While we’re kvetching about football…I wrote a column for the previous-to-current Free Inquiry about my dislike of the sport and its cult. (US football this is, not association football aka soccer.)
What’s so annoying about it is the crackpot assumption that everyone is wildly excited about football when after all sport is only one branch of human activity, and football is only one branch of sport. I, for one, like the other football, a.k.a. soccer, and then there is lacrosse, jai alai, bowls, darts, bocce. . . . There are many sports, and I dislike the assumption that in America we’re all supposed to share the enthusiasm for American football. I dislike the social bullying aspect of it, just as I dislike the social bullying of public religiosity or nationalism or mass mourning when a movie star dies suddenly.
If that were all, though, it would just be one among my rich assortment of peeves. But it’s not all. Football is not treated as just an enthusiasm or an entertainment. It’s taken very seriously, as a shaper of character and a source of values: not just workplace skills like discipline and teamwork, but Character. This is assumed more than argued for, in much the same way it’s assumed that religion is a key source of values and character. But what reason is there to think that football fosters good character?
Then I say a lot about what reason there is to think that it does the opposite. I say a lot about it, but I could have said more. I focused on Ray Rice and on Jerry Sandusky and Steubenville and other examples of football’s rape culture. Then I point out a pattern.
Football isn’t alone in showing this pattern. Many institutions have chronic long-running problems of sexual abuse that is concealed or dismissed—the Catholic Church, the military, universities. They all deal with it in-house instead of via law enforcement, and they are all now dealing with exposure of the festering results. Institutions have power and status, and important people within institutions have power and status. Both institutions, and the people within them, use that power and status to protect themselves at the expense of underlings and outsiders.
I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked by any of this. It’s all obvious and predictable enough:of course high status tends to confer immunity from the social pressure and sanctions that keep the rest of us in line. Of course people who have high status exploit that fact. Of course humans have always thought that important people should have extra freedom of action, so that they can exercise their importance. Homer starts The Iliad with aristocrats behaving badly, and not much has changed. We set up institutions to try to organize and channel some of these forces, but then the institutions themselves develop some of the arrogance and refusal to be accountable that the top people have always had. Football and the cult that surrounds it are an unpleasantly strong example of the process.
Given all that, and more—such as the concussion issue and the NFL’s attempts to minimize and deny it—I refuse to treat football as any kind of sacred cow. I hope the Seattle Seahawks lose every game and all the “12” flags disappear.
I look forward to your letters.
The last line should be read in the voice of Craig Ferguson.