The NFL season kicks off tonight, and though it might be--might be-- the last such season in our fair town, the NFL is still riding high as the overwhelmingly most popular and profitable sport in North America. This is true, despite some clouds on the horizon that ought to concern any fan.
These clouds portend, to me anyway, the steep decline of this sport to what could be a boxing-level degree of popularity. Why? I think because of a cloud of intersecting factors, really: 1) the violent nature of the game, especially as tackling becomes about hurting the opponent as opposed to bringing him to the ground; 2) the advances in technology, which though designed to make the sport safer actually make it safer to be the injurer; 3) the reality of one and two leading to ineffective rules changes that make penalties arbitrary; 4) the complete collapse of a set of moral norms being taught to our children, such that they grow up without any compunction to injure and brag about it-- i.e., there are few sportsmen in the ranks; 5) due to the increase of violent injuries, particularly concussions, the ranks of children in youth football programs, the feeders of the system, is declining rapidly: and, 6) the general wussification of America, which pervades throughout.
Oh, and the economy ain't getting better, either.
When I make this observation to friends, I am derided as an alarmist old coot. Fair enough. But there are at least two of us, as this opinion piece by Taki proves. Excerpts:
Autumn of the Game
September means football, in high school, in prep school, and, of course, where it all began, in college. There is nothing that evokes F. Scott Fitzgerald times more than a crisp autumn Saturday afternoon, a marching band, a campus full of beautiful coeds, and stands full of rowdy Joe Colleges rooting for their alma mater. And then, of course, there are also Sunday afternoons, when the big boys take over. I used to love pro football and follow it when people like Kyle Rote, Sam Huff, “Broadway” Joe Namath, and the recently deceased Frank Gifford played it. No longer. Somewhere along the way the game changed from a sport to a combat one, with gorilla-like behemoths standing over a fallen opponent and pumping their chests. Those golden afternoons on Yale Bowl, with student athletes tackling low and even helping an opponent stand up after a tackle, are long gone. Along with single wings and dropkicks. And sportsmanship.
Never mind. Sport follows life, and life has become brutal, money-minded, and mannerless. Why should sport be any different? In fact, sport reflects life, as does Hollywood, with its car chases and violence. And those who should know better are just as bad. ... Which brings me to what a columnist by the name of Joe Nocera calls the real NFL scandal.
It’s about the league’s refusal to pay out billions to concussed ex-players who eventually suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Nocera means well, but he’s wrong. Let’s take it from the top: One of the reasons ex-stars like Frank Gifford were articulate until the end was that back in the good old days people tackled, they didn’t spear with their helmet. Tackling is hard to do. I remember my first day at lower school football at Lawrenceville the coach ordered us to tackle hard but low. That was 65 years ago, I admit, but the game was invented as a sport, not a spearing contest over whose brain will explode first, the spearer or the speared, as happens to be the case today. When the players union sues the NFL because it failed to properly investigate, report, and revise league rules to minimize the risk of concussion, I think of the hooker who cried rape. After the check bounced. ...
Be that as it may, a federal district judge approved a settlement of the lawsuit: one billion smackers or so in the hands of former players who are suffering from dementia and other brain diseases. Some 200 veterans, however, have opted out and hope to bring their own lawsuits against the league. (Ambulance-chasing lawyers are having a field day.) Now, it’s hard for anyone without a heart of stone to root for the league against the players, and I’m not....
And yet. Smokers who have repeatedly been warned against the habit and get cancer are prone to sue, as are people who drink. I do both, and if the big C gets me, the last thing I will do is sue the tobacco companies and those who make liquor. I’m a grown-up, after all, although there are those who dispute the fact.
The NFL actually is not liable for the athletes who have contacted CTE. Football is a rough sport and athletes go in it with their eyes open. ... As Confucius said, “He who tackles with head first has his brains scrambled.”