Jonathan Chait Relives His Glory Days

Jonathan ChaitAnyone who has read me even casually knows that I hate the game of football. It isn’t a political thing. I just think it is an incredibly boring game. If you like action and athletic beauty, watch basketball. If you love skill, watch baseball. (Although I am rooting for the Giants, watching the Nationals in the field is like watching great real time art.) But what is football? A bunch of testosterone fueled steroid-built bodies crashing into each other.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t like it. I’m not saying that it is wrong to like. And I know a lot more about the game than you might think. I understand it pretty well and I appreciate parts of it. But it is the most popular sport in the United States for one reason and one reason only: it is violent. Football is a game that glorifies violence. As I wrote recently, The Basis of the NFL Is 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.

But like I said: I don’t like football. But Jonathan Chait does. Oh, how he does! For years, he’s been losing the argument about the NCAA staying amateur. Last year, Scott Lemieux at The American Prospect took him to task about this, Stop Defending the NCAA. And I have long wondered if Chait doesn’t really care about the football players — or at least that their needs are clearly trumped by his love of the game as a spectator.

Today, he’s back with an article that I find even more troubling, In Defense of Male Aggression: What Liberals Get Wrong About Football. As if to proclaim to the world “I’m just trying to be offensive,” the entire article is filled with pictures of football players at the ages of 6, 6, 7, and 8. But no mention is made of them in the article. I guess we are just supposed to understand that little boys in football gear is really great because they are learning valuable life lessons.

Chait is surprisingly unaware of even himself. For example, he noted that Theodore Roosevelt’s ideas about raising young men would be beyond the pale by today’s standards. But still, he noted, there are some things of value. For example, “A healthy-minded boy should feel hearty contempt for the coward, and even more hearty indignation for the boy who bullies girls or small boys, or tortures animals.” Well, in my experience, it was exactly the “strong” boys who were bullies and the most likely to catch toads and throw them high in air to watch them be squashed on the pavement. But my biggest problem with that statement is the single word, “Coward.”

In my experience, it is the most heroic man who is most likely to be called a coward. And Chait follows up the Roosevelt quote by telling the story of how he was going to quit his high school football team, because — by his own description — it was mostly about getting brutalized by bigger boys. But as he waited for a chance to talk to his coach, he didn’t know what he was going to say. He doesn’t say it, but I know what he was thinking, “They’ll think I’m a wimp. How can I tell them I don’t want to play football because I don’t like getting hit?” So Chait does what he thinks shows great character, but I think shows he was an immature coward: he does nothing. He stayed with the team.

Much of his relentlessly long article is just him remembering the glory days of high school football. And he is prepared for people like me to say that it is pathetic. So let me not disappoint: it is pathetic! And one of the people he played with went on to be a private equity manager who can “lift 225 pounds 27 times, an NFL-linebacker-like amount.” Wow. I’m so impressed! I’m sure the guy’s inferiority complex and overabundance of testosterone make him the perfect fit for a financial career that does vast amounts of damage to society.

In the end, I really wasn’t sure what I, as a liberal, didn’t get about football. I’ve never thought that football itself was the problem. I just don’t think its popularity speaks well of us. But Chait contends that football can’t be hurting society and maybe it is actually helping because we’ve become a less violent society. Of course, that trend has been going on for centuries so I hardly think that football has much to do with it.

He ends the article with what could have been the whole article:

This is an increasingly antiquated conception of male socialization. George Orwell, the old socialist, was well ahead of his time when he scribbled out an angry rant against the sporting ethic, which, he wrote, “is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” That is all more or less true. But shooting is precisely the problem with war. War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.

Really?! Because I think the British at the Battle of Stirling Bridge might disagree. And Chait’s overall argument seems to be that there are good things that kids learn from football. Fair enough. And then he says we don’t really know if high school and college ball is particularly deadly, so let’s just continue on. After all, Chait has his memories of that great tackle he made as outside linebacker. And there are all those Michigan games that he enjoys watching. And men will be men, and liberals will never understand it because, well, they’re liberals.

I always thought that Chait was a smart guy. But maybe this article is more proof that his years playing high school football did cause some brain trauma.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on “Jonathan Chait Relives His Glory Days

  1. On some level I think guys like Chait (and Lemieux) are The Problem. They know American right-wingers are fucked up; they know that the power of labour is dipping far too low relative to capital. But they are unwilling to challenge the basic structures, and often seem to attack other writers who do challenge those structures.

    • Chait fancies himself someone who thinks outside of the box, but just acts as an apologist for the status quo. But he is a neoliberal, so I can hardly blame him. What bugs me is that he thinks he’s a free thinker, when all you have to do to know what Chait thinks is to ask Bill Clinton what he thinks.

      I wrote an article a while back that got a lot of attention in which I criticized much of the east coast liberal writing establishment in which I said that part of the problem was that none of these writers were friends with anyone who was in a union and that’s why they tended to be anti-union. Matt Yglesias scoffed at me, noting that newspapers were unionized so of course reporters knew people in unions. But I didn’t say that they didn’t know anyone in unions; I said they didn’t have any friends. It’s part of a different culture. When you are a making a hundred grand without being in a union, you don’t tend to see the need for a union. If all workers were treated the way “star” reporters were, we wouldn’t need unions. But that really is the problem with a lot of writers: they are totally blinded by their only social interests, but they think they are just clear eyed observers. I’m too poor for such delusions.

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