The NFL is a national tragedy. It is cockfighting with humans.
We in New England have the almost inarguably best quarterback in history and, also almost inarguably, one of the best coaches in history playing together. They’ve proven it to be true over and over again in increasingly remarkable and dramatic victories. I have enjoyed and appreciated every bit of their artistry. Is there any reason to say we shouldn’t celebrate that ?
Football is great competition (which I love) and a magnificent symphony of athletic behavior.
But if the percussion lines of that symphony were knocked out on the skulls of broken players; and its conductor were under the thumb of a group of cowardly sniveling opportunists afraid to stand up to narcissistic sociopaths. What more would we need to make this abhorrent and reprehensible?
Last year on Superbowl Sunday there was a gut wrenching article by Emily Kelley in the New York Times titled “I’m the Wife of a Former N.F.L. Player. Football Destroyed His Mind.”
She wrote about her then 44-year-old husband, Rob Kelly: “He was losing touch with reality and was getting more and more paranoid. The first time he accused me of stealing loose change from his nightstand I was speechless. And when I told him how illogical it would be for me to do such a thing, he looked at me with even more suspicion. But his paranoia didn’t end there. It would leave me with a heaviness in my chest that made me sob without warning.”
But not all players get the same press as Kelly; there are thousands of untold stories about less glamorous, successful, or famous players. We’ll never hear about them as they live out their lives in quiet but desperate tragedies. These guys are literally out there killing themselves.
There are also many, many people who’ve played the game and loved it’s character and team building aspects, and have never shown any ill effects from having participating. Add to that, there is an athletic elegance to the sport that reveals itself at every level – from Pop Warner to the pros – and transcends the sport (think Tennessee Williams, and “ those long long, high high passes that that couldn’t be intercepted except by time”). There’s a reason the sport also inspired great stories like “The Blind Side” and “Remember The Titans.”
Let’s also talk about the owners. In the summer of 2016, then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to protest police brutality and racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem before games. This was a thoughtful protest: it was a knee and not a seat for a reason; and his statement about his actions were direct and succinct.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told the NFL after the game.
That led to Trump’s response, several months later: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,” the president said to a cheering crowd. “Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!”
Is any of Trump’s response about race? Does it enable and embolden people who’d like it to be about race? Would any of the owners stand up to Trump and say, “In my country, we cherish the rights of our citizens first, because we and they all own the flag?”
Are any owners even bold enough to even consider Kaepernick, who today remains unsigned?
When you add it all up – how much of this do you want to support? It is hard, of course, to give up the great athletic moments. It is also hard to walk against the crowd – and decline the great cultural celebration that is the Superbowl (even if it is one that’s largely manufactured).
Here’s one vote: I’ll be at the movies. I hope to see you there.