Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A case against football.

Okay, so I don't get sports.  Especially watching sports.  Especially watching football.

If you know me, you know this already.  And you probably also know that my roommates joke that I call it "foot-game."  I'll often walk into the living room to a crowd watching football on my TV, and I'll joke about how "oh, this is that one show you guys always watch.  The one with the multicultural people running into each other.  I think it's a re-run.  We've seen this episode, right?"

And the joke doesn't get old; everyone always seems to be amused that I am the only one who doesn't know or care what's going on.  But I wonder, why is that funny?  Why is football such a staple of our American society that it is weird and hilarious to not be obsessed with it?

I'm sure you can say all sorts of things about football being a metaphor for violently cathartic struggle, healthy competition, and the triumph of the human spirit, all that super-American stuff.  But is it really?  I don't buy it:  to me, I think football symbolizes something a little more brutish within us.

Football is modern-day gladiatorism.

Let's rewind the clock a little.  Between 300 BC and 500 AD (though it was most popular between 100 BC and 200 AD), Romans would watch "gladiators" do deadly battle with each other, with wild animals, and with condemned prisoners.  This was a widespread form of entertainment.  Gladiators were celebrated in Roman art, and pretty much universally recognized throughout the Empire.  Until, that is, people started getting all pious, and Christian writers like Tertullian wrote that "the combats were murder, their witnessing spiritually and morally harmful and the gladiator an instrument of pagan human sacrifice."  In other words, moral revelation spoiled the party.

Perhaps we need another Tertullian.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I recognize that there are huge differences between Roman gladiatorism and the NFL.  People don't typically die from playing professional football.  People aren't forced to play professional football.  And yes, those are huge differences.  But perhaps the biggest moral problem with gladiatorism is also the biggest problem with football:  it celebrates warlike and brutish traits and abilities that an advanced civilization (like, the Romans, or, the United States) really ought to have evolved past by now, doesn't it?

Maybe this sort of thing goes back to caveman times.  We are biologically trained to celebrate and glorify the men who can go kill the mammoth, because if you don't kill the mammoth, then your wife and kids starve, right?  So, obviously those who are physically able to kill mammoths deserve society's praise.  It is good to be big and strong and fast because if you're not, the mammoth will kill you and your family will be left without any mammothburgers?  I don't know.  I'm not a caveman expert.

At any rate, we don't live in that kind of society anymore.  We don't need to kill mammoths.  We don't need to glorify men whose greatest accomplishment in life is to be able to run really fast into other men and make the other men fall down.

At least, maybe we don't need to glorify them to the extent that we do.  Think about this:  the average annual salary for a football player in the NFL is $1.4 million.  To contrast, consider that the average High School teacher in America makes $53,988 every year.  That's roughly 1/26ths as much.  Every time a High School teacher earns enough to buy one value-sized Frosty at Wendy's, an NFL football player earns enough to buy a lunch for two at Outback Steakhouse.  With drinks.

Now, I'm not an economist, and I don't really know how money works.  I'll be the first to admit that.  But I feel like there's something wrong with this picture.  Why is football such an American tradition?  Why is it so important to our country that we spend money on football, on advertising for football, on fields for football, on uniforms and sponsors and equipment and paying the players and the coaches and the referees and the announcers and etc, etc, etc... it just seems excessive. Admittedly, maybe that's another American tradition:  excess.

I apologize that this post is turning into more of a rant than what I usually write.  Time to wrap it up:  I don't like football.  It's not just because it bores me (it does); it's not just because it turns people into over-competitive and prideful animals (it does, and Deiter F. Uchtdorf agrees with me).  It's because it reflects a societal craving for something we don't need to glorify anymore.  It reflects a widespread misplaced priority, an obsession with barbarians and bodily spectacles when what this world really needs is more teachers, writers, therapists, and artists.

I understand the value in appreciating dedication and teamwork.  But maybe we can take those principles away from the mammoth hunting lands, the battlegrounds, the Roman gladiatorial arenas, or the football fields.  Maybe we can learn and honor those principles in more civilized contexts where they will actually make a positive and lasting difference in society?