Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cranky Bear Asks America To End Its Football Addiction

[Editor's note: It has been a long while since I have received a missive from my friend Cranky Bear, who appears content to live the quiet life in his compound and to stay above the fray of world affairs.  Cranky has also been sneering at my more domesticated lifestyle, calling me "soft" and a "sell-out."  However, after such a long silence I have received a message in a small microfilm canister via carrier pigeon, and would like to share it with you.]

Hello folks, Cranky Bear here with a cup of strong coffee in my hand and an axe to grind.  Last week marked the beginning of football season, and the sport seems to be a bigger part of our culture with each passing year.  College football coaches are often the highest-paid public employees in their respective states, and even the least nerdy among us participate in fantasy football.  NFL games have become reliable TV ratings bonanzas, and the Super Bowl is the most watched event in a given year.

I do not see this as a good thing.

All sports work within a social context, and football's context has changed to an extent that it is a national bloodsport that embodies so much of what is wrong with American society.  In the first place, playing the game has been shown to cause catastrophic brain trauma and all kinds of ill effects stemming from it.  Other players lucky to have their brains intact end up unable to walk, and are at a higher risk for ALS.  New rules adopted by the NFL will likely only make a dent in the problem, and even under these rules fans and players complain that the game isn't being played the way it ought to be.  Fans want the big collisions, and defensive players want to make the hardest hits that they can.  It would be easy to dismiss these feelings and say that the game must be reformed.  However, I take them at face value as proof that the game can only be played "right" when it is dangerous, and is therefore incapable of reform.  We will all be better off if it just goes away.

In our tight economic times, football is also a major economic drag.  High schools pour money into practice fields and expensive equipment, money better spent on actually educating students.  Our universities are struggling and slashing departments left and right, but they still build new athletic complexes, luxury boxes in the stadium, and pay coaches millions of dollars.  Several cities have been held hostage by their NFL franchises and extorted money to build new stadiums where perfectly good ones already stood.  The NFL is a "non-profit" organization that makes $9.5 billion in revenue, pays its wretched commissioner tens of millions of dollars, but does not pay a single red cent of federal income taxes.

Speaking of Goodell and the NFL, football is run by the biggest pack of shysters and liars that you'll ever see.  The NFL denied the facts on concussion when they knew they were true, it held back on punishing Ray Rice for spousal abuse, and has fought to stiff players whose bodies were broken in the service of amassing wealth for the owners and their cronies in the league office.  The case of Ray Rice demonstrates a disturbing tendency by the powers in college and professional football to protect the perpetrators of violence and sexual assault.

The NCAA, which manages college football, is even worse than the NFL.  They still peddle the stinking lie that big-time football players are "student athletes" who shouldn't be paid, all while rolling in the dough that they generate.  Have you ever seen the type of colored blazer wearing philistine who regularly occupies positions on bowl committees, events that rake in dollars made by the unpaid workers on the field that the people are paying money to see?  These well-fed respectable men about town act as if those young athletes owe them a living.  College football is nothing more than a giant wage-theft racket dressed in the romantic garb of "tradition."

Even worse, football is a vehicle for militarist propaganda.  The NFL colluded with the military to turn Pat Tillman from a skeptical soldier killed by friendly fire into a super-warrior martyr to recruit more cannon fodder.  The NFL takes every opportunity to associate itself with the military and praise its every action.  There has probably never been a more effective use of propaganda since World War II than Whitney Houston's rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl during the Gulf War, complete with military jet flyover.  Football's very language and ethos self-consciously recalls war, from the "trenches" on the front "lines" to the "field general" behind center and on the sideline.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, it encourages the people of this country to be obedient to their military leaders and to keep from asking questions until the body bags have come home and reality has set in.

Last but not least, football as a sport isn't all that great.  It is a game suited for television and rather underwhelming in person, but on television there are more commercial breaks than interesting plays in a given game.  The NFL in particular has become a dry, technocratic exercise about as inspiring as an annual earnings report.  Give me basketball's free-flowing poetry, baseball's cerebral contemplation, or soccer's athletic beauty any day.  Fuck football and every inch of its turgid violence, you can have it.

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