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We need to talk about football

We need to talk about football

The approach of autumn in the United States is usually marked by the joyous frenzy of football’s onset once again.

But this year, football’s beginning was overshadowed by a horrific videotape of Ray Rice attacking his then-fiancée, followed by the arrest of Adrian Peterson for alleged child abuse, then the arrest of Jonathan Dwyer of the Cardinals for domestic violence as well.


While it’s lingered in the background for a number of years now, never has the conversation about domestic violence and football been more prominent than this year, with the league commissioner under heavy fire for how he has handled these cases.

Professional football is the most profitable sport in the US, making $9.5 billion dollars a year. But what is it we are supporting with our money,exactly? Is football the fairytale we’ve always made it out to be? The questions are now coming, fast and hard.

In Salon.com, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes:

It’s hard to see the sublime transformation of a truly meritocratic enterprise at work when vulnerable kids are being used like employees with fewer regulations regarding their health. It looks, rather, like the pageantry of capitalism at work: the veneer of mobility circling a core of exploitation that leaves black kids and poor kids at special risk for getting used up and tossed aside. That’s life, you might say, and it is, but what other form of exploitation earns such ardent theological esteem?:

She points to the theological view often voiced by coaches and others that your body is temporary–your soul and your character is what matters. And if you need to risk your body to build your soul by helping your team, then so much the better.

The Rev. David Kendrick, in Springfield, MO, also ponders whether as faithful Christians, we do not align ourselves more with the Romans when we watch football.

I’ve always accepted that violence, so long as it was controlled. But that is exactly the point I’m afraid we may have reached with American football. Close to home, a young man is dead at 25, having played high school and college football. And he already was suffering from the dreaded CTE. At this point, the evidence seems clear to me that the prolonged period of violent collision inherent in the game greatly increases the chances of its players literally losing their minds in the years after they retire, when none of us are looking.

And the scandalous abuse cases in the NFL have exposed the fact that the rate of domestic abuse among NFL players is disturbingly high. Does the infliction of violence on the field of play make the infliction of violence off the field more likely? And given what we now know about the probable long term effects of the game, can we really distinguish between our cheering on of footballers and the Romans cheering on of the gladiators?

Meanwhile, over in Grantland, Louisa Thomas wonders if football isn’t just inextricably intertwined with violence.

There are 1,696 active players in the NFL. Even if, as FiveThirtyEight’s Benjamin Morris found, NFL players are arrested on domestic assault charges at rates that are, relative to income level, “downright extraordinary,” very few of them will ever beat women. Most of them are good guys trying to do a job. Still, the job they do is part of a culture of aggression. Football is a pantomime of war, down to the pseudo-military tactics. But it is not a pantomime of violence. It is actual violence.

I’m not just talking about the injuries that players inflict on each other — the torn ligaments and compound fractures, or the smaller, persistent injuries that lead to chronic pain and pill addictions and make it hard for them just to sit on the floor and play with their kids. I’m not even talking about their head injuries, the repeated blows that are slowly deforming their brains, or the fact that even if no one dies, that doesn’t mean that death isn’t hastened. (Even the league is now admitting that one in three former players will have cognitive problems at “notably younger ages” than the average population. One symptom of CTE happens to be increased aggression.) The real problem is that infliction of pain is romanticized and ritualized. Hitting is the point. Inflicting injury is nominally avoided — but hurting the other team helps. “It’s a bully division,” Arizona’s general manager, Steve Keim, told Grantland’s Robert Mays earlier this year, “so we had to add our number of bullies to our defense.” He meant that as a good thing.

(You can read the whole Grantland piece here, and it is brilliant.)

How have you dealt with what’s been happening in the NFL? Have you kept watching? Have you turned it off?

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Susan Schroeder

I hate football and commentary like this makes me want to go and watch some

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