We Are Always Ready for Some Football

The play on the field on Monday night dulled the dark story lines that dominated the off-season

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Patrick Smith / Getty Images

There is the NFL, and then there is football. The NFL is the big business where transparently unqualified doctors are appointed to head vital commissions on brain injuries, where the commissioner shakes down journalists’ bosses at midtown lunches, where rich white men decide they know what’s fairest for American Indians — when they’re not too busy deciding they know what’s fairest for the environment. This is what we discuss and scorn from February to September. But we love football, the beautiful, cerebral, violent game that started play at its highest level on Thursday, to run through February. When football’s really whirring, we agree to overlook much of what’s so ugly about the NFL.

ESPN usually struggles covering the NFL. The Frontline debacle is only the most recent example. ESPN relies on the league for so much of its business and attention — Monday Night Football is its signature franchise. So the network gives lots of screen time to the football reporters offering valuable tidbits about forthcoming injury reports, and not so much to those asking about the league’s harassment of organized labor or wondering how much barbarism young men with nonguaranteed contracts really deserve to face. (I presume these people exist at ESPN, though one rarely sees them.) And its cheerleading analysts make the foot-soldier reporter types seem truly subversive by comparison.

Speaking of cheerleading analysts: Monday Night Football aired tonight. The Redskins and Eagles. A big game, especially for those of us fixated on the NFL’s darker story lines. There’s the abject team name in Washington, which this summer faced truly unrelenting scrutiny for the first time. A couple of high-profile media outlets (Slate, SI.com’s MMQB) have vowed not to use the name; frequent Skins antagonist Dave McKenna hasn’t, as far as I know, but he has produced a truly hilarious and withering critique of the team’s campaign to defend it. There’s also the right knee of poor Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, which had to undergo its second reconstructive surgery (he’s only 23) after Mike Shanahan tasked him with playing on a sloppy field in the first round of the playoffs, over a doctor’s orders. For good measure, the other sideline featured Riley Cooper, the wide receiver who used a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert, just in case the ESPN booth felt itself inclined toward discursiveness on the ravages of jock culture. I worried about how Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico would handle all of this.

But then came new Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s offense (and an ultimately thrilling game). Kelly had wowed all kinds of football dorks with his whizzing, attacking offense in his years coaching the Oregon Ducks. But some worried that the NFL — and its stiffer competition — might neuter it. Yeah, right. He ran 18 plays in the first 5 min. 45 sec. The Eagles had 320 yards by halftime. What a show. Twenty-five of those yards, and six of the Eagles’ points, came on a touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson, the temperamental wideout. The play was one Kelly never ran at Oregon, a deep pass where the fullback motioned across the formation. It worked perfectly; Jackson found himself alone in the end zone. Gruden illustrated it for the audience, whooping and hollering like a proud father. He soon explained why: “Chip Kelly came down to my office, and he says, ‘Hey, what’s that play the Saints run — they bring a fullback across, they fake the ball over here, and they run a post with a deep cross?’ I said, ‘Eh, I think it’s 97 Fist.’ He says, ‘Let’s put that in.'” Yes, ESPN’s hopelessly in bed with the NFL. But it might just be the best place for football too.


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As someone who is to football as the typical cat is to water, I'm still focused on the human cost of this form of "entertainment".

When watching it's easy to objectify the players as little more than self-propelled chess pieces on the playing field of the game.  But if you don't give two damns about the game and concern yourself with its impact on the players, and on society as a whole which undeservedly elevates these athletes to "hero" status often based on little more than media hype, it's easy to forget that they actually do anything for a living beyond being the equivalent of highly paid slapstick stuntmen.

Humanity already has enough contrived reasons to divide ourselves without adding "football games" to the mix.  But before the end of the year, someone will kill or injure someone else (likely several hundred people here) all because of a GAME.  Someone (or several someones) won't be alive at the preseason next year because someone else took this nonsense way too seriously.  If people were smart, they could enjoy the spectacle without it becoming a dominating force in their lives.  But as the gladiatorial games proved, humans want blood in their blood sports.  Football is an analogue for war.  Players die in that analogue.  People die because they rooted for the "wrong side".

In that light, it all seems rather pointless.  And since my life hasn't been made any better or worse by its complete lack, I don't see the point to it at all other than to make already rich men even more wealthy.  In that respect, as an analogy for the "American dream", it serves as the perfect example of how life in the United States (and by example, in all other countries) actually works.  We live and die at the pleasure of the wealthy who only want more and more.  And we aid and abet this ambition with open arms.

The human race is a majority of fools led by the most foolish of us.  I often wonder what would happen if most of us woke up from the slumber of self-induced obliviousness to the situation and took a stand against our all too-eager willingness to be exploited so egregiously.

Sadly, I think nothing at all will happen and life will continue its downward spiral toward nothingness.  Humanity is a failed experiment in evolution and the only mercy we can expect from nature is the extinction of our species so that a more worthy one can arise to replace us.  I fully expect that we, ourselves, will fulfill nature's role in that outcome.

Football is a metaphor...  It destroys its adherents to the tangible benefit of a very, very few.  And its existence proves mankind will not long survive.

That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.  Don't count me among those who give a damn about it.


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