Sunday, January 14, 2018

Goodbye To All That (Well, the National Football League, anyway)

Thank you, Jacksonville. Au revoir, NFL.

The increasing excruciation that has accompanied watching NFL games by myself since my father died in October 2016 is finally over, though it took me until yesterday to realize how much I'd come to dread NFL games.

Oh, I'll still enjoy watching them in large, drunken groups on the occasional Sunday and every Super Bowl. But that's because the group stuff is fun. The game isn't, and it's also too morally corrupt a league to patronize any more.

The New England Patriots aren't part of the problem -- they're the perfect exemplar of the NFL Today because they're also the perfect, awful team for those people who believe in Trump's America. 

They've been shown to have cheated on numerous occasions to secure titles. As with Trump,  it didn't matter.

Their head coach, quarterback, and owner are all strong supporters of Trump. When that seemed like it might lose them a few left-wing fans (it wouldn't have), they pretended they weren't supporters of Trump. So, caught in saying and being something unpleasant, Belichick, Brady, and Kraft were, like Trump, back-tracking, lying weasels. And Pats fans, like Trump supporters, lapped it up.

The NFL itself has become a joyless, morally compromised, poorly officated, boring league. Like America, it's been on this path for a long time. Unlike America, the NFL doesn't have a majority of voters who were screwed out of their President. It has hardcore fans who don't care who rapes, murders, or cheats AS LONG AS 'WE' WIN. 

The NFL is America Now, not all of it but the worst part of it. Its owners are pretty much all reactionary, right-wing billionaires who treat their players like property. Like America's Bad Self, it uses technology for stupid and pointless reasons, it lies all the time, and it used to be immensely popular.

Of course, the NFL's popularity has been dropping in lockstep with Trump's ever since the end of 2016. Good. May it change or vanish from the Earth. 

What's also great about the NFL right now is that Donald Trump and Tom Brady are the same person. Oh, sure, they were often photographed together looking like two goggle-eyed homunculi until Brady's handlers told him to stop keeping Trump hats in his locker and going on dates with the Donald. Brady, like Trump, has no actual moral backbone. That's why I'm sure they're still exchanging texts and masturbating together to the nude pix of Giselle Bundchen that Brady send to Trump on a daily basis. Don't tell Giselle.

But Trump has always also been a charlatan, selling crap steaks and crap hotels and crap books with his name on it. Tom Brady now sells a dangerously stupid diet-and-health book to the masses. He is Trump -- stupid and dangerous and morally inferior to the squirrel who's looking in your window, much less a real human being. 

Per Philip K. Dick: Tom Brady, Donald Trump, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Pats owner Robert Kraft, the other owners, the coaches, and so many of the fans and players are not human if we assess humanity on the basis of Empathy: they are Reaction Machines. Wind them up and watch them go, but don't expect them to ever make the leap from Clockwork Orange to Real Boy. The NFL is now the league of the Droogs. Part of it always was, but now it's all, and there's no point protesting. If you offered Tom Brady or Donald Trump a dollar if they beat you to death with a giant ceramic penis, they'd do so. WINNING. Trump and Brady and the NFL. WINNING.

The great thing about saying goodbye to the NFL is that I no longer have to feel morally compromised whenever Cam Newton takes a terrible hit to the head. I mean, I can't stand Cam Newton, but I don't want to see him die on the field.

CTE has stripped some of the joy away. How many of these players will be drooling vegetables or homicidal maniacs in as little as next year? Well, potentially most of them. The right-wing, militaristic slant of the NFL has always been galling. Remember George Carlin's comparison of the pastoral terminology of baseball and the war-thundering terminology of football? Yep.

In general terms, basketball and hockey and baseball are all still 'fun.' Yes, they have their problems. But while I dislike LeBron James, primarily because he doesn't play for a team I cheer for, he's a great player who can speak out in a left-wing fashion on the issues of the day without being blacklisted by his league or muzzled, which is what would happen if LeBron James played in the NFL. 

Baseball is baseball, more multicultural every year. So too the ever-expanding multicultural, multinational rosters of the NBA and NHL. Football is a sport played primarily by Americans, its college nexus the Deep Red South, its ultimate appeal that of the primate bashing in the head of another primate in 2001: A Space Odyssey if we view the Monolith as both Observer of Violence and Eager Spectator. Which it is, because the producers of 2001 were running with Desmond Morris' long-discredited 'humanity descended from killer apes and our first intelligent act was a primate murdering another primate with a tool!'. The NFL is Desmond Morris. The NFL is the killer ape and the watching Monolith and every sucking scum in the world.

My father coached high-school football for 50 years. He loved football. He understood the game deeply, far more deeply than anyone I've interacted with since his death. Over the last ten years of his life, he'd almost reached a point at which he didn't want to watch the NFL any more because it had become so loathsome, so immoral, so obviously fixed -- and so, so boring.

So I complete his NFL journey today, and turn an eye to the CFL. Or maybe rugby. Or maybe learning a third language.

It seemed appropriate to end my marriage to the NFL today, on Sunday, January 14, 2018. Not because my once-beloved Steelers lost, but because of how they lost.

They went down 21-7 early to the underdog Jacksonville Jaguars. Their defense was terrible all day, a shameful thing to watch while thinking of the great, defining Pitt D's of Lambert and Greene and Polamalu. But Jacksonville's seemingly terrific defense was also terrible. Defense is basically something that's now terrible unless it faces a terrible offense, and sometimes not even then.

And 'Big' Ben Roethlisberger didn't look good early on. He threw a pick, he lost a fumble. At 21-7, it looked like underdog Jacksonville would romp.

My late father's favourite writer was Ernest Hemingway, and his favourite Hemingway novel The Old Man and the Sea. It's a short novel about a life-long loser who almost wins but then loses and may be crushed unto death when the novel concludes. He may be dead because he tried his best and failed again. 

It contains one of the wisest lines in all of literature -- "It's better to be lucky than to be good." That's true. Look at Trump.

And Big Ben, who've I've always sorta liked but felt morally compromised for liking because while never formally charged he does perhaps seem to have been a bit rapey ten years ago (thanks, NFL, for making me apologize for a rapist!) then proceeded to have his Old Man and the Sea game, exhibiting what Hemingway would have called Grace Under Pressure.

The Steelers lost by three. Ben had the greatest playoff performance in the Steelers' long and victorious history. But when the Steelers scored their last TD, there was only one second on the clock and they were still down by three.

And this was the sort of performance that is meaningful Outside The Ring. Normal humans lose more than they win, and then everyone loses when the clock runs out. 

We try to distract ourselves from the inevitability of death with many things, one of those things being an unhealthy obsession with professional sports teams. We pretend to ourselves, if we're smart and grounded, that there is some association between Winning and Morality. 

But there isn't in sports, there never was, there never will be, and the only lessons sports has to offer us come from playing it or, sometimes, actually contemplating why we cheer and what we like rather than simply being BIG FANS.

So after the only game during which I felt actual love for Big Ben as the clock ticked down and losing became inevitable, love caused by the recognition that Loss is the teacher and Winning is for suckers if all you're doing is watching and cheering. 

The only reason to Love Football is if you play it as an amateur and got camaraderie and success and failure and fun out of it. The only reason to watch any type of football is that either you have a family member or friend playing in the game, or you enjoy watching the game.

So I'll still watch football. And I'll watch the NFL as a backdrop to a fun social event. But this is the end, Ben, I hope for both of us. Get out before your brain is soup. 

And I'd say the same to all decent NFL watchers too: GET OUT. 


Leave this silly, overblown, corrupt game to the Trumpians of the world whoever they are, right-wing or pretending to be left-wing until their team comes into the equation and they become Monolithic observers and thus enablers of hooting primates trying to kill one another. 

The NFL is bad entertainment, it's morally bad, and it's bad for your character.

Golf sucks too as a spectator sport, but at least it's still entertaining and recognizable as the sport I watched 45 years ago. Though I can't say as I really like it. 

That fast-paced, small team women's rugby in the last Summer Olympics was sort of cool, though. I think I'll watch that.

To end with a quote from Hemingway, my favourite quote, first read not in a Hemingway work but quoted in a terrific Green Lantern/ Green Arrow comic-book story written by Eliot S! Maggin and drawn by Neal Adams, first read and puzzled over when I was perhaps 12:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

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