Somewhere in the deep bravado of jock culture sits this need to be all that is “man”. The finest example of strength, dedication, and courage. If these terms and examples sound familiar, it’s because they were first used hundreds of years ago to highlight the efforts and success of our armed forces. The soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice were the ones bestowed with monikers and adjectives befitting the trials they would one day experience. As patriotic conflict became more foreign, and sport monetized and worshipped slowly but surely the terms “battle” and “war” found their way into the mouths of coaches hoping to inspire their players. Followed by “courage” and “sacrifice” and eventually even “soldier” were thrown about to motivate a win in whatever game it is they might be playing. It’s an irresponsible oversight, one that now seems so present it has all but replaced its original designation. Football is the prime example of this. The ultimate blunt force clash of oversized men designed to make themselves millionaires, and make millionaires billionaires. The new ultimate sacrifice.
Football is a game of self-proclaimed gladiators, and deals in a business of overhyped, overproduced, and overanalyzed drama that only exists in the mind of the delusional and the chicken wing-filled stomachs of fanatical club supporters. It’s the crème de la crème of accepted violence and exceptional athleticism, and if you don’t agree you are weak.
Football has a real problem, and that problem is it once again being exposed as a place for men (and only men) to be violent, and we must accept and celebrate this so sayeth those who reap the benefits. As a nation we choose every single season the game is played, whether we’d like to support this. Whether the unabashed violence, the highlight reel tackles, or the possible career-ending penalties are okay with us. We make the decision that the “controlled” chaos, the modern day coliseum games are acceptable. For decades, we’ve made it clearer than a Coors Light Silver Bullet Train that all of this is in fact acceptable if we don’t have to think about it too much, and that we are just fine with it…until we aren’t. It’s that five minutes of progressive humanity that makes me ponder – will there be professional football in twenty years? What happens when someone dies on the field? Why are football notables like Bruce Arians telling mother’s they’re ignorant for not wanting their children to play a game in which large men run into other large men with alarming force?
All three questions hinge on each other’s answer. And, all three questions prove that the NFL is working as hard as they can to set aside the glaring issues with a sport that was never intended to be anything other than a beer-drinker’s legal version of fight club with uniforms. Football has always been violent, it needed to be violent. It was played by either college kids who exuded so much testosterone they could kill an adult deer with their bare hands, or it was played by adult men who had nothing better to do and wanted to see if they could legally kill a person who was holding a ball. It’s no secret that Teddy Roosevelt, a human male bred from lions and reared on the open plains of the Wild West, wanted to ban football solely due to the amount of death and injuries the game had caused. Football imposed strict regulations, and the sport lived on, however many continue to ask if it should have and if the ghosts of the past failed to shed their ghoulish light on the future that might be.
The uncontrolled violence became somewhat controlled, better helmets and pads were introduced to soften impact, and players became more athletic to better prepare they’re bodies for the rigorous stress they’d be experiencing at an almost nonstop pace. Men become more men. They lock themselves in rooms, and grunt and sweat, and push their bodies to the limits so they can be the best at what they do. We expect them to be in shape, to be better than in shape, to be the best, the strongest, no matter what it takes, no matter the mental and physical toll, they must be prepared for “war” for “battle”. These men shrouded in pads that no longer serve a purpose, must be prepared to be “soldiers” in the ongoing fight for a ball and (sometimes fake) grass. There is no tomorrow. There is no second chance. If the good Lord decides your knee bone will be crushed today, or that all your ligaments burst apart, then so be it. It’s because the other man, who rammed helmet first into your knee, was more prepared, stronger, quicker, he was more man. Now, so must you be.
As spectators we cheer. We push for this. We want this. Take the ball into (sometimes fake) grass and dance. Do it. Dance, while I high-five people I like, and spill beer, and laugh, and sometimes cry. We have made the decision that this should continue as planned. Sure, that hit was illegal. Sure, that player did something horribly inappropriate, but they scored. I will pretend to care about that heinous act for the next few minutes with a tweet or a facebook post, but as soon as that player scores again my care will turn once again into high-fives; I’ll bury all semblance or reason down deep as to not look less of a man. Men watch this sport. Men play this sport. Women are allowed to follow it. And, follow it you must. Closely, and with every single ounce of pertinent information the National Football League tells you is pertinent. This is all the information you will need to let your children play. Dad will understand. Pain is a currency. Mom is ignorant. Pain is being alive, and if you don’t agree – you are stupid and weak. So sayeth the men who know. The men who stand on sidelines with clipboards and headphones, and large stomachs, who screech at players like dying animals that winning is all that matters. Clinging to an era long gone when they themselves were measured, when they themselves were victims of spit in face, grass in mouth, ice on swollen body parts. Now, years later knees ache, bellies jiggle, scowls perfected, and others are ignorant. “These parents didn’t go through anything”, the husky men think. They haven’t survived the “battle” the “war”. They never played a game.
The players are machines of athletics and strength. They’ve been trained from a young age to work hard. They’re minds molded that their coach is their leader, and that his words are those of Gods. When Gods not around though, we tend to play. As the animalistic nature takes over, the machine is let loose, and the few hours you get to be alive take over, no longer is God in your face. The Bible has been left in the locker room, and now the tree of good and evil will shake. We as the spectators clasp our hands and pray for good decisions, but know few will be made. Girlfriends will be punched, wives knocked cold, alcohol consumed behind the wheel of some of the finest machines ever made. Machines impaired, controlling machines needing guidance. Dads will understand. Steam must let off. Moms are ignorant. The game must be won, and if you don’t agree – you are weak and pathetic. You are not American. Football is American. It’s misconstrued violence reminds of us of our primal instincts. They make the off the field mistakes of the player more understandable and relatable when we don’t stop to think about it, because our primal instinct is our first, and our evolved intellect must have time to discern. When we utilize that time things become dark. They become upsetting, and we start to ask questions. We start to have open conversations with friends and family. We start seeing things we didn’t see before. Are we becoming weak? Are we becoming stupid? Are we not men? These questions are too much for our small brains to handle. Even if we wanted to, we could do nothing about it. It will take a death, we say, and that’ll never happen, right? It can’t. These men are trained “soldiers”. They’re prepared for “battle” for “war”. Bruce Arians and the NFL braintrust have readied their men for all situations on the field. I believe this. I must. Only consume what is on the field. Ignore the broken laws, the broken jaws, the DUI, CTE, and other acronyms we could never possibly grasp. The braintrust knows what’s best for their men, for us. We must follow them. If not, we’ll be ignorant. We’ll be women. We’ll be un-American.
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