Monday, September 15, 2014

From Nail-biting Addict to Football Enabler

Last week I confessed I was an addict, someone who bit his fingernails. Well, I think I’m over that nasty habit, at least for now. Thanks to some paper medical tape I found in our first aid kit I managed to cover my left pinkie long enough for the nail to grow back without awakening my desire to chew it off.

Today I’m admitting to an even more serious shortcoming—I’m an enabler. Like hundreds of millions of other Americans, and an increasing number of foreigners, I enjoy watching football. In other words, I condone and enable violence that I know will destroy an athlete’s health and the lives of his family because of repetitive brain trauma.

I’m like so many of the wives and girlfriends of football players keeping my mouth shut so I can enjoy Sunday afternoons, and now Sunday nights, and Monday nights, and Thursday nights. It’s a good thing I’m not into high school or college football or else I’d have no respite from sanctioned violence and have almost unlimited tutelage in how to behave badly toward women.

Did anyone else notice that during the halftime report of the New York Giants-Arizona Cardinals game on the Fox Network, the segue from each segment was a simulated stiff arm blasted into one’s face? How inappropriate given Ray Rice’s left hook to his then fiancée’s, now wife’s, face in that New Jersey casino elevator.

It’s our real-life version of The Hunger Games, or maybe a recreation of Roman gladiators, though the deaths of the participants are not as immediate.

Perhaps you’re thinking I’m being a bit too melodramatic, that football players voluntarily assume the risk. Of course, it wasn’t until last week, according to The New York Times, “that the National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at ‘notably younger ages’ than in the general population.”

In The Daily News, Steve Almond, the author of “Against Football,” wrote, “Yes, of course these players are grown men (in most cases). And of course they choose to incur the risk of playing a violent game; the pros get paid a lot of money to do so. They also wear helmets and uniforms that help insulate them from damage, and that insulate us, the viewers, from the bone-rattling reality of collisions.

“That’s why we don’t view these acts as crimes. They are what sociologists call “sanctioned violence.” Fans consume these collisions without feeling that they are watching something barbaric. Indeed, they are regarded as necessary and even heroic in the context of the game, which is why television networks place parabolic microphones on the sidelines, and why they replay the most violent hits over and over again.

“But to the human brain—which is what’s at issue for football players—the context is irrelevant. At the neurological level, violence is violence. Trauma is trauma.

“Whether or not Roger Goodell can weather the storm and cling to his tenure as commissioner—and he has at least 44 million reasons to try (a reference to his $44 million paycheck last year)—the larger moral question that looms over him and the NFL and us fans is whether we should be consuming as a form of entertainment a sport whose end result is, in too many cases, permanent brain damage.”

Sadly, even though I question the morality of parents who invest their children in football programs given our current knowledge of the consequences, I still devote time to watching football, mostly my favorite team, the Giants, but other games as well when I have nothing better to watch. So, the bottom line is, I’m an enabler. 

Giant Bust: Am I a disloyal fan or just a realistic one? At this point in the season, two games in, it is obvious the Giants are not a good football team. The offensive line can’t open holes for the running backs. They don’t pass protect well, either. The quarterback is too prone to forcing his throws and incurring interceptions. The receivers are mediocre. The defense is okay on the run and pass but gives up too many big plays, especially on third down. Special teams are a liability. In short, rooting for the Giants is an exercise in hope and futility.

Last year I stayed loyal to the Giants and it cost me in my football pools. This year I am listening to my head, not my heart. Last week, for example, I picked Arizona to beat the Giants even with a backup quarterback starting for the Cardinals. The Giants didn’t disappoint: They fumbled twice in critical situations, once on a kick return near their goal line and another time near the Cardinal goal on what could have been a game-tying scoring drive; The defense gave up at least five first downs on penalties, resulting in at least seven points for Arizona. The special teams allowed a touchdown on a punt return. Receivers, including the normally sure-handed Victor Cruz, dropped numerous passes.

The only joy I had from watching the game was knowing I didn’t lose any money on the Giants. Though as a fan I would have preferred that outcome to seeing them go bust again.