Monday, August 26, 2013

The FINAL word on football

As some of you may have noticed, yours truly hasn't said much about football since the Steelers' exit from the 2011 playoffs. No, it wasn't the sting of defeat that's kept me silent. It's the conscience thing.

Unless I'm severely misjudging our readership's intelligence, I think you all know what's up. The NFL, the NCAA, the football peoples... they got problems that common sense cannot ignore. I'm talking about the extreme violence being performed on human bodies for the enrichment of already rich, white dudes and the merriment of compassion-exempt fans.

You've probably heard all about the concussions; paralysis and death are also pretty serious things, so let's not limit ourselves to long-term brain trauma when considering the violence. Now if you think of yourself as even the least bit moral and well-informed, you need to skim this profile of former player George Visger before watching another game. For me, that was the final word so far as the violence is concerned.

As for the system of exploitation, the final word on that is penned by civil rights historian Taylor Branch, in his 2011 piece, 'The Shame of College Sports.' Again, if you care about this world and its people, you will read this article before blindly supporting a sport that needs you more than you actually need it. I'll give you a teaser/spoiler here: Branch breaks down the history of the NCAA and the "scholar athlete" concept; its design is not to celebrate a well rounded individual, but instead to create a legal status, whereby the universities are not liable for bodily harm done to the 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds who make them their money.

"But FRANCO! What does this have to do with you not coming out to Stillers games anymore!?"

Patience, snowflakes. I'm getting there.

I began watching football in 2005. The Bus went to Detroit, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, double yoi!, etc. Hosting football-watching parties became ritualistic, with superstitions and ceremony deepening over the following years. I love my football-watching crew, and no doubt we're an even tighter lot because of the awesome times we had together, gathered around someone's TV. I do not regret the past, nor should any of you.

But let's observe what was going on.

Maybe it's just me, but I noticed an increase in aggression when watching these games. For example, I might yell "KILL HIM!" or something to that effect at a player. And what would happen next is someone on my team would actually beat the shit out of the guy I was talking about.

...And I'd be satisfied. 

That's aggressive, violent stuff, folks. It's not a little deal. Sure, you could say that I didn't actually mean for one person to murder another; and you can argue that they're all paid athletes, wearing protective gear, etc. But the fact of the matter is this: someone got clocked, and I parted with my empathy for that human being. Not because I'm a sociopath, but because the spectator/fan experience is designed for this. Fans are momentarily exempt from compassion for other humans, yet lauded for loyalty to brand.

I know this is some serious buzz kill stuff, but you can't deny that it's true.

Look here: boys as young as 8, 9, 10 years old are suiting up in pads to play Peewee ball right now. They will spend the next few years wailing on each other on the field. Some of them will make it to college doing this. There, they will inflict violence on themselves at a far more extreme pace. Some will get injured in immediate and permanent ways; others will suffer slow, long-term debilitation. None will be insured by the colleges which make billions of dollars broadcasting their games. Then comes the pros. A small fraction of these kids grow up to be the "lucky ones," who get to suffer through several more years of routine trauma. This is where I'm going to point out the nature of NFL contracts: unlike in baseball, NFL players sign for non-guaranteed money. And while a big star might get injured, cut and lose $20 million of his $30 million contract, some special teams guy might get injured, cut and lose it all. There are stars and scrubs, for sure; but the brutality of injuries doesn't discriminate among them. 

Before I propose a course of action, I'm going to offer this two-part prebuttal to the inevitable "but-they're-paid-athletes-who-are-fully-aware-of-what-they're-doing-and-this-is-their-choice" argument.

Here's part one of my prebuttal: go watch some MMA, you lizard-brained piece of trash.

And here's part two: yeah, a lot of those guys are paid athletes, but go re-read that Taylor Branch piece; these guys had to put in years of unpaid servitude in the NFL's feeder league. For every compensated athlete, how many dozens of washed up, broken bodies are there that never made it pro? It's a system of violent exploitation far more than it is one of just compensation.

Okay, so what do I recommend we do? Simple. We boycott this sport in thought, word and deed.

It isn't enough to complain. Complaining is traffic. Editorializing is about ego, it's about hits, it's about piggy backing the source. Enough of that. I'm proposing radio silence. I don't need to read about the NFL and ESPN being corrupt from Deadspin. I don't need to write about it here on Free Tank Carter, and I'm hoping my fellows agree. There is simply nothing to be gained from nitpicking or mocking or in anyway engaging. 

We run on silent, and we write about baseball or politics or Pittsburgh or movies or what's goddamn good about being alive. We know those topics well enough. We're not hurting for inspiration.

And we're not hurting for things to do on Sunday afternoons, either. I don't know about you, but I'm proud to be a progressive, intelligent person with hobbies and the ability to read books. Call me up for a board game or a movie night. That's what I propose as an alternative to this cult of savagery.


Rocco said...

The Injured Reserve rules also lead to more players playing injured and having long term physical degeneration. It is an all or nothing situation so players and coaches hesitate to give players the time they need to truly heal because they cannot bring a guy back. They then feel the need to rush players because a roster spot is being occupied. The new PUP rule helps a little, but all of the rules in the new NFL CBA are detrimental to player safety and health.

Marty said...

So, essentially, your argument boils down to the idea that, because the majority of would-be NFL players toil for years in a brutal sport and don't achieve their NFL aspirations, their choice to do so is invalid? Just because they didn't achieve their dream and aren't getting paid doesn't mean they didn't make a rational decision with an understanding of the potential consequences.

"Fans are momentarily exempt from compassion for other humans"

Exempt how? There is some requirement for compassion that exists elsewhere, but not in football? What is the penalty for not being compassionate for, say, someone you saw get hit by a car?

There is no exemption aside from the one you give yourself. But I guess if you want to blame the sport for what your reaction to what occurs on the field, that's your prerogative. Why should you admit agency in your own actions?

"I parted with my empathy for that human being. Not because I'm a sociopath, but because the spectator/fan experience is designed for this."

Right. You only acted that way because the NFL made you act that way.

I am not defending the NFL. I'm ridiculing you, because you act as though you had no part in your behavior. You blame the league and the sport for your lack of empathy, but the NFL is a business, and like all other businesses, it manufactures supply to meet demand.

The NFL might lie as much as the tobacco companies about what they are selling, but we're about 120 years past the point where anyone should have any illusions about what it is they're buying, as this 1894 article clearly illustrates.

FRANCOfranco said...

I'm with you, Marty, and I think you got it right: I'm the one to blame for allowing myself to watch football. That's why I'm not allowing myself to do it anymore.

Keep up the good work!

atarnow said...