America’s Game

Super Bowl last night.

I live in Colorado, so that’s all I have to say about that.

Did you watch any of the pre-game shows that went on for hours and hours before kick off? (I mean, I’ll watch the red carpet running up to the Oscars when literally no one is arriving yet, but those shows yesterday seemed a bit much even for me.) There was this one show where they had lots of people talking about how awesome football is and how quintessentially American it is and on and on…

And I keep thinking about that.

Is football really America’s game? Is it the one thing that truly embodies America to the world?

If so, we are in deep trouble.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan, and not just a one-game-a-year fan. My son played for several years and my husband coached his team.

But let’s look at this for a second.

This is a violent game. That fact cannot be argued. The damage inflicted by these men on their bodies — for which they are well compensated, it’s true — is brutal. Knees are not meant to be twisted in the way they routinely are by this game. Ankles, shoulders, spines… Let me say this:  Joe Theisman’s leg. These injuries end careers and cause lifelong pain. For entertainment.

And the main reason we stopped our son from playing football was our concern over the increasing evidence that long-term participation in football can cause brain injury. Even setting aside the horrifying stories of young men who have died from concussions, the evidence is mounting that it’s not just one concussion, or several, that can cause harm.  In fact, the tiny micro-collisions of the brain with the skull that happen on every play add up over time to do damage to a healthy brain, keeping a child’s intellect from reaching its full potential or — at its worst — dragging someone like Junior Seau into depression and suicide.

Did you know that many professional football players won’t let their children play football? What does that tell you about “America’s Game?”

And this is before we even get to a culture of competition where the stakes are so high that a team actually offered bonuses to players who caused serious injuries to their opponents. How twisted is that? Sadly, that team was probably not unique; they just got caught.

Next, let’s talk about money.  We are totally okay with paying people ridiculously inflated salaries to play a game while our teachers, nurses, police and humanitarian workers make barely livable wages (and most artists make no living at all from their art). We watch draft day and don’t even flinch when the analysts talk about million dollar pay-outs to kids coming out of college, young men who probably have never paid a credit card on time. They will have short careers, retire in their thirties unless injury or failure takes them out sooner, and will most likely have nothing to show for it at the end of it because the culture of wealth that surrounds them encourages them to spend everything they earn. (Thankfully, some limits are being placed on what a young player can make.)

Professional athletes are extolled as prime examples of the American dream:  believe it and you can be it! Anything can happen in America! Yet these same athletes are often at best nasty punks who shun their positions as heroes and role models, and at worst vicious criminals charged and convicted of things like attempted murder, assault, spousal abuse, weapons violations, DUIs, animal cruelty… and all without the loss of their careers and paychecks because, after a lesser sentence than anyone who wasn’t famous could expect, they get right back on a team that justifies its decision as “purely business” because “with his talent, if we don’t hire him, someone else will.” Sure. Perfect logic, and a great lesson for young people.

Is this what America is all about? Is this our ambassador to the world?

Honestly, I believe that professional football has hit its apex. More and more parents aren’t allowing their children to play, and without a new group coming up, the sport can’t survive. Within a few generations, it will be gone, or at least severely diminished. It certainly won’t be the number one sport anymore. And all things considered, I won’t miss the game at all.

Less than two weeks ’till pitchers and catchers! 😉

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