PolySciFi Blog

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


In defense of the NFL

Not that you would think it needs much of one, but nonetheless I find it, I think, unfairly judged on Dean's World today.
There are two sports that are wildly popular in America: professional boxing and NFL football. Both of these sports are utterly barbaric. Yes, I am very much a libertarian and don't belive in imposing state power on what individuals do. Yet these two sports are so utterly horrific that I think someone needs to speak out.


The average age at death for an NFL pro is 55 years. When you watch professional football players, you are watching young men destroy themselves for your pleasure.

Yes, it's exciting to watch, and admirable in its own way. But still, ultimately, you're watching young men destroy their bodies and their brains for your pleasure.

In this post it's a little bit unclear why Dean is comparing boxing and the NFL and why he's asserting that boxing is wildly popular as it pales in popularity in comparison to football (college and professional), basketball (men's and women's college and professional), baseball, hockey, tennis, soccer, NASCAR, and professional wrestling (which is not really a sport, but is nonetheless much more popular than boxing).

However, Dean presents this same line of thought with more specificity towards the NFL in this comment that precipitated the debate and it is here that it is made clear that he views the bone crushing hits as the primary attraction of NFL football. [emphasis added]
I could go off on a long rant about NFL football, most of which would make me look like a liberal pansy. And most of which would be correct. To whit:

The NFL relies on the totally unsubsidized college football game. Of which 99 out of a hundred players never make the big time. And then when they do make the big time and make it to the NFL, they are paid obscene salaries to basically destroy their own bodies.

I totally disapprove of NFL football. The only thing I disapprove of more in sports is boxing. Because ultimately, what you're doing is cheering while young men absolutely destroy themselves for money. They screw up themselves FOR LIFE, just for your entertainment. 9 out of 10 of them wind up with LIFELONG CRIPPLING INJURIES, just to sate your desire to see a good hit.

I'm sorry, I know I'm a liberal pansy, I truly am, but when somone points out to you what you're actully looking at, how can you not be distrurbed? You're looking at black kids (and white kids) destroy themselves for you entertainment. 80% of them will die in pain and obscurity. Why do we applaud this?
In effect, Dean believes that football and boxing are both wildly popular because of our bloodlust. If the attraction and purpose of football was providing a venue to see people the the snot knocked out of them, then I think Dean would be correct in equating football with boxing. However, there is so much more to NFL football than just "sating [our] desire to see a good hit" as I asserted in this comment which I repeat in the following.
Well, while we do applaud aspects of the destruction, the bulk of our applause is reserved for the sport itself.

Drawing examples just from the playoffs, what's memorable about and what's cheered in NFL football is not the destruction, it is the sport.

It is the individual feats of athleticism - the one handed catches, the moves that leave defenders grasping at air, the perfect pass, the diving grab.

It was not the hit that possibly ended Carson Palmer's career that we cheered, it was Troy Polemalu's spectactular interception that got overruled. It was not the hit that jarred the ball lose from Jerome Bettis (although that was a pretty benign hit), it was the sudden swing in the game that resulted from the fumble and the sense of "Oh my God, they're going to do it." It is amazement at Steve Smith almost single handedly beats the vaunted Chicago defense.

Beyond the athleticism, it is the mental demands placed on the players and coaches. It is marveling at the defensive scheming of John Fox. It is the wonder of the dismantlement of the league's best offenses by Pitt's aggressive defense and conservative offense (but tricky when needed). It is seeing quarterbacks who have never been to a playoff game demonstrating that the intricacies to the game can only be learned by being there (all first time playoff starters lost and all played pretty badly). It is seeing veteran quarterbacks likewise humbled (P. Manning, Brady) though coming close.

Then it is the subsuming of the individual into something greater than the sum of its parts. It is the wonder of seeing a team (Washington) only eke out 128 yards of offense yet win by not making any mistakes. It is seeing a dynasty fail to repeat, but fail admirably (New England). It is the Colts' refusal to give up until the very end. It is seeing an underdog rise from its lowly sixth seed (Pitt) by playing tough consistent football in spite of the calls who is now just a game away from the SuperBowl.

Yes, we enjoy a good hit - we are men after all, but men are more than sheer blood lust and there's so very much more to love about NFL football beyond the reductionist equation of the NFL to gladitorial combat.

More so than any other sport and any other league in the world the NFL puts a premium on both athletic and mental brilliance (it's one of the last institutions on earth where they give you an IQ test before they hire you - the Wonderlic test).

So if you must insist on calling yours a liberal (not the classical kind as the term is typically used on this blog) position on the NFL, I must insist that you call it a liberal position for a reason different from your squeemishness.

Rather, like many of my liberal friends (I'm in a university so I have very few conservative friends) you have found something that you don't like and rather than leaving it at that, you have attempted to assert the superiority of your preference by fixating on the downside while ignoring the upside, emphasizing the most prurient motivations while ignoring the noble, pointing out the dirty underbelly while overlooking the gleaming coat.

In my mind, such a mindset has become synonomous with liberalism and it is displayed here again. Yet, I think a different term would be more appropriate - cynicism - as the cost of the NFL is known, but not its value.
I also address the 55 year old statistic in this comment but it's only tangential to my point and unrelated to what I think should be my concluding thought which is: Wouldn't it be cool if the Steelers play the Panthers in the first all wild card Super Bowl?


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