As regular readers know, I hate football. I think it is the most boring game ever invented. The primary focus of the game is very big men running into each other. It has very little of the raw athletic beauty of basketball (which I also find tiresome) or the technical grace of baseball (which I must admit to having a great fondness for). But the recent NFL scandals really have gotten my attention and they’ve made me really angry. But I’m not angry in the way you may assume.
I just do not care. Why is anyone surprised that a bunch of steroid cases playing a game that is modeled on old-style symmetric warfare would produce a bunch of violent men? The game itself appeals to the worst instincts in men. It is one big orgy of testosterone. While the rich have made a fetish of greed, the rest of our society has made a fetish of violence.
What angers me is that this is not the problem of the NFL. This is the problem of the people who watch the NFL. The NFL is approaching the problem the same way that any business would. The new domestic abuse guidelines are a farce, meant to tell the nation that everything’s okay; they have it handled. They take domestic abuse seriously! Of course, they don’t. They take the bad PR of domestic abuse seriously. I’m sure they realize that for a lot of viewers, the fact that players act like animals off the field as well as on only makes the game more exciting. It makes it more real. This is not professional wrestling!
The whole thing reminds me of racism in America. We are a deeply racist country, but we spend most of our time pretending that we aren’t. And then, when some comedian uses the n-word, everyone is outraged. I maintain that this outrage has nothing to do with the word. The outrage is about the fact that someone screwed up and made us admit that, yes, there is racism. But using the n-word is one of the most benign forms of racism. I don’t think Michael Richards was necessarily any more racist than I am. It’s our hidden assumptions about different people that most harm society.
Similarly, with the NFL we glorify violence. But as a society we pretend that it doesn’t mean anything else. It is compartmentalized. The billions we pay to owners and the millions we pay to players of this violent game are not supposed to be about anything but the game — it isn’t about violence! But obviously, the people who play this game well are going to be more testosterone fueled and more violent than the average person. In the eight years that Roger Goodell has been head of the NFL, there have been 56 domestic abuse allegations — that’s seven per year. And I’m sure that is just a small percentage of what’s really going on.
I admit it: I don’t like football. I’d love for it to go away so that people could spend their time in more edifying ways. But I don’t see how anyone can watch the NFL and not acknowledge that an automatic part of that is that women and children will be brutalized off the field. And it isn’t just the players who are doing the violence. Five years ago, a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that watching football increased domestic violence. According to an article on it in Slate, “Based on domestic violence police reports from the years 1995-2006, the report finds that when an NFL game ends in an upset, the home state of the losing team experiences a sudden, brief uptick in domestic violence.”
So enjoy your football games. I really don’t mind. But don’t pretend that the associated domestic violence is about bad apples or a cultural problem. Domestic and other forms of violence are fundamental to the game of football.