Last week on our podcast, Bob Cesca threw out the question of whether it was a good idea for liberals to take on football and demand changes when it comes to the safety of players. He made a great point about how doping may be part of what's creating monsters on the field so ferocious that their hits now cause permanent damage in the form of, among other things, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Certainly keeping the game as safe as possible should be a major concern football for fans, players, coaches and managers, but my reaction to Bob's overall question was that overtly screwing around with the institution of football in America was a political and cultural third rail no sane person would get near. The sport is simply far too beloved by those across a very wide spectrum of society.
That said, there are liberals who've been desperate to be able to ring the death knell for football in general and the NFL in particular for years; it's practically a right-wing article of faith that liberals are stereotypical pussies who don't like football because it's violent, aggressive and dangerous -- everything liberals are traditionally proud to say they're not.
Yesterday, in a move that to me resembled PETA's hilariously misguided attempt to run an anti-turkey ad on Thanksgiving a few years back, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir published a column claiming that football was in a "death spiral." That recent scandals, suicides and other deaths were tarnishing the game and that it should be allowed to slowly become extinct as America's number one spectator sport. It was the kind of piece that, as I was reading it, had me saying to myself over and over again, "I really fucking hate liberals," regardless of my own center-left political dispositions.
First of all, no, football isn't in a "death spiral" -- as evidenced by the fact that last night's game had the highest cumulative Super Bowl numbers ever -- and decrying its aggression, supposed connection to violent behavior, exploitation at the hands of corporate money-changers and so on is such a tired and ultimately fruitless trope. Football is a rough sport and players are going to get hurt. Guess what? No one's literally drafting these guys; they go into it knowing full well the considerable risks and equally considerable rewards.
Everything that can be done should be done to prevent serious injury, but when 250-pound men are slamming into each other with the power of a damn freight train, people are occasionally going to be injured. Considering that the game involves this kind of brute force occurring over and over again, that damage can even be long term. These guys are absolutely taking their lives into their hands by getting out on that field, but it's their decision to make and not the responsibility of the better-knowing liberal intelligentsia to make it for them.
You don't like football? Think it's dangerous, or savage, or too demonstrative of America's divisive and militaristic nature, or a promotion of sexist culture, or generally offensive to your personal sensibilities? Feel free not to watch and, as O'Hehir does, publicly declare that you won't let your kid play it. That's entirely your call. But don't make the mistake of thinking that football is going anywhere simply because you don't approve. If we're lucky, it'll get safer and smarter, but the game will almost certainly endure. Too many people love it. Myself included.
Hell, if I could make something I can't stand go away just by publicly whining about it, every column I wrote would be about Beyonce and she would've vanished into a cloud of body glitter long before she became culturally dominant enough to allow for the hashtag #BeyonceBowl.