in the NFL uses social workers to take family histories of players. Scouts are only interested in speed, strength, desire, will, physical ability, and ambition. They shy away from the least socialized of applicants – those who simply cannot restrain their destructive, antisocial behavior and who would be liabilities in a team sport – but tacitly agree that fighting your way up through the ghetto is one good indicator of will and drive.
In one of the most racist statements ever, the Deans of Harvard and Yale Law Schools wrote that they were specifically looking for black students because the struggles that black people have had to endure are so arduous and heroic that they are: a) stronger because of their constant fight and survival in a racist world and b) true Americans because they have never wavered in their quest for equality and excellence.
If Harvard and Yale subscribe to this claptrap, then without a doubt so does the NFL. They are willing to take whatever the inner-city hands them provided they can perform on the field. NFL owners like everyone else in market-driven America buy success. They are not running rehab clinics, domestic violence counseling programs, or religious revivals. A certain degree of antisocial behavior comes with the territory. Bruni goes on:
The Union-Tribune maintains a database of N.F.L. players arrested since 2000. The list is long, and the league is lousy with criminal activity so varied it defies belief. The quarterback Michael Vick of course staged inhumane dog fights; the wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg with a gun he’d toted illegally into a nightclub; the wide receiver Dez Bryant was accused of assaulting his own mother.What else is new? One only need look at the NBA which draws from the same social pool as the NFL for similar statistics.
Bruni ends his article with a mea culpa:
And we fans must demand it. On Monday morning, what didn’t feel right wasn’t just my neck, but also my conscience.He is absolutely right. We fans are complicit in the mayhem. If we didn’t revel in the mayhem, maiming, and brutality, there would be no NFL or ESPN. Sunday afternoons would feature soccer, golf, tennis, and figure skating. Take the thunder and lightning out of professional football, and no one will watch.