The New York Times has finally gone full milquetoast with a new piece in its Sunday magazine.
Consumed this morning by New Yorkers sipping cappuccinos in their $5,000 a month apartments on the Upper East Side, the article will no doubt lead to the end of football -- and likely the cancelation of the Super Bowl next Sunday.
Titled "Is It Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl?” Writer Steve Almond (does he pronounce it AH-mahnd?) gets his panties in a wad over the sometimes-serious injuries that occur in the contact sport.
"The N.F.L. and the bloated media cult that feeds off it rely on fans not to connect the dots between our consumption of football and brain-damaged human beings," he moans.
For Almond, today's fierce football players are victims too naive to know what they're doing. Even though he acknowledges they know the dangers in the game, "most start out as kids with limited options," Almond writes. Oh, they're kids! Save the kids!
The writer also gets into a long metaphor -- or something -- about war, Afghanistan, Pat Tillman, friendly fire, and "young men of the underclass."
Pro sports are, by definition, monetized arenas for hypermasculinity. Football is nowhere near as overtly vicious as, say, boxing. But it is the one sport that most faithfully recreates our childhood fantasies of war as a winnable contest.
Over the past 12 years, as Americans have sought a distraction from the moral incoherence of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the game has served as a loyal and satisfying proxy. It has become an acceptable way of experiencing our savage impulses, the cultural lodestar when it comes to consuming violence. What differentiates it from the glut of bloody films and video games we devour is our awareness that the violence in football, and the toll of that violence, is real.
The struggle playing out in living rooms across the country is that of a civilian leisure class that has created, for its own entertainment, a caste of warriors too big and strong and fast to play a child’s game without grievously injuring one another. The very rules that govern our perceptions of them might well be applied to soldiers: Those who exhibit impulsive savagery on the field are heroes. Those who do so off the field are reviled monsters.
The civilian and the fan participate in the same basic transaction. We offload the mortal burdens of combat, mostly to young men from the underclass, whom we send off to battle with cheers and largely ignore when they wind up wounded.
No single episode speaks to this twisted dynamic more pointedly than the death of Pat Tillman, an idealistic N.F.L. star who enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2004, Tillman was killed by friendly fire in a bungled ambush in Afghanistan. His superiors orchestrated an elaborate cover-up that included burning his uniform and recast the circumstances of his death as a heroic charge into enemy territory.
In the end, Almond says he won't be watching when the Seahawks battle the Broncos on Sunday. "The problem is that I can no longer indulge these pleasures without feeling complicit."
Which might be a good thing. That will give him time to iron his panties.